I’ve never had a “real” hush puppy.
When you’ve been off gluten and cow-dairy pretty much for twenty years, there are things you miss. I don’t know the luxurious treat that is thick vanilla pastry cream oozing from a fluffy pastry casing that they call an eclair. I couldn’t tell you the proper viscosity of a real creme brûlée (though my versions make me happy). And I have no childhood memories of tasting a fresh-outta-the-fryer hush puppy.
Thankfully I’m an adult now, dammit, and I can make whatever I want!
Enter Chef Amanda Cohen and her Dirt Candy cookbook.
I met the mighty Ms. Amanda around this time two years ago for my Serious Eats column. I had been in the chef-writing world for long enough to get a feel for the overall landscape of cuisine in NYC, but not so much that I knew who my own bastions of contemporary, mouth-watering, relevant cuisine are.
Amanda is one of those big dogs. The kind of chef making history in the most honest, intimate and badass of ways.
Her restaurant was tiny – maybe ten tables from what I can remember – and serves up some of the only vegetarian cuisine in New York City to get awarded two stars from the New York Times. And the menu is anything but ordinary; during that interview we discussed a cake infused with celery, for example. Her current squash offering is described as such: butternut squash scallopini with harissa labneh balls and green chermoula (which is just a fancy arabic word for sauce). She celebrates vegetables in a fun, whimsical, and extremely delicious way.
On top of that, she’s an awesome human being I am really happy to know exists. For a long time she wrote a blog on the Dirt Candy website (which I’m hoping makes a reappearance soon as they’ve just given the site a facelift), and her stark honesty about issues very few people like to admit makes my soul sing: she would review the reviews of her restaurant, she did a tell-all about what it was like being on Iron Chef, and when the media was whining again about there not being enough female chefs to feature at events, she drank a crappy cup of coffee and started listing.
And she makes yummy food. So there.
Again, I’ve never had a real hush puppy, so if I’m stepping on any cultural toes that find some fault in what I describe, I’m all for feedback. But I do know that what came outta my fryer, batch after batch, made me swoon. I’d planned them for a dinner party I was hired to cook, and both my roommate (the official gluten-full tester around these parts) who helped me polish off a decent portion of the first batch and the dinner guests sang their praises.
To adapt, I simply took all-purpose flour outta the recipe and subbed in with just enough brown rice flour and a touch of tapioca starch to keep it all together; one of the reasons I was psyched to try this was because the batter is already corn-heavy, so the other starches are merely there to support it. Unsweetened almond milk subbed in for regular milk (I didn’t want to go with something too heavy like coconut milk), keeping them moist and light.
The resulting babies are light, remarkably crunchy, and seasoned just enough with both red onions and shallots to have a subtle kick. They’re extremely easy to make and are just outside the box enough (at list for us northern city folk) to be really special without much fuss. The whipped maple butter that Amanda serves with them, beaten together with Dijon mustard and just a pinch of salt, makes the dish that much more soulful (though I prefer them with just an extra dash of salt and some of that sumac-infused honey I made for the partay).
The batter can be made ahead by a couple of hours, and one batch makes plenty for 6 polite or 3-4 ravenous guests.
These are on Amanda’s current menu, and the original version is in her book, which is worth alone for the fact that it’s a graphic novel! Yup, it’s completely narrated by a black-and-white mini Amanda, who sumo-chops her way through describing the highs and lows of just working with vegetables in a meat-lovin world. Please buy it. It’s one of the most special cookbooks I’ve ever seen and kept in my entire life. Epic, this one is.
A few months ago Amanda closed down her teeny-tiny East Village space to move to a slightly larger location a few blocks down in the Lower East Side. After much anticipation it reopened last week, and her reservation book is filling up, even with the extra seats. If you’re a New Yorker, get thee to see Amanda. If you’re not, check out the full interview I did with her over on WordsFoodArt and buy her book.
And, no matter what, make these with me in celebration.
Gluten and Dairy-Free Hush Puppies
The batter can be made a few hours ahead, but fry these up right before serving so they’re crunchy and piping hot! If making the batter ahead, bring it to almost room temperature before frying. If the consistency has gotten a tad thin, fold in a touch more flour until it sticks together easily when frying.
Serve them drizzled with honey, or whip together Amanda’s Maple Honey Butter: 1 cup of softened unsalted butter, 1/4 cup of maple syrup, 1 1/2 tsp Dijon and a sprinkle of salt.
- 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
- 4 heaping Tbsp brown rice flour
- 2 Tbsp tapioca / arrowroot / corn starch
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 cup packed diced red onion
- 1/4 cup finely-chopped shallots
- 1/4 cup finely-chopped jalapeño pepper
- 1 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk or dairy-free milk of choice (go for something not too thick, like coconut)
- 1 large egg plus 1 egg white, slightly beaten
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- vegetable oil, for frying
Start to heat a large pot with at least 2 inches of vegetable oil to 350°F.
In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, rice flour, starch, baking powder and salt. Add the onion, shallot and jalapeno and whisk in to distribute. Make a well in the center of the bowl, pour in the milk, and gently fold it in. Then gently fold in the beaten egg and lemon juice.
Using a small ice cream scoop or two spoons, slowly drop a spoonful of batter into the oil; it should bounce rather immediately to the top. Fry a few at a time; not too many to lower the cooking temperature of the oil. Fry until light golden brown, then reserve on paper towels.
Sprinkle with some coarse salt and, if desired, additional chopped shallots (or chives!).
This recipe adapted from the Dirt Candy Cookbook with permission from Amanda Cohen.