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Hot water cornbread is an old, traditional African-American side dish. It is generally a part of southern soul food. Corn meal is mixed with hot, boiling water and a few other ingredients, including salt, sugar and spices. It is then fried in oil for about six minutes or until golden brown. Traditionally, the corn bread is fried in bacon grease in a cast-iron skillet.
Collard greens, mustard greens, baked beans, and possibly fried chicken often accompany hot water cornbread. This is a quick way to fry up some corn bread for a fast, filling meal. Hot water cornbread may be served on holidays, though it is also suitable for every day or breakfast, when it may be smothered in maple syrup for a change of pace from the traditional hot cakes. The breakfast cornbread often contains additional sugar for a sweet treat in the morning, or even a fast dessert after dinner.
Some home cooks like to add bacon grease to their cornbread, adding taste and moisture to the recipe, before frying the hot water cornbread in vegetable oil. In other recipes, shortening is added to the cornmeal to soften and add moisture. Right before the cook is ready to serve the hot water cornbread, he will mix up the ingredients, and quickly fry it so he can serve it piping hot. This is not a health-food item, and not for someone who is trying to watch his weight or cholesterol.
As an old, country-style recipe, the method of preparing this type of bread was passed down from generation to generation. Many home cooks won't need to use measuring utensils to make it. They will "eyeball it," and will know when the mixture is right by the way it feels. A cook will take a spoonful in his hands, and form it into a ball, then flatten the ball into a little pancake. If it sticks to his hands, he will add a little more cornmeal, or if it appears too dry, he'll add some more hot water or bacon drippings.
Ham, bacon, cheese, jalapeno peppers, corn, green onions, or anything available in the pantry can be added to hot water cornbread to enhance the taste and texture. If the cook has too many pots on the stove, he can also prepare the cakes in the oven by putting the oil into a pan, then adding the cornbread mixture and baking it in a hot oven for about 15 minutes.
Sugar in hot water cornbread? Not in the South! We consider that to be rank blasphemy.
One good recipe for hot water cornbread is to combine a cup of white cornmeal mix (already has the baking soda, etc. in it) with about two tablespoons of milk or half and half, and about 3/4 cup boiling water. This makes a batter about like pancake batter, which is the ideal consistency.
As always, cornbread -- hot water or otherwise -- should be cooked in a cast iron skillet. Nothing else produces the same golden, crispy exterior.
As a history lesson, many cooks made hot water cornbread because they didn't have eggs or milk, and had to be sparing with their baking soda and salt. This was a good alternative.