Monday, December 29, 2014

Southern-Style Jalapeno, Crystallized Aged Cheddar, Bacon Cornbread with Cilantro, Buttermilk, + Scallions, Fried in Bacon Fat Filled Skillet

Southern-Style Jalapeno, Crystallized Aged Cheddar, Bacon Cornbread with Cilantro, Buttermilk, + Scallions, Fried in Bacon Fat Filled Skillet
While at my in-laws home for the holidays in Birmingham, Alabama, we had the opportunity to go hang out with some good friends at night. After one night we arrived, our friend has made some cornbread, and then all of a sudden, we were on a cornbread-talking-kick for about a day straight because I told him of my favorite cornbread recipe. This isn't just any ordinary cornbread you make out of the box, this is a recipe I had adapted from the most famous cook in our family, Mama Jones. Mama Jones always instead on using stone-ground cornmeal (for better texture), a little bit of mayo (for extra added moisture), and frying it in a bacon fat filled cast iron skillet (for even more flavor). Now it might sound crazy to add mayo to a cornbread because as far as I know, no one else does it (well, besides when she did of course). But if you really break it down, it's mainly just eggs and oil whipped together. And in the deep South, we even add mayo to our red velvet cakes and any kind of chocolate cakes. So just take my word for it; it works fabulously. The process may seem tedious, but it is well worth the work, as long as you are organized. Start with three separate mixing bowls... one large and two small. In the large bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients until it is a complete cohesive mixture. In one of the other small bowls, whisk together the wet ingredients until it is smooth and well incorporated. Lastly, prep the mix-in bowl by tossing the shredded cheddar, sliced scallion, crispy bacon bits, diced jalapeno, and minced cilantro in a little bit of AP flour. This will help the mix-ins to remain evenly dispersed throughout the cornbread, instead of sinking to the bottom. And now the best part happens... the bacon cooking part, #butofcourse. Fry an entire pound of bacon until super crispy in a large, deep cast-iron skillet. After the bacon has fried, strain the fat through a fine mesh sieve to remove it burnt, black bits from the bottom of the pan (make sure to rub down skillet with a paper towel to make sure there is no residue remaining. After that process, pour the bacon fat back into the skillet and return it to medium-high heat. Allow it to almost reach it's smoking point before pour in the cornbread batter, making sure to even spread and smooth out the batter, so that it fills up the whole pan. Cook for a few minutes until the edges begin to bubble and cook slightly. Afterwards, take that bacon fat-soaked-fried cornbread skillet and place it onto a baking sheet and cook it until you can insert a toothpick into the center and it comes out clean. After pulling it out of the oven, let it chill for 5-10 minutes before inverting it onto a cutting board and slicing it into pieces. I suggest your serve your cornbread with a softened high-quality butter or even a compound butter made with fresh cilantro or candied bacon or pepper jelly. This cornbread is the bomb... it is super moist, yet still has the desirable crumbly cornbread texture, while also having a spicy kick, a toasty cheese taste, and the smokey bacon flavor. Make sure to eat this cornbread while it is still hot and the butter is stilling melting on your slice of cornbread, yummmmmmm!! Enjoy :)

For the Cornbread:
1lb Thick-Cut Applewood Smoked Bacon
3 ½C AP Flour
1C Yellow Cornmeal (preferably coarse ground, we like Anson Mills)
2T Baking Powder
¼C Sugar
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper + Fleur de Sel, To Taste
2 Spoonfuls of Mayonnaise (for added extra moisture)
1-2T Honey
2C Buttermilk, Freshly Shaken
4 Medium Eggs, Lightly Beaten
2 Sticks of Unsalted Butter, Melted & Cooled (you can brown it to if you like, but we didn’t)
1 Lime, Zested
8oz Crystallized Aged White Cheddar, Shredded (but any high-quality aged cheddar will do)
½C Sliced Scallions
2-3 Jalapenos, Minced (depending on your heat preference)
2-4T Fresh Cilantro, Minced (depending on your preference)
High-Quality Butter or Compound Butter, For Serving

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and get out your cast iron skillet.
2. For the Bacon: Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and fry the bacon slices until they are all quite crispy. You do not want them to be chewy because when they are baked into the cornbread, they bacon bits tend to get soggy and you want crispy nuggets of gold. After you have fried all of the bacon, strain the fat through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. Wipe out the skillet, in order to remove any black, burnt bits from the bottom of the pan (because that won’t taste to good at the end). Pour the strained bacon fat back into the rubbed-down skillet and let it sit there while you make the cornbread.
3. Beginning the Cornbread: In a large mixing bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, fresh cracked pepper, and fleur de sel until a cohesive mixture is formed. In another small bowl, plop in the two spoonfuls of mayo and whisk until smooth. Slowly whisk in the honey, buttermilk, beaten eggs, the melted (and cooled) butter, and the zest of one lime. We don’t want no scrambled eggs in our cornbread, y’all (so be careful with hot butter).
4. Prepping the Mix-Ins: Grate the crystallized, aged cheddar into large shreds. Add it into another small mixing bowl. Slice the scallions and add them to the cheddar bowl. Dice the fresh jalapenos and add them to the same bowl as well. Finely chop of the super crispy bacon until they resemble (slightly-larger) bacon bits and toss them into the bowl. Lastly, mince up as much fresh cilantro as you like and lastly add that to the mix-in component bowl. Add in a couple tablespoons of AP Flour into the mix-in bowl and toss all of the ingredients around, so that they are all lightly coated in the flour. This will help the mix-ins to remain evenly dispersed throughout the cornbread, instead of sinking to the bottom.
5. Finishing the Cornbread: Using the large mixing bowl of dry ingredients as the starting point, pour in the small mixing bowl of the wet ingredients. With a wooden spoon, stir the wet ingredients into the dry until most of the lumps are dissolved. Don't please DO NOT over-mix or it could become quite dry + crumbly. Lastly, add in the flour-tossed mix-ins by gently folding them into the batter, just until everything is combined and mixed throughout. Set this aside and get that bacon fat skillet ready.
6. For the Bacon Fat Fried Cornbread: Reheat the bacon fat in the cast iron skillet to medium-high heat until it is almost to its smoking point. Once it has reached that point, slowly pour or spoon in the loaded cornbread batter into the hot bacon fat. It should begin to sizzle and pop… this a good thing and what develops the most delicious crisp crust. Just make a concerted effort to spread out the cornbread, so that the whole pan is filled. Fry the bread just until the edges begin to bubble and cook, about 3-5 minutes, depending the size of your skillet. Place the hot skillet onto a baking sheet (this will help keep any drippings of bacon fat that might spill over while cooking) and place the whole thing into the preheated oven. Cooke the cornbread for 45 minutes to an hour, making sure to check the cornbread at the 30 + 40 minute mark with a toothpick for doneness (so it doesn’t get overcooked).
7. Serving the Cornbread: Once the cornbread it cooked thoroughly through, remove it from the oven and use a knife to run along the edges of the skillet to loosen up any stuck sides. Let it cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan, just so it can chill a bit. After settling, invert the cornbread out of the skillet and onto a cutting board. Cut the bread into cake-style slices (we hade about 12 generous slices of cornbread at the end). Serve the cornbread with softened, high-quality butter (or even a cilantro compound butter or candied bacon butter, um yum) for even more flavor! Enjoy while it’s still hot and the butter begins to melt on each slice! 

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