Anatomy of a Classic: Hush Puppies

Johnny Autry
by Francine Maroukian - June/July 2011

Perfect hush puppies the Georgia way

Leave it to a Georgia boy to make hush puppies hot in big-city Chicago. Though chef Cary Taylor may be a long way from home, he keeps his roots front and center at the Southern, in the Midwestern center’s Bucktown neighborhood. “I was born in Columbus on the Georgia-Alabama border, and living on the Chattahoochee River had a lot to do with how I grew up,” he says. “Hush puppies were my favorite. I ate them every chance I got, mostly at fish shacks and catfish fries.”

Passed down through generations of Southern cooks, hush puppies are traditionally served with seafood. “The earliest forms were just dropped dough, using the same cornmeal from dredging the fish,” Taylor says. “Folklore is that hush puppies even got their name because fishermen would toss them to the barking dogs so they’d hush up and not scare away the fish.”

To support local produce in his new home, Taylor uses a white cornmeal ground from sweet Illinois corn by Three Sisters Garden, though yellow works just as well, as long as it is fine grind. “Don’t beat the batter too much or it will get rubbery,” he says. “You want to keep the hush puppies fluffy.” Unless allergies prevent it, Taylor also recommends using peanut oil. “It’s the best frying oil to hold the heat and deliver the most color. And it’s the most Southern.”

To cook properly, hush puppies should be submerged in oil (about a three-inch depth ought to do it), so you need a pot with high sides. The chef suggests working in batches of eight, using a small cookie scoop or rounded tablespoons to get the perfect size. He serves the hush puppies steaming hot with a good tartar or rémoulade sauce, or with a Carolina smoked trout dip—reminiscent of the original hush puppy pairing. “It’s not the same as the catfish fries back home, but I am as authentic as I can be,” he says. “And hush puppies are comfort food—no matter where you’re from.”

Hush Puppies
(SERVES 6–8)
In one bowl, place dry mix:
2½ cups fine-ground cornmeal (white or yellow)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tbsp. sugar
½ tbsp. ground black pepper
½ tbsp. salt, ¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. cayenne pepper

In another bowl, place wet mix:
3 eggs (lightly beaten)
1½ cups buttermilk
¾ cup chopped scallions

Whisk wet and dry mixes together until the batter is just combined. Let rest for 10 minutes. In a 6-quart stockpot or a mini electric fry pot, heat oil to between 350ºF and 360ºF, keeping the oil at a steady temperature. Once the oil is hot enough, drop small scoops or rounded tablespoons of the batter into the oil in batches of eight. The cooking process is fast, about 60 to 90 seconds. As soon as the hush puppies start to float, use tongs to rotate (both sides should be crisp and light golden brown). It helps to put a pasta strainer on top of them at this point to keep them submerged.

Use a slotted spoon to remove, and transfer to a clean brown bag to quickly drain. Serve steaming hot.