Jalapeño-Bacon Skillet Cornbread

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Happy New Year! I would like to start off by saying that I have six half-finished recipe posts. Six. I'm quite sure that's a sign of some sort of attention-deficit disorder or commitment phobia. Whatever the case may be, I've been on a serious cooking spree in the last week or so, but I get so excited about the next dish that I haven't stopped to blog the ones I've finished! I'm writing this post shortly after midnight after spending most of Saturday evening prepping for tomorrow's dinner - yes, I realize I am young and should be out having fun, but when I get that fire lit under me there's nothing stopping it. There are two things that inspired me to make cornbread, along with many other dishes recently, so this recipe is a great segue into a slew of upcoming related posts. Bacon and cast-iron skillets have damn near changed my life in a matter of a few weeks. First, about this skillet I received for Christmas from my sister, who has incredible gift-giving skills. LeCreuset Enameled Cast-Iron Skillet. You need this in your life. I rarely do product placements here, but when I say this will change the way you cook, I'm serious. I was lucky enough to receive another cast-iron skillet as a gift from my mom (Emeril's cookware), and will write about that one when I try it out! But for now, let's talk about the amazing things LeCreuset has done for my cooking.

I didn't grow up with anybody who cooked on a cast-iron skillet in our house, and we ate well-prepared food, so it just never occurred to me that they were that serious. Wrong. I don't know if it's the placebo effect or what, but there is definitely some magic going on here and it's really inspiring me to step up my cooking game. From perfectly seared fish, to crispy bacon, to quick apple crisps and tender cornbread...we're talking expertly prepared foods at home, done so much more easily than I could in the cheap budget-friendly skillets I was using before. First of all, this skillet is gorgeous and was ready to go when I opened the box...I was skeptical about this after always hearing that cast-iron skillets needed to be seasoned first. To my understanding, this isn't necessary because LeCreuset's skillets are porcelain enameled (definitely a plus when it comes to cleaning as very little food sticks to it.) The skillet conducts heat like no other, and evenly at that. It takes a little longer to heat up than I'm used to, but I only had to turn my electric stove up to medium at most to get a hot, sizzling skillet that's ready for searing. That's really important, because the hardest thing I've experienced using other pans is figuring out how to control my heat for proper browning and searing. The LeCreuset skillet is oven-safe at high temperatures, heavy so it doesn't warp under high heat, and also stays hot long after turning down the heat or removing from the oven, so it'll be nice to use this to take food straight to the dinner table. I'm learning that there are some health benefits to cast-iron as well, like iron absorption. Now, I'm not saying go and throw out everything in your kitchen cabinets. Those non-stick skillets and stainless steel pans are great for everyday cooking, quick sautes and reheating. But when you really need to get down and dirty, the right tools matter. I'm learning this lesson over and over again as I continue to cook more and hone my skills. It is absolutely worth investing in a good skillet or two. I'm so grateful for receiving these as gifts (I have both the skillet and the grill-pan) and definitely plan to start saving up to add to my collection...I've got my eyes on those French Oven Pots next!

On to the second part of my inspiration tonight: bacon. It's actually quite amazing that I stayed away from pork for so long, considering how ridiculously amazing I will now concede that bacon is. I have been chalking it up to a cheap culinary trick at best, a gateway food to clogged arteries at worst...but I stand today, corrected. I started dabbling in pork prior to the holidays - nothing major, a few pork chops here, some Linguica there. But right before Thanksgiving, when my super health-conscious uncle pulled out a tub of bacon grease from his fridge (his choice of fat for the Paleo diet), I knew I had to reconsider my stance. Let's be real, shall we? I don't need to be a board certified doctor to posture that eating half a pound of bacon every day is likely terrible for your health. That said, a serving or two over the course of a week as part of a balanced diet isn't going to kill you, and some would debate that it's actually a better fat and protein than a lot of others out there. But we're not here to get into the science behind that, not at this hour anyway. Just like with desserts, I would rather have the "real thing" in moderation than pretend to enjoy a watered down version. So don't suggest that I try turkey bacon, or give me a lecture about becoming what you eat. I've been cooking with delicious, crispy bacon, and loving every greasy minute of it. So in preparation for a killer Sunday Dinner (more on that tomorrow), we're about to get into this Jalapeño-Bacon cornbread recipe and enjoy a small slice...or two.

Jalapeño-Bacon Skillet Cornbread

1 c. yellow cornmeal
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 c. half & half or whole milk
3/4 stick butter, melted
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 c. honey
6 strips smoked bacon
1/2 sweet onion, diced
2-3 jalapeño peppers, seeded & diced
2 cloves garlic, minced

Servings: 8
Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 40 min
Equipment Needed: Heavy oven-safe 10" skillet, preferably cast-iron.  Note: To do this recipe without a skillet, simply transfer batter to a greased cake pan and bake accordingly.

Preheat oven to 400°. In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt.  I used part cake flour here to impart a lighter texture. I'm sure using a full cup of all-purpose flour would work fine - please let me know if you try it that way.

Dice up the bacon into 1/2" pieces and place in a cold skillet. Yes, cold. You want the bacon to slowly crisp up as the skillet heats, and adding it to a hot skillet will only increase the chances of it burning first. Set your stove top to medium and cook the bacon, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. When bacon has browned and edges are crisp, remove from skillet and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb grease. Leave the bacon fat in the skillet.

Add the diced onions and jalapeños to the skillet and saute for a few minutes until onions are translucent. Add the garlic, and cook a minute or so longer. Remove the sauteed veggies from the skillet and set aside. I used a mix of green jalapeños and a red chili, which had a little more heat. If you really want to maximize the heat from your peppers, don't cook them. Instead, add the raw diced peppers to your batter later on.

Add the beaten eggs, cream, melted butter, honey and sauteed veggies to your bowl, mixing just until the batter forms and dry ingredients are incorporated. Just like with pancakes, you don't want to overwork the batter.

At this point you still want the skillet to be hot. If you don't have enough fat left to sufficiently grease the bottom and sides of the skillet, add a pat or two of butter. Swirl it around the pan to coat it well.  Carefully pour the cornbread batter into the skillet.

Now sprinkle that crumbled bacon all over the cornbread batter. I also added some thinly sliced jalapeños and chili peppers for garnish, and it's a good way to let your dinner guests know what they're about to taste.

Transfer the skillet to the middle rack of your oven and bake approximately 30 minutes, or until the top of the cornbread is a deep golden brown and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.  If desired, melt a little butter over the top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

By the way, if you serve food out of your good skillets, be sure to use plastic or wooden utensils so as not to scratch the bottom of the skillet. Technically I was cooking this the night before dinner, but I just couldn't wait to try a piece of this. Moist, sweet cornbread with spicy jalapeños and smoky crisp bacon. Delicious, fast and easy to make, and it's going to go great with the ribs and greens I'm cooking up for Sunday Dinner!

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  1. I too am a firm believer in the cast iron skillet. I was raised in a house where it was the go to pot for everything. Finding old antique ones and seasoning new ones was a sport. It was then I learned that a cast iron dutch oven is the ONLY way to cook peas and beans... s'all I'm sayin'. And the cleanup is better than any nonstick.

  2. I'm making this for a *special* friend next month. I'm a little excited about this. My grandna had two cast iron skillets growing up. She only has one left after they lost their house a while back. I need to look into buying a few for myself.