More classics. An old one and a new one. There are many schools of cornbread, but to me there’s one true winner: all-cornmeal buttermilk skillet cornbread with lard or bacon fat. The dusty, sweet, rich and tart flavors are real comfort food. You could certainly drink a lager or an amber with cornbread, but I’d like to make an argument for an IPA. Because IPA needs a voice, right? Joking. But really, IPAs do have a place at the table–and we can place them thoughtfully.
First, pick the right IPA. This pairing works well with IPAs with a bit more malt character and hops that lean toward a citrus or herbal/floral quality. Hazy milkshake style IPAs are probably not going to be your best bet. But as always, experiment away (and report back on the yeses!). This is a good time to stick with some old-school classics, like Pike IPA, Deschutes Inversion, or you could crisp it up with a Fremont Interurban or Georgetown Lucille.
Three Reasons Why This Pairing Works
1. Cornbread’s light bready flavor easily highlights the malt in IPA, which is typically somewhat reserved compared to many other styles, but does play well with others in its own measured element.
2. Tart notes from buttermilk accentuate citrusy qualities in hops (depending on which hops, of course). Because cornbread is usually an acid-base leavened baked good (baking soda + buttermilk), much of the sourness from the buttermilk will have dissipated–but enough remains to make a statement.
3. All cornmeal has a different flavor–good, fresher stuff has a lovely dusty-sweet prominence that blends excellently with floral and spicy hops–this is especially noticeable in a dry-hopped beer like most IPAs.
So I know, this isn’t a food blog (been there, done that), but I couldn’t resist sharing. This is one of my go-to recipes. It’s adapted from Gourmet, and is quick and easy to throw together.
1 1/2 c. cornmeal (I prefer stone-ground yellow, but anything works)
3/4 t. baking soda, declumped
1/2 t. salt (if not using salted buttermilk, add a bit extra)
1 3/4 c. cultured buttermilk, well-shaken (can use thinned yogurt or sour cream, but buttermilk is best)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c. bacon fat or lard (substitute schmaltz, duck fat, butter, or coconut oil for a variation–do avoid oil or hydrogenated lard–no flavor. If you’re going to have fat, it’s got to have flavor!)
Preheat oven to 425. Place cast iron skillet in oven to warm. Yes, you can still make this without a cast-iron pan, but it won’t’ be as good. Add fat to pan to melt.
Mix dry ingredients with a whisk.
Combine wet ingredients.
When oven is up to temp, remove skillet and pour hot fat into wet ingredients. Add all wet to dry and mix just enough to ensure a combined batter-try not to overmix. If very dry, add 1/4 c. water or milk. The mix will probably not be pourable, but should be easily spoonable. This all depends on how dry your cornmeal is and how thick your buttermilk is.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned and pulling away from skillet edges.
Eat immediately or let cool. Heads up, this cornbread does not keep well. Make enough for a day or maybe two, reheating with a pat of butter overtop, or add to breading for other food projects.