Ok, back to the hushpuppies, y’all…So at the Southern small plates joint the first thing I ordered was hushpuppies. This is a mistake I’ve made repeatedly in Seattle, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to receive five overcooked spheres of dough, each roughly the size of a gum ball. Maybe a jumbo gum ball, but still. I’m not usually a numbers person, but I couldn’t help doing the math: this $6 plate worked out to $1.25 per hushpuppy. This might have been ok had they been delicious or even edible. Upon taking the first bite, I discovered that the “hushpuppy” interior was an odd shade of orange speckled with bits of red bell pepper (a departure from the typical Seattle hushpuppy add-in: jalapeños). Despite the peppers, the hushpuppy was oddly flavorless, not to mention DRY, but I guess I just did. Perhaps that’s why they were served with a dipping sauce. I dunked the second hushpuppy in the orange dipping sauce, which rendered it even less appetizing than the first. Ick! I’d go on recounting the culinary infractions at this particular establishment, but that would require thinking about them again. In retrospect, I should have known the place would be a disappointment when I saw the dessert selections, which included: fruit cobbler, cheesecake, and ice cream. Fruit cobbler and ice cream (priced separately!) might pass, but I’ve never considered cheesecake to be a Southern delicacy. Delicious? Indeed. But not Southern, y’all.
Now that I’ve rambled on about what all hushpuppies are not, I’ll attempt to explain what they are. Your basic hushpuppy features a batter made from cornmeal, flour, and milk. Some people add an egg or occasionally a diced onion. You drop a blob of batter into hot oil and in a minute or two you’ve got a moist, delicious—if somewhat bland—hushpuppy. Sometimes they’re roundish, sometimes tubular, sometimes abstract shapes, but usually, yes, a little bland. That’s how we like ‘em, y’all!
What tends to give Southern hushpuppies flavor is that they’re fried in the same oil as the catfish. According to my dad, hushpuppies were invented at a fish fry on account of a yapping dog. Supposedly, the cook dropped some catfish batter into the oil, tossed it to the dog and said, “Hush, puppy!” Various versions of this tale exist on the Internet, but it seems a bit farfetched to me. I mean, who first wrestled the fried dough away from the dog and decided it tasted good? And also, anyone who’s dealt with dogs at suppertime knows that tossing food at them doesn’t make them hush for more than a moment. After that, they commence to begging more loudly and aggressively than ever. So this may or may not be how hushpuppies were invented, but it does make a great story for kids.
In Seattle where there’s a dearth of catfish, you’ll generally find hushpuppies served as a side with BBQ (not a bad idea—Southern restauranteurs take note!). After my seemingly endless convalescence last summer, my friend Linda kindly took me to a BBQ place in the next town over (recommended by my friend and fellow Southern small plate victim, Tricia). Lo and behold, it was the first place in Seattle where the pulled pork didn’t require sauce. Better still, the tender, smoke-infused meat was served alongside some large, fluffy hushpuppies! Made from scratch, fried to order, and dusted lightly on the outside with a little salt. Yum! They come with the meal, and you can get an extra side of five hushpuppies for $3. Twice the size of the trendy joint, half the price, and 100 times tastier.
What’s your favorite place to get hushpuppies? Are there any BBQ joints in the South that serve them? Please name names, seeing as I get back for a visit at least once a year.
Photo credits: Hushpuppies by Sugarcrafter, Other Hushpuppies by Martin & Jessica O’Brien–Flickr Creative Commons, Slap-yo-mama Hushpuppies by Jeff Balke–Flickr Creative Commons, Hushpuppie sign by pecanpieguy–Flickr Creative Commons.