“Is there anything you miss?” I’ve been asked this question countless times since moving to the U.K. Friends, family, strangers all ask it.
Sometimes I reply with a shrug and a quick, “Oh, just people really,” not wanting complain about having the opportunity to live in this beautiful country. But truthfully, there are as many things to miss as there are things to love. Both are true. The more I embrace both aspects of life away from my home country, the more content I find myself.
I think gratitude is funny that way. Not having access to particular items where I live makes me all the more grateful when I travel to the states and seeks those things out–like boiled peanuts and fresh peaches still warm from the sun at the farm stand. And then I come home to Manchester and I relish in the cooler weather and the fact that some of the most gorgeous countryside I’ve ever seen is just quick train ride away. I’m grateful for each place and what they offer in their own way.
So when I’m asked this question, if I’m really honest, I can’t help but think of food. There’s so much nostalgia and memory connected to food. Admittedly, it is exciting and wonderful to adopt new foods into my larder, like treacle and piccalilli, but sometimes I miss my old staples very, very much. I miss my favorite brand of peanut butter, tomatillos, and grits. I miss cornbread. Oh, how I’ve missed cornbread.
Simple, crisp-bottomed skillet cornbread, made with real buttermilk, coarse cornmeal, sans sugar is about as good as it gets. A simple southern staple and a delicacy when done well.
Cornbread has always been a favorite of mine. When I was young, I always looked forward to a big wedge of piping hot cornbread slathered in butter. When my mom took out the cast-iron skillet, I knew that my dinner would be cornbread and black-eyed peas. I also knew that I’d definitely be having seconds.
Over the last few years, I’ve tried to duplicate my beloved cornbread by trying different brands of cornmeal and buttermilk, both of which are difficult to find in Manchester, with little success. Even when I lived in Boston, good cornbread was tricky to find (and make). After dozens of experiments, I’ve discovered the crappy cornbread culprit is none other than sparse cornmeal options. The coarse and medium ground cornmeal that I’ve found in the UK are much finer than cornmeal in the States and have very little corn flavor. This finer ground cornmeal produces a cake-like consistency with little to no flavor. Not a satisfying stand-in for my beloved cornbread.
After years of trying to satisfy my cornbread craving, I’ve finally developed a recipe that’s great if you don’t have access to flavorful coarse cornmeal. I use a mixture of coarse ground cornmeal, masa harina, and a little all purpose flour.
Masa harina is the star ingredient. You can find this fine corn flour just about everywhere these days, and it lends that deep corn flavor that I’ve desperately missed. To give this cornbread a bit of extra texture missing from the cornmeal, I add a can of sweet corn. To boost the flavor even more, I add pickled jalapeños as well as some of the pickling brine from their jar. The whole mixture is poured into a cast-iron skillet that’s been pre-heated in a ripping hot oven and coated with a pat of butter. This recipe really delivers that crispy bottomed cornbread full of flavor. I call this recipe my back-up cornbread, but it’s so good that I’ll make this cornbread even after I’ve moved back to the states.
I made a skillet of this cornbread just the other day, a little piece of home that I’ve adapted to work in our current home. As we ate big wedges with salty butter and pepper sauce I couldn’t help but smile.
If you like this Masa Harina Cornbread, you might also like:
Masa Harina Cornbread
- 1 cup masa harina
- 1/2 cup coarse ground cornmeal
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/2 cup full-fat buttermilk
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter melted and divided (plus more for serving)
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon of liquid from the pickled jalapeño jar
- 1/4-1/2 cup pickled jalapeños drained and roughly chopped (choose the amount you use based on how spicy you like it!)
- 1 14 oz. can corn drained
Preheat the oven to 450*F. While the oven is preheating, place a 10 inch cast iron skillet in the oven so it gets blazing hot. This mixture doesn't take long at all to put together, so while you're preheating the oven, get everything else together--chopping jalepenos, etc--, but don't mix the liquids together or into the dry until your oven is completely preheated!
In a large bowl whisk together the masa harina, cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
Chop up the jalapeños and drain the corn.
Once your oven is preheated, pour the buttermilk in a 2 cup measuring cup and mix in the jalapeño juice, eggs and 5 tablespoons of the melted butter. With a wooden spoon, make a well in the middle of your dry ingredients and pour the buttermilk mixture in. Stir the mixture together, just until you don't see dry bits any more. Stir in the jalapeños and corn until evenly distributed.
Carefully remove the skillet from the oven and add the reserved tablespoon of melted butter to the pan, swirling it around so it covers the bottom and sides of the skillet. Quickly pour the batter into the pan and spread it out evenly using an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.
Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and when a toothpick is inserted in the middle there are maybe crumbs, but no batter!
Let cool for about 5 minutes. Serve warm with salted butter.