By Chef Ken Dempsey

Ahhhh …. hushpuppies! Little golden fried nuggets of cornbread-like deliciousness. I love a good hushpuppy, but there was a time when it was the only thing I wouldn’t eat on my plate. I hated them. They were always hard, flavorless, greasy, and just … well … bad.

If you’ve ever bought that bag of frozen hushpuppies from the local supermarket, or gotten them in your three-piece, batter-fried fish combo from a fast food fish joint, then you know what I’m talking about.

My hatred ran deep. That is, until my first visit to The Catfish Hole in Fayetteville. I kept hearing people (my wife) say this place had the best hushpuppies on the planet, so I was excited to finally see what the hype had been about. When they arrived at the table, I was honestly still very skeptical, but all it took was one bite to change everything I knew about hushpuppies.

Both soft and pillowy on the inside and crispy on the outside, they had a bit of sweetness I thoroughly enjoy about cornbread (I know. That’s a debate for another day!). The best part? The server just kept coming by with an endless supply of these beautiful fried balls of heaven!

I realized when we left, I live three hours away and can’t possibly just drive there anytime the hushpuppy craving hits. So I did the only thing I could and came up with a recipe of my own. It took me about ten tries, but determination and a wasted kitchen finally paid off in the form of a soft, pillowy, sweet and savory, crispy, spicy hushpuppy.

Although designed for hushpuppies, I discovered the recipe’s versatility while experimenting with some other dishes. It makes a perfect savory waffle, great for topping with pork belly or a hoecake topped with buttermilk fried chicken tenders.

Whichever method you use (hushpuppy, hoecake, waffle, cornbread), have fun with it and share with your friends and family!

¾ cup cornmeal
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ cup sugar
½ tbsp. kosher salt
½ tbsp. coarse black pepper
1 cup diced yellow onion
½ cup diced jarred jalapeno
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg – beaten

1. In medium sized bowl, combine first six ingredients and mix well.
2. Add remaining ingredients and mix gently until just combined.
3. Let mixture rest for at least 10 minutes.
4. In a medium sized pot of 350 degree vegetable oil, with a small scoop or spoon, carefully drop about a tablespoon at a time of batter into oil. I usually fry about 8 at a time.
5. The hushpuppies will begin to float but if they get stuck on the bottom of the pan, just give them a little nudge with a fork or other utensil.
6. They are usually done within 3-5 minutes but give one test to be sure.

*For Hoecakes, on medium heat in a medium sized skillet (cast iron is best), melt 1 tbsp. butter and scoop ¼ cup of batter onto skillet and cook on both sides until golden brown.

*For cornbread, in greased muffin pan, cast iron skillet, or small casserole dish, pour batter and bake in 350 degree oven for 25-45 minutes or until toothpick comes clean from center of cornbread.

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