John Rancke, coauthor of the Coach4aday blog with Dan Kenney, host of the Annual Beer Snob Pig Picking, had a post on fritters a few days ago. Fritters are basically fried bread. You mix the dry ingredients — some flour, a little baking soda, and salt — and combine with the wet ingredients — beaten egg, milk, and shortening. Then you add corn for corn fritters, conch for conch fritters, or whatever else strikes your fancy, adding appropriate seasonings. (If you fancy zucchini fritters, be sure to squeeze the water out of the grated zucchini before you add it.) Fritters are a very flexible vehicle. Throw in ‘most anything you like. Some people love them.
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of fritters. In my experience, which I now try sedulously to limit, the fried flour overwhelms the “name” ingredient. And it’s hard to fry anything well, and wheat flour is especially susceptible to mistreatment. The outside never gets quite as crisp as I hope, and the flour sucks up grease.
The trick to improve things is to replace half or more of the wheat flour with corn meal: thus, the hushpuppy. Hushpuppies traditionally are eaten with fried fish all over the South. They also are served with barbecue in North Carolina, ubiquitously in the Piedmont, as at Red Bridges and Lexington Number 1; and they appear often in Eastern North Carolina, as at Wilber’s and Gradys. (Other Eastern North Carolina barbecue places often offer baked corn sticks, which can be heavenly, as at Parker’s and Bum’s, and/or cornbread made with no flour at all (Skylight Inn, Sam Jones, and Bum’s.) Hushpuppies are much, much crisper than any fritters I’ve ever eaten. The corn meal does that. Try fried catfish or okra coated with cornmeal. It’s much better.
I’m not about to get into a specific hushpuppy recipe. I don’t want to start yet another fight I know I can never win. My frequent Jeremiads against sugar where it doesn’t belong should be more than enough controversy for one person. I can, however, flag some issues in hushpuppy recipes —
A lot of wise people use half corn meal and half flour. Other wise people add more cornmeal than flour — say twice as much cornmeal as flour. I suspect that the folks at Picnic in Durham, NC, use more flour than corn: not wise. There also are disputes between milk and buttermilk, and between yellow (or white) onions vs. spring onions. You certainly need salt and some baking powder, and you certainly don’t want to taste sugar. I have no problem at all with adding jalapeños, which love corn, and a touch of garlic powder does no harm. I believe that adding crab is a waste of crabmeat: if you have enough crabmeat to make a dent in a hushpuppy’s taste, make a crab cake.
Look up a recipe or make up your own. One thing to remember — as with all fried foods, eat hushpuppies while they’re hot.
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