Now is the time for a nice pot of soup with a piece of warm cornbread. I used to avoid cornbread, but now I allow myself to have a portion. My assumptions about what makes a healthy diet have been challenged lately. First I read about the need to eat beans daily (Blue Zone Diet). I just read an older research article in American Society for Nutrition that describes the healthiest Mexican adults as the ones that eat a traditional diet with ~47% of their energy intake from maize and maize foods, and 4% from Beans. Did they say 47% Maize? That's a lot of corn! How can that much corn be good for you? Then I remembered that cornmeal can be a whole grain food (if it has the germ included), and in fact my favorite cornbread recipe from Ruth Reichl's The Gourmet Cookbook uses 100% whole grain stone ground cornmeal, and a hot skillet. I thought I would share my favorite delectably healthy recipe that goes so well with a pot of beans or soup. I will also share some variations, and recipes for different sized skillets.
Skillet Cornbread Recipe adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
If you would like to download the Whole Grain Skillet Cornbread recipe without pictures click Download Cornbread Recipe
Special Equipment needed: a well-seasoned 9 to 9 1/2-inch cast-iron skillet, or 10 to 10 3/4-inch cast-iron skillet.
Ingredients for 9- to 9 1/2-inch cast-iron skillet (serves 8):
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground, medium-grind
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups well-shaken buttermilk
1/2 stick to 3/4 (4 to 6 tablespoons) butter, softened
Ingredients for 10 to 10 3/4-inch skillet (serves 12):
2 cups yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground, medium-grind
3 tablespoons sugar (optional)
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 to 1 stick (6 to 8 tablespoons) butter, softened
- For Southern White Cornbread (the way my Grandmother Low made it) substitute white cornmeal. In the heat of summer my grandmother would cook her cornbread on a griddle (like pancakes) and this way would not heat the kitchen so much.
- For unique Flint Cornbread substitute blue corn meal, or grind any dry Indian corn (Zea mays indurata) into a meal. Flint corn has a higher protein content, and less soft starch.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Heat with the skillet on the oven's center rack for 30 minutes (If you are pressed for time you can heat skillet in the oven for 10 minutes and finish by heating the pan on the top of the range until the added butter is browned).
- Stir together dry ingredients: cornmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.
- Whisk together eggs and buttermilk in a medium bowl until blended.
- Add the butter to the hot skillet in oven. You want the butter to sizzle and brown around the edges and begin to foam (brown butter). If you used less butter, try to leave a slight coating of butter on the bottom and sides of the skillet so that the cornbread won't stick. If you used more butter, try to leave about 1/4 cup butter in bottom of skillet.
- Pour the brown butter into a heat safe measuring cup or small bowl, and return the skillet to the oven (alternately keep it hot on the range). Whisk the warm butter into the egg and buttermilk mixture.
- Stir cornmeal into the buttermilk mixture, combining until just evenly moistened.
- Remove hot skillet from oven and scrape batter into hot skillet and bake until golden - 17 to 25 minutes. Serve in skillet for a more rustic presentation and to keep bread warm, or alternately cool bread slightly and turn cornbread onto a serving plate.
The Professor's Rating
The Professor gave this 4 stars, saying "I like the cornbread you make. It tastes sweet." (I did not add any sugar) Fresh cornmeal with fresh butter naturally tastes sweet without added sugar.
Corn and Cornmeal Demystified
Is Cornmeal good for you? In whole grain form (with the germ), corn is healthy and full of nutrients. Corn is high in fiber and is good for digestion, has B vitamins, and has 10 times more Vitamin A than other grains. Corn contains antioxidants. Corn flour is a naturally gluten-free food.
What are the different types of corn?
Dent Corn - field corn is also called dent corn can be yellow or white (Zea mays indentata). Tortilla chips, snack foods, and masa can come from yellow dent corn or white dent corn. This corn is dry-milled for human consumption when dry and has a dent on the end of each kernel. Dent corn has higher starch content and lower sugar content than sweet corn, so is not good to eat fresh. Yellow cornmeal generally had a sweeter and more pronounced flavor, whereas white cornmeal is generally smother textured and subtler in flavor.
Flint Corn - Indian corn or calico corn, with multi-colored kernels. Flint corn (Zea mays indurata) is named after its hardness (like flint rock). It has less soft starch, more protean, and a lower glycemic index than yellow or white dent corn varieties. Recently heirloom varieties are starting to be grown and milled for use in cornmeal, hominy, tortillas, chips, masa, and so on. Different heirloom corns have distinct flavor profiles. Blue corn is part of this group and is said to have a nuttier taste than dent corn.
Sweet Corn - Sweet Corn grouped into three categories: standard corn (normal sugary), sugary enhanced, and supersweet corn. Standard corn has an especially short shelf life. My grandmother would say to pick it and run to cook it in boiling water to save its sweetness. Sugary enhanced corn is known for having a sweet flavor and somewhat longer shelf life. Supersweet corn is the sweetest of the sweet corns, and also has an extended shelf life.
Popcorn - To pop corn one needs a special kind of flint corn with extra hard hull (Zea mays everta), which has been dried to around 14% moisture. There are many varieties of popcorn, but there are two main shapes. One type looks more like a Mushroom, and is used for caramel corn, and other type looks like a snowflake shape is what the general used with buttery popcorn. Popcorn comes in a different sizes, and colors.
Nixtamalized corn -Long ago cooks in Guatemala found that boiling dried corn in alkali water removed the kernels' skins and produced softer and stickier dough that will hold together better when cooked. Food scientists now call this process nixtamalization. Whole corn that has been nixtamalized is called hominy or posole. Nixtamalized, ground, and dried corn is called masa or corn flour. Masa is sold at most Latin American groceries.
This nixtamalization process increases the availability of natural protein and niacin found in the corn, and so helps prevent pellagra. The process also drastically reduces the toxins that can be found on moldy corn. Mesa is used to make corn tortillas, chips, tamales and other specialty and ethnic corn foods. Likewise, Southern corn grits are made from ground hominy
Regular cornmeal vs. Stone ground
Regular cornmeal, is ground rather finely between metal rollers and is
degerminated, so is not a whole grain. Regular cornmeal will be all one color without flecks of lighter germ. Regular cornmeal will last about a year if tightly sealed.
Stone-ground cornmeal, often has a coarser texture and normally has its germ intact, so it is whole grain, and usually retains more nutrients. Stone ground cornmeal can be identified by its lighter colored germ flecks interspersed throughout the meal. Stone-ground cornmeal will last about three months. For longer storage one can tightly seal and freeze the meal to last about a year.
What kind of corn would healthiest Hispanics eat with a traditional diet?
A traditional diet would include nixtamalized corn, in the form of posole or mesa made from flint or dent type corn. Of course, originally it would be made from flint (Indian) corn.
Northern vs. Southern Cornbread
Southern Cornbread - Southern cornbread is what we have made today. It is thinner, crustier, and more savory than northern cornbread. It is traditionally made with white cornmeal with no flour or sugar. Yellow cornmeal may be used for more "corn-like" flavor if desired. Baking the cornbread in a greased, preheated cast-iron skillet produces a crunchy, golden crust. It may also be cooked like a pancake if preferred. If sugar is added it is added in spoonfuls, not cups. If flour is added, very little is used. This cornbread normally accompanies soup, beans, stew, or greens.
Northern Cornbread - Northern cornbread is sweeter, and tends to add comparatively large amounts of sugar using cup measurements. Northern cornbread rises higher and is more cake-like, and generally uses yellow cornmeal. White all-purpose flour is often added in equal amounts to the cornmeal. It is normally baked in a baking pan, or in muffins tins. It is sweet enough to be eaten alone, or to double as a dessert. Most cornbread boxed mixes are of northern type.