Betty Harper Fussell is an American food writer who published a book about corn called: The Story of Corn. Anyone interested in browsing through her book may read long exerpts from it on GoogleBooks: here. If the exerpts are any indication of the whole, it is a book whose title belies lively content.
What Mrs. Fussell tells readers on the topic of the cornmeal and water mixture which is the basis of these Cheddar and Cornmeal Croquettes, begins with the simple observation: You Say Polenta, I Say Mush”.
American colonists also used to say, “Hasty Pudding.” Polenta–Polente–Hasty Pudding–Mush–they are all one and the same thing. All over the world, people make it, add their unique extras, and call it their own. Cooked cornmeal and water is, according to Betty Fussell, everyone’s comfort food, and a national dish claimed by countless nations.
For Americans, Mush even worked its way into colonial politics. Joel Barlow, writer, American revolutionary and diplomat, called it: “A name, a sound to every Yankee dear”, because the simple combination of cornmeal and water appears in the stanza of Yankee Doodle:
Father and I went down to camp along with Captain Godwin;
And there we saw the men and boys as thick as Hasty Pudding.
However, Mr. Barlow did wish his fellow Americans would improve on the name and even expressed his desire in verse:
Ev’n in thy native region,
how I blush
To hear the Pennsylvanians call thee Mush!
He is not alone in wishing to make Mush sound grander. Mrs. Fussell says that early American cookbooks sometimes preferred calling it Polenta, possibly in the belief that a foreign name conferred a cachet on the cornmeal. The Virginia Housewife used the Italian term in 1829 and, fifty years later, so did Dinner Year Book, which provided a precursor to the Croquettes described here with a recipe that suggested cutting up the mixture into squares and frying them brown.
It is satisfying to discover a context for something…I realize now, that when writing out a Menu that included Cheddar and Cornmeal Croquettes with Carne Asada Powder, I was joining in a long national tradition of dressing up Mush to take it out.
Cheddar and Cornmeal Croquettes with Carne Asada Powder (makes about 60, using a 1 and 1/4 inch biscuit cutter)
- 6 cups of water
- 2 cups of cornmeal (or polenta)
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of salt
- 3/4 cup of grated Cheddar cheese
- 6 green onions, chopped
- 3 Tablespoons of parsley, chopped
- 3 Tablespoons of fresh coriander (another name for cilantro), chopped
- 1 Tablespoon of pickled jalapeno, minced
- 1 teaspoon of adobo: Adobo is the dark red sauce in a can of Chipotles in adobo, which is smoked jalapeno chilis in a sauce of tomatoes, garlic, vinegar, herbs and spices. Once opened, the unused part of the chilis and sauce may be transferred to a bottle and kept refrigerated for many months
- 2 or 3 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup of milk
- about 2 cups of Panko: These are Japanese-style bread crumbs, but any sort of bread crumbs will be good
- olive oil for frying the croquettes
- a large heavy casserole or saucepan
- a whisk
- a baking pan with a raised edge or a jelly roll pan: The croquettes in the photos were made in an 11 and 1/2-inch x 16 and 1/2-inch jelly roll pan
- biscuit or cookies cutters: The photographed croquettes are cut with a 1 and 1/4-inch biscuit cutter
- parchment paper, also known as baking paper
- a cutting board or pastry board
- a large, flat-bottomed pan for frying the croquettes
- waxed paper on which to place the breaded croquettes before frying them is optional but useful
1. Bring the water to a boil in the casserole or saucepan. Add the cornmeal little by little, stirring with the whisk. Add the salt. Lower the heat and cook the mixture slowly, stirring from time to time until the cornmeal and water is of a consistency that begins to pull away from the sides of the pot.
2. Remove the casserole from the heat and stir in the Cheddar, green onions, parsley, fresh coriander (cilantro), jalapeno and adobo sauce.
3. Butter a pan and line it with parchment paper, cutting the paper bigger than the pan so that its edges extend up the sides of the pan. Spread the cornmeal mush out in the pan:
5. When you are ready to make the croquettes, lift the mixture out of the pan by the edges of the paper and place the mixture, paper and all, on the pastry board:
7. Beat the eggs and milk together in a bowl. Pour some of the Panko out on a plate. Dip the croquettes in the egg and milk mixture and then in the Panko. As you bread them, place the croquettes on the waxed paper. Leftover scraps may be reformed into a single piece to make more croquettes.
8. Heat some olive oil in a large, flat-bottomed pan and fry the croquettes a few minutes on each side, until they are brown. Drain them, arrange them on a tray for serving and sprinkle them with Carne Asada Powder. (There is a recipe for Carne Asada Powder here at the diplomatickitchen.)
A Note: Cheddar and Cornmeal Croquettes with Carne Asada Powder are good served hot and at room temperature. They are easily reheated. These croquettes are an hors d’oeuvre in the Lunch Menu: Southwestern Elegance. But they are also nice to place on a salad, such as one or the other of the Salad Variations on an Arizona Theme with Peaches, Tomatoes and Cilantro, found here on the diplomatickitchen.
A Second Note: The diplomatickitchen expresses thanks to SeriousEats for ideas helpful in coming up with this version of Cornmeal Croquettes.
© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012