Between Texas Independence Day and the Rodeo Austin, Swift’s Attic chef Mat Clouser has been thinking a lot about cornbread lately.
Specifically, his grandmother Anna Mary Motley’s hot water cornbread, which is fried in small balls that he likens to "unleavened hushpuppies." Clouser can trace his family back to the Old Three Hundred, the colonial families who moved to what is now Texas with Stephen F. Austin in the early 1820s. At family gatherings, someone almost always makes Anna Mary’s cornbread, for both nostalgia and because it’s easier than fried chicken, he says. "But really, it’s just a vehicle for butter," he says.
The family cornbread, paired with a rum raisin butter, was on the downtown restaurant’s menu for about its first year, and now the chef is sharing the recipe so you can make it at home. Clouser says that if your cornbread always turns out gritty, try a finer grind, and don’t skip the step about blending the boiling water slowly so that it is well incorporated into the cornmeal.
Anna Mary’s Hot Water Cornbread with Rum Raisin Butter
For Rum-Raisin Butter:
2 cups golden or standard raisins
2 cups white rum
1 cup sugar
1 lb. butter, softened
Salt, to taste
For the cornbread:
1/4 cup salt
2 cups finely ground corn meal
2 quarts peanut oil, canola, or lard for frying
To make the raisin butter: In a medium sauce pot, combine all ingredients except for the butter, and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes. Do not let the rum flame up or the sugar and raisins may burn.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temp. Discard the liquid and combine the raisins and the butter together in a food processor and blend until smooth. Season with salt to taste. If you do not have a food processor you may mince the raisins by hand and fold them into the soft butter with a spatula or wooden spoon.
To make the cornbread, bring 5 cups of water to a boil and add salt. The water should be salty like a clean ocean, less salty than the gulf.
Place the cornmeal in a second large pot. Slowly add the boiling water a little at a time, mixing with a fork to make sure the water is evenly incorporated and that there are no dry spots or chunks.
When the water is fully incorporated, the cornmeal mush should taste mostly cooked, with only a slight tinge of raw cornmeal flavor. It should not be gritty or overly raw, as that flavor may not cook out in the fryer. Cover the mixture and set aside.
In a large sauce pot or rondeau, add the oil/lard and bring it to 350 degrees. Using two forks, scoop golf ball-sized dollops of the corn mush and drop them into the oil using the second fork. This will create small grooves in the cornbread where you will want your butter to hang out. Fry about 4-5 minutes, or until nicely golden brown. The cornbread should be crunchy outside, and soft in the middle. Serves 6 to 8.
— Mat Clouser, Swift’s Attic