You know when you’re invited to a potluck, and that crazy competitive urge kicks in and you sit down and say “I am going to win this.”
Then your friend says, “I don’t think it’s a competition.”
And you look him square in the eye and say, “yes it is.”
Faced with just the predicament above, my friend and I were scrambling through Epicurious looking for good appetizer-ish dishes we could bring, when we landed on this recipe for polenta bites. Problem was, it includes a step waiting for the polenta to set, which would take three hours — we had to think of another way. Well, what’s like polenta, but doesn’t require a bunch of time or mini muffin cups? Hush puppies.
For the hush puppies:
- 2 cups stone-ground cornmeal (Seriously – don’t use just any corn meal, make sure it’s ground finely, or you’ll end up with grainy puppies. And who likes grainy puppies?)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup diced scallions
- 1 large egg
- a bunch of vegetable (I used canola) oil
For the garnishes:
- 1 pound of bacon
- 2 ounces soft blue cheese (such as Saga blue), cut into 24 cubes
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 12 grape tomatoes, quartered lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
My roommates and I have the extremely good fortune – or something like that – of having a deep fryer, so this recipe is geared towards that. If not, a deep pool of oil in a large skillet will do. Make sure to use a thermometer so it doesn’t get too hot.
Heat the oil (in a fryer, or a skillet) to 375 degrees.
Fry, bake, or microwave your bacon. (I think baking works best for this recipe, since you get an even crispiness with no curling. Throw your bacon in the oven set on 350, without preheating, on top of a cookie cooling rack placed inside a cookie tray. It’s done when it smells and looks delicious, usually about 20 minutes.)
Combine the dry ingredients for the hush puppies in a large mixing bowl. Beat the eggs and honey into the buttermilk in a separate bowl. Add the scallions once the eggs and milk are well mixed.
Dump the milk/egg/scallion mixture into the dry ingredients, and mix slowly until combined. Once combined, let it sit for a couple minutes so the cornmeal can soak through.
Form the hush puppy balls on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet or cutting board. Make little dimples in the top of them for the cheese and stuff to go in later.
By now, the oil should be hot. Slowly and carefully drop the balls into the fryer. (Daring chef that I am, I like to hold them so that the bottom is submerged before letting go. Yes, you get your hands close to hot oil, but you avoid deforming your hush puppies of splashes if you drop them from higher up.)
Let the puppies fry for about two minutes until golden brown, then remove them from the oil and put them on paper towels until they’re cool enough to handle.
If your dimples filled in while frying, push them in just a bit to make space for the stuffings. Stuff a bit of blue cheese in each dimple, then add a couple corn nuts, a little bit of basil, the grape tomato slice, and then some bacon stuck in the top.
They take a while but will win potlucks for you. Awesome.