Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hush, puppies

Have you ever had hush puppies? Not Long John Silver's flavorless, cornmeal mass that sucks the moisture out of your mouth, although that is probably the hush puppy you are acquainted with. The only flavor there is oil tainted with something slightly fishy. Those were the items left in my paper bag after talking myself into giving their restaurant one more try.
After seeing a recipe in one of my cookbooks, I thought about how much better EVERYTHING tastes when you make it at home, and fish and chips is a fun weeknight dinner, so why not throw hush puppies in the mix? I searched for my favorite mix for beer batter (McCormicks-just add water) and finally found it on sale once again. I decided we were going to have a deep fried feast! Cod is a lovely fish to use (red snapper is nice, also, just make sure you despine) and homemade french fries are always a big hit.

So, I plugged in my deep fryer, loaded with vegetable oil and mixed together the hush puppies. Pretty basic ingredients, increasing the amounts of seasoning and adding some others and then, when the oil was ready, I dropped the mixture in. As they drifted to the top, I turned them, making sure both sides turned a nice, deep golden brown. I scooped them out and transferred them to a towel to drain, then piled them on one of my plates. As soon as the first little blurb came out that was too small to be a real hush puppy, I popped it in my mouth (to test the flavors) and wow! First, there was the gently crunchy exterior things get when they are fried at home. It almost melts in your mouth. Then, a soft, flavorful center with just the perfect texture was the next sensation to overwhelm me. Mmmmm....was all I could say.

My son ran into the kitchen, no doubt smelling something cooking and began rifling through the pantry. I offered him one (it is amazing how children can instantaneously know something is either deep fried or loaded with sugar) he devoured it and promptly demanded more. Son Number 2 then saw his brother was eating something, and decided he would also like to partake. It's a good thing this recipe made so many! I, of course, continued sampling about one from each batch I fried up (you don't want anything to be amiss...) and after the kids were done with their appetizer, there were still plenty for dinner, and plenty left over.
With the fish and chips it made a lovely dinner!

I read that these got their name because they were thrown to hunting dogs to keep them quiet. They also work in a similar fashion when thrown to your children...

Hush puppies
2 cups stone-ground cornmeal

1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1/2 cup very finely minced onion
1 stick celery, very finely minced
1 large egg

Optional: 1/4 cup finely minced scallions
1/4 cup finely chopped bacon (in case you were worried the calorie content was not high enough)

Preheat oven to 200°F.

Heat 1 1/2 inches oil in a 4-quart wide heavy pot over medium heat until it registers 375°F.
Meanwhile, whisk together cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together buttermilk, onion, and egg in a small bowl. Slowly pour buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients, stirring until just incorporated.
Fry rounded tablespoons of batter (about 10 per batch), turning occasionally, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes per batch. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Return oil to 375°F between batches. Keep hush puppies warm in oven.

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