For many, there are only two types of cornbread: right and wrong. Or Southern and Northern. [Editor’s note: What is Northern cornbread? I don’t know her.] For me, both styles are simply blank canvases that I can add flavors to. If you’re brave enough to break tradition with me, try this spicy, tomato ketchup cornbread.
Cornbread is a cornmeal-based quick bread, and when you view it like that, you can free yourself from expectations. Sometimes it’s enriched with bacon fat; sometimes with butter. Sometimes it’s fluffy and sweet; other times it’s a dry, crumbly, unsweetened skillet bread. Personally, I like cornbread with stuff in it and on top of it—maybe corn kernels or jalapeños scattered within, or a scoop of chili or mac and cheese ladled on top. This week, I was missing the flavorsome red tomatoes of summer, so I created a cornbread that included a tangy tomato-punch.
Simply adding slices of tomato to a plain cornbread wasn’t going to cut it for me. Tomatoes are largely water, and if you bake them into a quick bread, you’ll get a wet pocket of steamy tomato, which isn’t very flavorful and can get a little mushy. To get a more concentrated tomato flavor that wouldn’t disrupt the liquid ratio of the cornbread batter, I considered tomato paste and tomato ketchup. Either one would have worked, but as a “more is more” kind of person, I thought that the added cane sugar, salt, and spices that are included in ketchups would highlight the tomato-y flavor. I prefer ketchups that have a short ingredient list, like Sir Kensington’s or Annie’s, but any ketchup will do. Just for good measure—and because I often like to have two flavor-focal points—I added a strong dose of peppery spice. Cayenne and dried red pepper flakes complement the tomato flavor and make the finished cornbread taste more like tomatoes instead of, well, ketchup.
To make this cornbread, use the typical muffin method for mixing. Add all of the dry ingredients to a medium-sized bowl and blend them together with a whisk. Add all of the wet ingredients to a smaller bowl or a measuring cup, and whisk them together. Pour all of the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients at once, and whisk until combined. While the oven is preheating to 450°F, add butter to a cast iron skillet, and let it heat up in the oven until the butter begins to brown. Pour all of the batter into the skillet, smooth out the top, and place it back in the oven for 20 minutes.
The following cornbread recipe is closer to the texture of a Southern-style cornbread—skillet-crisped edges and more on the crumbly side. It’s rich with tomato flavor and gets a touch of tang and sweetness from the ketchup. The pepper is time-released and sure to wake up your tastebuds. The measurements in the recipe provide an undeniable kick that is not for the faint of heart. If you only want warming spices, do yourself a favor and cut the cayenne and pepper flake measurements in half. This cornbread is best served with something salty and full of umami, like crispy bacon, barbecued pork, or black bean soup.
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- 2 tablespoons butter
- ¾ cup fine cornmeal
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons coarse cornmeal
- ½ cup flour
- ½ teaspoon cayenne powder
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, crushed with a mortar and pestle
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup ketchup (I used Annie’s organic ketchup)
- ¾ cup milk
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Add the butter to a 10 or 12-inch cast iron skillet. Set aside until you are ready. Five minutes before you finish mixing the batter, put the skillet in the oven to preheat and lightly brown the butter.
In a medium bowl, mix the two types of cornmeal, flour, cayenne, pepper flakes, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the ketchup, milk, egg, and oil. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and whisk until combined.
Take the skillet out of the oven and swirl the pan so the butter coats the bottom. Pour the batter into the hot skillet. Quickly smooth out the top and return the skillet to the oven.
Bake at 450°F for 20 minutes or until browned along the edges and set in the center. Serve at room temperature as a tomato-packed side dish. This cornbread keeps, covered, in the refrigerator for up to five days, or frozen for up to three months. Revive frozen cornbread in the oven for 5-10 minutes at 350°F.
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