Southern Hush Puppies are deceptively delicious little bites of cornmeal batter flavored with a little grated onion and dropped into hot oil until the outside is crispy and browned and the inside is soft and fluffy. They sure are hard to resist!
Southern Hush Puppies
These tasty little morsels can be found through the South, so it’s technically not fair to say they are from Arkansas, but I’m including them here anyway as part of my American Eats series because they are definitely an iconic food enjoyed in Arkansas as well as the other Southern states.
Although the recipes vary from place to place, they are all the same basic cornmeal batter with a few tweaks here and there like the addition of sugar for a slight sweetness (definitely my favorite approach even if it’s not traditional) and a little cayenne pepper (just a tiny bit for flavor, not heat really) or finely diced jalapeno pepper.
I had only ever had these at restaurants prior to cooking up a batch of these Southern hush puppies at home for this post, but it was so easy to do that we are going to have to do these more often as a special treat!
Southern hush puppies are typical fish fry fare and are wonderful with fried catfish or shrimp, but they also pop up at bbq’s in the South now too. And while I don’t think there are any “traditional” dips for hush puppies (and I personally like to eat mine plain), ketchup, honey, or tartar sauce would all be appropriate.
History of Hush Puppies
I just love the lore surrounding the history of hush puppies, regardless of it’s basis in truth. Southerners are known for being storytellers and for such a whimsically named food, it’s fun to know the creative legends behind it, even if they might be total fiction! Almost all of the stories have the same theme though – fried balls of dough were used to quiet barking dogs.
The most colorful story about the origination of hush puppies dates back to the Civil War, where it is said that Confederate soldiers would toss fried cornmeal cakes to their yapping dogs to keep them quiet if Yankee soldiers were approaching.
Another explanation of the name hush puppy is that a cook was frying up a batch of catfish and croquettes while being pestered by some kids and dogs who were in the kitchen. So to keep them quiet, she gave them the croquettes and told them to “hush, puppies!” and the name stuck.
An even older version is that hush puppies were invented in the early 1700’s by nuns from France who came to Louisiana and started making French croquettes with cornmeal, which they called “croquettes de maise”. This origin story doesn’t account for the fanciful name, but it seems like a likely beginning to the food itself. If you are interested in a more scholarly approach to the history of the hush puppies, check out this post by Serious Eats, which mentions a couple other stories.
Regardless of the genesis of hush puppies, they are part of a long legacy of Southern corn dishes like cornbread, corn pone, griddle cakes, and corn dodgers. Their association with fish fries happened naturally since the fish were dusted with cornmeal and it made sense to use leftover cornmeal by making it into a batter to fry in the same oil as the fish.
How to Make Southern Hush Puppies
The batter for this Southern hush puppies recipe is so simple to throw together that it hardly bear explanation. But frying can be intimidating for many (myself included), so I thought I would share my best tips for getting delicious hush puppies your very first time.
- Don’t overmix the batter. The process of making this batter is the same as making pancakes or cornbread. You whisk together dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, then stir the wet into the dry by hand just until combined.
- Grating the onion is best for texture and flavor. Grating the onion actually releases onion juices that help flavor the batter.
- Work in batches so you don’t crowd the pan. You can use a large pot, Dutch oven, or large cast iron skillet to easily fry these babies up in a couple of batches. I’m definitely not the most experienced fryer but something as simple as hush puppies is right up my alley.
- Use two spoons to push the batter into the hot oil to cook. I find that just dropping the batter in with one spoon causes the batter to break up when it hits the oil. Using one spoon to scrape the batter off in one ball works better.
- Use a thermometer to keep the oil temperature right around 375 degrees F. At lower temperatures, fried food will absorb more oil, while higher temperatures result in the outside burning before the inside is done. I highly, highly recommend getting a candy/deep-fat frying thermometer if you don’t already have one.
- Hush puppies are definitely best eaten soon after they are made, but you can reheat them if you need to. You can also keep them warm in the oven for a bit if you make them before dinner is quite ready.
- 3/4 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 small onion, grated
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- Combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cayenne pepper, and salt in a mixing bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the grated onion, egg, and buttermilk. Add to the dry ingredients, stirring just until combined.
- In a dutch oven or deep cast iron skillet, heat 2 inches of oil to 375 degrees F. When the oil is hot, use two spoons to drop batter into it by the tablespoonful, using the back of one spoon to push the batter into the hot oil all at once each time. The batter will immediately sink to the bottom of the pot for a few seconds, then pop up to the top. Fry for 3 minutes on one side, then turn and fry an additional 3 minutes on the other side, or until the hush puppies are golden brown, then remove from the oil and a tray lined with paper towels. Be sure to keep an eye on the oil temperature while frying so that it stays consistent. You may need to work in batches to fry all the batter.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 12
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 69 Cholesterol: 14mg Sodium: 87mg Carbohydrates: 12g Fiber: 1g Sugar: 2g Protein: 2g
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