Thursday, January 12, 2017

Gluten-Free Recipe: Cornmeal Pancakes

Since I just tweeted that this breakfast/snack is hard to beat, I suppose there ought to be a link for it...How to Make Cornmeal Pancakes That Are Hard to Beat. Classic cornmeal pancakes are gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, and vegan, but many traditional variations add meat and/or dairy products and/or sugar; you can take this recipe wherever you want to go with it.

First start your fire. This is a very oldfashioned camp-style recipe that works well with an open fire. Even if you use an electric stove, it's essential that cornmeal pancakes be dropped into a sizzling-hot skillet. It also works well with a wood, gas, or electric stove, or hot plate, or even a Coleman stove. It's not for microwaving.

Ingredients for Cornmeal Pancakes

1. Cornmeal: As much as the people who will be eating these cakes are going to need. Figure 1/2 to 1 cup of meal per person over about age 10, 1/4 to 1/2 cup per small child. This is a flexible recipe based on proportions rather than exact amounts. The important thing is to get GMO-free, glyphosate-free, natural cornmeal, which can be difficult. +Bob's Red Mill has a good reputation for that sort of thing. The fresher the meal is, the closer you are to the time and place where the corn (maize) was picked and ground, the better the cakes will taste.

2. Leavening: If you have buttermilk, use baking soda. If not, use baking powder. Figure 1 teaspoon per cup of meal; beyond 1 cup of meal and 1 teaspoon of baking powder, ignore extra fractions-of-cups.

3. Salt is optional, but traditional. (These are like fluffy tortillas, not tea cakes. No sugar!) If somebody is on a low-sodium diet, sprinkle a saltshaker over other people's cakes while they're cooking. The traditional method was to stir in 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt for each cup of meal.

4. Cornmeal pancakes are supposed to be crumbly, but you can make them a little easier to handle, and more nutritious, by adding a little flaxseed meal to the dry ingredients. If you don't have flaxseed meal, a traditional alternative is to beat an egg or two into the batter. Either flaxseed or egg will add some nutrients and an extra layer of flavor to the pancakes. Either is optional.

5. Liquid: You need enough liquid to make a thin batter that will spread out flat when the cakes are dropped into the hot skillet. If you use water, you can heat it to just below the boiling point for faster, fluffier pancakes. If you use milk or buttermilk, you'll get some extra flavor and calcium, and since you'll need to use cold liquid you'll have time to add eggs if you want to add eggs. (If you use broth, stock, fruit or vegetable juice, you're creating a variant recipe, not classic cornmeal pancakes.) The precise proportion of liquid to dry ingredients is generally almost, not quite, one-to-one. Since the weather and the freshness of the meal affect this, it's better to calculate by the actual consistency of batter than rely on predetermined measurements.

6. Oil, butter, margarine, meat dripping if you've been cooking meat: Cornmeal contains its own oil, but you do need a thin film of hot oil to coat the skillet. The hotter the oil, the less fat you add to the cakes, which is generally a good thing. A teaspoon of canola oil to start the first batch, and another teaspoon if the skillet starts to dry out between batches, is plenty for me. However, some people rave over the flavors bacon dripping, chicken schmaltz, or fresh country butter add to their cornmeal pancakes.

Method for Cornmeal Pancakes: 

(Start heating the skillet first of all. In a camp situation this will give you plenty of time to do other things; if you're using an efficient electric stove, you'll have just about as much time as it takes to mix the batter.)

1. If using hot water, heat it. If using milk and eggs, beat them together.

2. Combine dry ingredients. Film hot skillet with oil.

3. Combine dry and liquid ingredients. Do not overmix.

4. Drop a few drops of water into your hot, oily skillet. They should sizzle and skitter across the pan.

5. Drop generous tablespoons or extra-large-mixing-spoons of batter into the skillet. They should spread out flat and puff up almost simultaneously. When the bottom of each cake has cooked and dried out, the top will show bubbles, and it will be possible to slide a spatula under the bottom, turn the cake, and cook the top side light brown.

Serve hot or cold with any accompaniment you like.

Traditional Accompaniments for Cornmeal Pancakes: 

* Bacon

* Other thin portions of meat that cook quickly and leave a film of rendered fat in the skillet

* Fried or scrambled eggs, or omelets

* Cold milk or buttermilk. (Kids traditionally crumble their cakes into the milk and eat with a spoon, as in panada. Many adults like to do this too. Yogurt would also work.)

* Applesauce or apple butter

* Sorghum molasses

* Extra butter, for those who like butter

* Fruit

* Ripe tomatoes. (For my father's favorite version of cornmeal pancakes, you need home-grown, vine-ripened organic tomatoes, which are much softer and juicier than the supermarket kind, and need to be "sliced" into a rimmed plate or bowl. This is another way to eat pancakes with a spoon.)

* Cooked green vegetables

* Cooked dry beans

Less Traditional Accompaniments for Cornmeal Pancakes: 

* Immediately after pouring them into the pan, top cakes with precooked sausages--links, patties, soybean sausages, hot dogs, Vienna Bites, whatever.

* Or bacon bits

* Or dried fruit

* Or blueberries

* Or chocolate chips

* Or chives

* Or a thin slice of Vidalia onion. (Onions won't cook as fast as the cornmeal batter, so if they're not Vidalia onions they'll taste awfully pungent. Vidalia onions will taste crisp and sweet.)

* Use a can of fish as part of the liquid. (Canned fish is flaky enough to melt into the batter.)

* Or a can of tomatoes

* Or one or two mashed bananas

* Or applesauce

* Or other fruit puree, if you want sweet and fruity cakes

* You can even add sugar (or honey, molasses, syrup, etc.) directly to the batter. The cakes will be a little trickier to cook without scorching and will not be traditional, but they will be good.

* You can also mix in any kind of "flour" or "meal" you want, including ground nuts, wheat flour, rye flour, oatmeal, etc. Wheat flour will definitely make the cakes easier to handle and, of course, not gluten-free. Ground dried beans or peas were added to cornmeal cakes by Confederate soldiers, at least one of whom famously described the result as "miserable." (However, you can use fully cooked, mashed beans or peas for the liquid; this is known as Bean Bread, and it's heavy but not bad.)

* You can use cooked or canned vegetables for the liquid if you want to. I happen to like cornmeal pancakes made with a can of greens as the primary liquid. A can of carrots would also work.

* You can use cooked grits as the batter base. Grits are made by eliminating niacin-blocking corn bran from corn, which can offer a real benefit to anyone on a low-protein diet.

Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Skillet, 10.25 inch - Utopia Kitchen
You can buy the skillet on Amazon.