Bread of the Month: Hushing a craving

hush_fish01Ever get a hankering? We all have those moments where a thought of something is not only drool-worthy, but urging enough to send us hunting down said object of our drool. That being, for me occasionally, a hush puppy (more than one, most likely). It is not the cod basket or the cole slaw that pulls me to the local “fish and chips” eatery, but the hush puppies, those little, crunchy crusted corn embers, golden hot fried orbs, sweetly tender inside. It is all I can do to contain myself in their presence. I resist as much as I can most of the time, but a few times a year, I relent and let myself go.

Their origination, according to my resources, was not as a treat for man, but for man’s best friend. After the hunting or fishing expedition, the cornmeal breading used to coat whatever game or fish was cooked in campfire skillet or kettle, was dropped by spoonfuls into hot grease and tossed to the nearby hunting dogs a-whine with hunger. “Hush puppy!” I tend to believe the lore. They are certainly enough to quiet me.

And they are completely enough by themselves as a treat, but are mostly served as accompaniment to fish and seafood.fissonBW2 It’s true that I cannot help but think of fish and namely catfish as I ponder the hush puppy, even though the fish I grew up on was never joined by the legendary puppy fritter unless we attended a larger fish fry.

I do crave catfish from time to time, too, which, while some stick their noses up in the air about this bottom feeder, please realize that a whole segment of the population was brought up on this slick-skinned, be-whiskered creature that fed and grew mysteriously to mammoth proportions in dark waters of the lakes, rivers and creeks of America. Its white flesh is sweet with just a hint of the earth that formed it.

That did it. For tradition I would fry some catfish. For a new cooking challenge, I would attempt the hush puppy.

Prior to my recent puppy making, I had only attempted them once before, with a mix. They seemed easy enough in the recipes I considered. So one weekend of late, I made catfish and puppies. The only missing justin01link in all of this was me catching the fish myself. My skills are not so inclined (and the proper body of water was lacking). But I could make a hush puppy! And I could make a mess of catfish fillets, store-bought.

A Southern humorist, storyteller and chef, Justin Wilson — a favorite of my father’s — had more than a few helpings of personality and a number of wonderful recipes he left behind when he died in 2001, along with a few memorable phrases such as, “I gar-ron-tee!” “How y’all are?” I have a few of Wilson’s cookbooks, nondescript, simply bound, filled with funny copy and photos and the hush puppy recipe I decided to use.

hushcook01Wilson’s recipe couldn’t be simpler. A high cornmeal-to-flour ratio, baking powder, soda and salt, an egg and diced onion, buttermilk for flavor, tenderness and lift. In addition to the onions, I added some freshly chopped chive from my backyard. The batter was moist and airy. I used a small cookie scoop to dip them up and drop them in the oil. The puppies fry up quicker than a hiccup — don’t step away or your golden brown will be a sunburn from which you cannot return. In a matter of minutes I had a platter of 20 hush puppies to accompany my freshly fried catfish (for my catfish, I merely coated them in yellow mustard, then dipped in seasoned flour to fry…the tang of the yellow mustard is a nice accent to the sweet depth of the fish).
hush03The puppies lived up to any I had ever eaten and even seemed lighter and more tender, with a full corn flavor. I used canola oil to fry them, and was pleasantly surprised at how they did not hold any greasiness. While puppies are considered best eaten fresh from the fryer, I had so many that I had a revisit of them the next day. They held up well. I thought of other variations of the recipe I could try, adding some fresh corn or…bacon? Hmmm, the possibilities.

Like all of his recipes, Wilson gave a gar-ron-tee on these. I would second that, my cravings hushed. For about a minute, I guess.

Hush Puppies
From “The Justin Wilson Cook Book” (1965)
Makes about 20 hush puppies

1 cup corn meal
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 egg, beaten
1 medium onion (chopped fine)
3/4 to 1 cup milk or buttermilk

Combine all dry ingredients. Add egg, mik and onions. Mix well. Drop in deep hot fat by spoonsful and brown on all sides.

Blogger’s Note: I added about two tablespoons of chopped fresh chives to this recipe.

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