I didn’t grow up with cornbread, and most of the time, the stuff I taste is just OK. It’s usually too dry or too sweet or too anything. I feel like Goldilocks, because I could never find the cornbread that was just right.
That changed a couple of years ago when my buddy Pableaux came through town on his “Red Beans & Rice Tour.” He’d visit friends. The friends would invite other friends. Pableaux made red beans and rice and cornbread. Everyone ate.
Pableaux’s technique was pretty simple: Heat up a cast iron skillet. Melt fat in the skillet. Pour melted fat into the cornbread batter. Stir. Add back to the skillet. Bake. And the thing is, this cornbread was just right. The bottom was good and crispy. The cornbread was moist, with the sweetness coming from the cornmeal, not a lot of sugar. And it was rich. I wanted a second piece. And a third. It was that good.
And so, Pableaux’s cornbread is now mine, as I use his technique, following the Lee Brothers‘ recipe for skillet cornbread. But where I differ is that I use duck fat. You can use shortening or butter or lard or bacon drippings, but I use duck fat, because I always have a lot around and, well, it makes the most kick-ass corn bread around. Now that it’s chili season, you need some kick-ass corn bread. So have at it.
Duck Fat Skillet Cornbread (Adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook)
3 Tbsp. duck fat
1-1/2 c. stone-ground cornmeal
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
1 large egg
1-1/2 c. whole buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450. Add duck fat to 12″ cast iron skillet and put in the oven. Allow skillet to get really hot! Meanwhile, mix dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients into another bowl. Add the wet stuff to the dry and mix until it comes together. Carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven, swirl a bit to make sure duck fat coats the sides, then pour the molten duck fat into the batter. Stir until combined and pour batter into skillet. Bake for about 15 minutes until the top is golden brown.