Hushpuppies are one of those frustrating things that require practice and patience. When you finally get them just right, it's quite the victory. To master a dish that should be so many things at once -- sweet, salty, tangy, crunchy, and fluffy -- is no easy feat.
There are a couple of key components to hushpuppy perfection. First, the sweetness of proper hushpuppies, just like the sweetness of proper cornbread, should come from good cornmeal (not from sugar). Start with a tried and true brand like Anson Mills, Falls Mill, or Old School Mill. The buttermilk, too, is crucial -- spring for something full-fat from the farmers market to keep the batter moist.
Once you've mastered this basic recipe, go nuts! Try mixing in different herbs and spices and maybe even steamed spaghetti squash or pimento cheese. I prefer my hushpuppies plain, but I will dip them in pretty much any kind of mayonnaise imaginable. My husband actually proposed to me while I was really going at a basket of hushpuppies served with jalapeño cilantro aioli, which, for sentimental reasons, continues to be my favorite accompaniment to one of the South's oldest dishes.
More: Your hushpuppies are begging to be eaten with a glass of sweet tea.
1 cup stoneground yellow cornmeal 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 1 large egg 1 cup full-fat buttermilk 7 dashes hot sauce 1/4 cup chopped green onions Peanut or rice bran oil, for frying Sea salt, for sprinkling
For the jalapeño cilantro aioli:
1 egg yolk 2 to 4 teaspoons acid (lemon juice, lime juice, or white balsamic vinegar) 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1 large garlic clove, minced 1 cup grapeseed or olive oil 1 pinch salt and white pepper 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro Chopped fresh or pickled jalapeño to taste
In a medium bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg well with the buttermilk and the hot sauce. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the buttermilk mixture and gently fold with a fork. Add the green onions and make sure they are evenly distributed. You'll know you're on the right track at this point because your batter will already look airy and fluffy. Let the batter rest 20 minutes.
Heat some oil in a round, heavy pot over medium until it hits 350° F. If you don't have an oil thermometer, no big deal! When the oil starts to glisten, drop in a small piece of potato. It will start rapidly firing bubbles when the oil is almost ready, and will do a little dance and start to float when it is ready.
Use two spoons to drop the batter into the oil. Shoot for a tablespoon-sized spoonful. If the batter doesn't begin to float within a few seconds, give it a little nudge to ensure that it isn't sticking to the bottom of the pot. Fry for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Drain on a brown paper grocery bag and sprinkle with sea salt while hot. Serve immediately.
To make the aioli, beat the egg yolk with 2 teaspoons of acid (lemon juice, lime juice, and white balsamic vinegar all work well), the Dijon mustard, and the garlic. Stream in the oil slowly, whisking until the mixture thickens. If it doesn't thicken, add more acid. Fold in the chopped cilantro, then season with salt, pepper, and jalapeños to taste.