I got to thinking about the deliciously spicy jalapeno-charged hush-puppies we enjoyed in South Carolina and the sweet-corn-kernel fritters my mother used to make. But where to take these: sweet or savory? Spicy or cheesy? Rustic or refined? I wanted tenderness with crunch, heat and a hint of sharp cheese. I based these corn cakes on on John Thorne's recipe for Texas Sweet-Corn Flapjacks in his book, "Simple Cooking", Mrs. Taft Walker's Hush Puppies in the book, "Charleston Receipts" by the Junior League of Charleston, and the Hush Puppies in the "Joy of Cooking" (1981 printing). Inspiration for the addition of sharp cheese came from the Fried Masa Cakes with Cheese from Anya van Bremzen's "Fiesta". With the addition of beaten egg whites, I arrived at this full-flavored yet tender conclusion, suitable for a savory Sunday breakfast or a summer dinner main or side. —creamtea
11 or 12 medium (4-inch) pancakes
corn kernels from about 2 ears of fresh, uncooked corn
mild, sweet onion such as Vidalia, minced fine
small sweet long red pepper or bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced fine (about 1/4 heaping cup)
small jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced fine (about 1 teaspoon, lightly packed)
scallion, minced fine, including some green (optional)
sharp, coarsely grated cheese such as Pecorino, lightly packed
yellow stone-ground corn meal
all-purpose white flour (or more, depending on moisture in corn kernels)
egg, separated plus one additional egg white
freshly-ground black pepper to taste
fine sea salt, or to taste
a drizzle each of olive and safflower, sunflower or other neutral oil
Place corn kernels in bowl of food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not mushy. (For texture, you may opt to leave a portion of the kernels whole--about 1/4-1/2 cup--to be added later.).
Remove corn from processor into a large bowl, and combine with onions, pepper, scallion if using, and cheese. If you kept some of the kernels whole, stir them in now. Stir in the cornmeal and flour and mix well. Set aside.
In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk lightly, add the cream and combine with the corn and peppers. Stir in the ground pepper. Batter should be moist yet firm, with barely any pooling of liquid at the bottom, and should hold a rounded shape. If it is too liquid, add more flour until it just binds.
Combine the egg whites in a medium-size bowl and set aside (see step 6).
Over medium-high heat, begin to warm a 12-or 13-inch nonstick skillet.
While skillet is heating, in a medium bowl beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff but moist peaks form. Scrape the beaters and turn about 1/4 of the whites into the corn mixture. Mix to lighten the batter. Fold in the rest of the whites until combined. Batter should be soft, moist and fluffy.
Test the skillet with a sprinkle of cold water. When it sizzles, add a good drizzle of the oils and allow to heat for a few more seconds.
Using the tip of an oval cooking spoon, scoop out batter for each cake, and drop into hot oil: about 1/4 c batter for 4" ovals. For smaller cakes, scoop out about a tablespoon of batter. Fry cakes in batches (do not crowd pan as they are delicate and flipping them will be difficult if you do). Cook until brown and crispy on underside and just barely dry on top, about 4-6 minutes for the larger cakes. (Watch the pan and adjust heat as necessary to avoid burning). They will release fairly easily when the underside is done. Flip and fry second side--it will cook more quickly than the first side. Drain on layers of paper toweling. Add fresh oil as needed for each batch or two.
Serve piping hot with goat's milk yogurt as an accompaniment if desired; but these are equally addictive plain and without distractions.