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These hush puppies are crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle

(Peggy Cormary for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
Hush Puppies
Active time:20 mins
Total time:30 mins
Servings:4 to 6 (makes 20 to 24 hushpuppies)
Active time:20 mins
Total time:30 mins
Servings:4 to 6 (makes 20 to 24 hushpuppies)
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I have a confession: I haven’t eaten very many hush puppies in my life up until now. I come from a cornbread family, and the few times I’ve had hush puppies at restaurants weren’t memorable. But after frying a few batches to develop a recipe for these cornmeal fritters, I’ve come to realize just how sublime they can be.

The slightly sweet cornmeal batter, lightly spiced with black pepper and studded with sliced scallions (some cooks add onions, corn or peppers instead) are a delicious delight. But the true mark of a great hush puppy is its texture — a crisp exterior that yields to a soft, fluffy center — and this recipe produces exactly that.

A staple of Southern and soul food cuisines, hush puppies are typically found on plates of barbecue and fried seafood. There are lots of myths around how the name came to be. (Perhaps most pervasive being that the fritters were used to quiet barking dogs.) Robert Moss in Serious Eats found that the term predates the food item, and that the fritters went by other names in various parts of the country. “At least two decades before ‘hushpuppy’ appeared in print, South Carolinians were enjoying what they called ‘red horse bread,’” he writes. “Red horse was one of the common species of fish (along with bream, catfish, and trout) that were caught in South Carolina rivers and served at fish frys along the banks.”

A specialty of Romeo Govan, an African American man born into slavery, “That red horse bread, one newspaper captured, was made by ‘simply mixing cornmeal with water, salt, and egg, and dropped by spoonfuls in the hot lard in which fish have been fried,’” Moss writes. “Besides ‘red horse bread,’ Southerners had several of other names for what we now call hushpuppies, like ‘wampus’ in Florida, and ‘red devils’ and ‘three finger bread’ in Georgia.”

Whatever you call them, they are delicious.

A guide to cornmeal, grits and polenta — and how to know when to use them

This recipe starts with a mix of cornmeal and all-purpose flour. I experimented with different ratios and found that I preferred the texture that resulted from equal parts of each. Recipes editor Ann Maloney favored a 3-to-1 ratio of cornmeal to flour for the extra corn flavor it gave the hushpuppies, so I listed it as a variation in the recipe below should you feel the same. The batter is seasoned with ground black pepper for extra flavor — but you can make it your own by adding other spices, such as cayenne or paprika — and buttermilk gives the hush puppies a nice tang.

A word of caution: Do not overmix the batter — it can lead to dense, tough hush puppies. Also important is the brief rest period, which allows time for the cornmeal to hydrate and any gluten to relax a bit, leading to moister, more tender fritters. Then it’s time to fry! I made golf ball-size hush puppies, but you can form them into different shapes and sizes, as desired, just note that the fry time may differ.

How to reuse and properly dispose of cooking oil

Last but not least, while they are great on their own, condiments — such as a spicy remoulade sauce or honey butter — make these hush puppies even more irresistible.

Hush Puppies

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days. Serve at room temperature, or to reheat the hush puppies, warm on a sheet pan in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

VARIATION: For more corn flavor but a slightly grittier texture, you can substitute up to 1/2 cup of the all-purpose flour with additional cornmeal.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup (140 grams) medium-grind cornmeal, preferably stone-ground (see VARIATION)
  • 1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour (see VARIATION)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt, plus more for sprinkling (optional)
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) well-shaken buttermilk, at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
  • Peanut or vegetable oil, for deep frying
  • Remoulade sauce or honey butter, for serving (optional)

Step 1

In a medium bowl, whisk the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, pepper and salt until thoroughly combined. In a separate medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk the buttermilk, butter and egg until thoroughly combined. Add the buttermilk mixture to the cornmeal mixture and stir until just combined, then stir in the scallion. Let the batter rest for 10 to 15 minutes.

Step 2

Meanwhile, add enough oil to a medium or large heavy-bottomed pot to come 1 1/2 inches up the sides and set it over medium-high heat. Heat until a deep-fry or instant-read thermometer registers 350 degrees. (You can also check the temperature of the oil by dropping a small dollop of the batter into the oil. It should immediately start bubbling and turn golden.) Place a wire rack over a large, rimmed baking sheet or line a tray with paper towels and set it near your work area.

Step 3

Use a medium cookie scoop to drop golf ball-size rounds (about 2 tablespoons each) of the batter into the oil, about 6 at a time so as to not overcrowd the pan and cause the temperature of the oil to drop too much. (You can use two spoons if you do not have a cookie scoop.)


Step 4

Fry, occasionally turning the hush puppies with a spider or slotted spoon and adjusting the heat as needed so that the oil stays around 350 degrees, until nicely browned all over, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the hush puppies to the prepared pan and sprinkle with salt, if desired. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve hot with remoulade sauce or honey butter for dipping, if desired.

Nutrition Information

Due to variability of oil absorption, ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.


Recipe from staff writer Aaron Hutcherson.

Tested by Aaron Hutcherson; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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