The first time I ate fried cornbread was two years ago at the John Blue Cotton Festival in North Carolina. I stood in a line on the baking hot fair grounds waiting for one of Shirley’s famous collard sandwiches for what seemed like ages. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat. The sandwich is genius. It’s a heap of seasoned collards piled high on a piece of crispy, deep fried southern cornbread with a side of pork fat. Needless to say, I flicked the pork to the side and dug in. The collards were great, but the cornbread stole the show. It was so crispy and salty and really, really good.
Awhile back I met with Shirley to get the scoop on her famous collard sandwich and she told me she made the cornbread using only a handful of ingredients- cornmeal, water, oil, and salt. She didn’t give me the exact measurements but after a bit of tinkering in the kitchen, I think I worked it out.
Depending on how much you want to make, you’ll need to keep the ratio equal parts cornmeal to liquid. You can either add the oil to the batter, or save it all for the frying pan. I used oil for both.
I took about 1 cup of yellow cornmeal with 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup oil. I added a bit of salt.
Then, put about a quarter inch of canola oil in a frying pan and crank up the heat.
The batter should be the consistency of pancake batter, not too thin. If it’s too runny, add a bit more cornmeal to thicken it right up.
Pour about a silver dollar pancake’s worth of batter into the hot oil and let it sizzle. Drop as many into the pan as you can fit. Allow the cornmeal to fry for a few minutes.
When the edges get slightly brown, flip and cook for another minute or two. Remember, oil heats up quickly and gets hotter the longer you cook with it. So keep a close eye on the skillet!
Remove the crispy fried cornmeal from the pan and place on a paper towel (or five) to allow the oil to drain off.
The edges should be crispy and the middle slightly soft. It’s a beautiful thing.
Serve hot with a bowl of chili, soup, or a bowl of spicy vinegar collards.
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