Anatomy of a Classic

Scallion Cornbread with Cheddar Cheese

Makes one 9-inch round

A slightly Tex-Mex take on cornbread

photo: Johnny Autry


Like most of the South’s beloved dishes, cornbread has roots that run deep, all the way back to Native Americans who dried and ground corn into cornmeal. “Cornbread is a cornerstone of American food tradition,” says Erin O’Shea, chef of Percy Street Barbecue in Philadelphia. “Our first bread made without yeast.” Native American cornbread was simple, just cornmeal and water cooked on hot flat rocks in the fire and often called ash cake. But its identity changed as cornbread was introduced to early settlers and spread around the country.

Today there are as many variations of cornbread as there are cooks, from Southern pork cracklings bread to Rhode Island’s flat johnnycakes or “journey cakes,” so named because they were easy to carry on long trips. “As a young cook, I tried them all,” says O’Shea, a Baltimore native who developed her skills in Richmond, Virginia, under mentor Jimmy Sneed at the Frog and the Redneck. “I was constantly trying to change things, to move forward. But at Percy Street Barbecue, I went back to basics.” O’Shea’s cornbread draws inspiration from the Tex-Mex custom of a heartier bread, enriched by cheese and spiked with scallions, her take on the jalapeños typically used. But she doesn’t waver from a few constants: “Cornbread needs to be warm, fresh, and slathered with butter.”


Ingredients

  • Dry mix

    • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

    • 1 cup plus 3 tbsp. yellow cornmeal

    • 3 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. sugar

    • 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. baking powder

    • 1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

  • Wet mix

    • 2 large eggs

    • 1 tbsp. light corn syrup

    • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk

    • 3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted over low heat and set aside

    • 1/2 cup sliced scallions (about 1/4 inch wide)

    • 2 1/2 oz. sharp yellow cheddar, cut into small squares


Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.

     

  3. Using a separate medium-size bowl, whisk together wet ingredients. Slowly add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, whisking well to combine. Add melted butter to the batter, stirring slowly to incorporate. Finish by folding in chopped scallions.

  4. Pour the batter into a 9-inch cast-iron skillet and then drop cheese cubes onto the top. Run a spatula over the surface to make sure all the cheese is submerged.

  5. Bake until edges are a little crispy and top is golden brown, about 60 minutes.

  6. Remove from oven and place skillet on a cooling rack. The cast iron retains its heat and will continue to cook the cornbread. Let cool a bit before serving to allow the cornbread to set.

Meet the Chef: Erin O'Shea

Hometown: 
Baltimore

Current restaurant: 
Percy Street Barbecue, Philadelphia

On the menu: Brisket; pinto beans with burnt ends; German potato salad; pecan pie

Guiding principle: 
Keep it honest.

Favorite utensil:
 “I’ve got a lucky ladle from my first restaurant job.”


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