When I was maybe ten years old, my mom printed out a standard cornbread recipe (pre-smartphone days!) and we set out to try it. It wasn’t all that difficult – mix wet ingredients into the dry, pour into a well-buttered tin, let the oven do its magic. I insisted that we knead the batter, but was thankfully ignored. A flawless buttery loaf with sweet coarse crumbs emerged and quickly disappeared. This was my first non-spectator kitchen experience; I’ve been especially fond of cornbread ever since.
Emboldened by our success, we set out to adapt this recipe. My parents weren’t really bakers at that point, and hadn’t tried a lot of Western recipes. We thought the recipe would probably turn into a satisfactory chocolate cake recipe if we replaced the cornmeal with a modest amount of melted chocolate. (Why didn’t we just look up a cake recipe?) The end result actually wasn’t terrible! We repeated it a few times after, but cornbread-turned-cake is one childhood food memory I don’t intend to explore here anytime soon.
But a cornbread that’s infused with the dark heat of dried Thai chili, packed with fatty Chinese sausage and given extra oomph with garlicky scallions? That I can support. This combo has been on my to-do list for a while, and with Thanksgiving coming up I finally took a stab at it. I drew inspiration from Southern cornbread recipes that incorporate lard and bacon, but unlike true Southern cornbread i) mine is lightly sweetened – I wasn’t committed enough to source authentic cornmeal, which is naturally sweet from a longer ripening time, and ii) there’s no crispy crust, partially because the lap cheong adds some texture and partially as a nod to my very first plushy loaf. If you want to make a flat, crusty skillet cornbread, you can simply mix all the ingredients except the butter, pour the butter in a searing hot skillet, and essentially fry the batter before popping it into the oven.
A couple other notes: I’ve started using dark brown sugar instead of white sugar in most of my baking, mainly because the luscious molasses notes have more depth of flavor, while bringing in more moisture per tablespoon than white sugar. I typically don’t use a lot of sugar when cooking and baking for taste reasons, but as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like compromising texture (sugar is actually considered a quasi-liquid in baking).
So this twist on classic cornbread ends up being both a little worldly and a throwback to my first excursions in cooking. In my kitchen, traditions are made to be tampered with.
Lap Cheong, Scallion & Thai Chili Cornbread Recipe (makes 1 loaf)
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 2 eggs
- 1-2 scallions
- 5 Thai chilis, shredded; remove seeds for a less aggressively spicy flavor (I used half of the seeds)
- 2 lap cheong (Chinese sausages)
Mix dry ingredients (first five on list) and wet ingredients (next three) in two separate bowls. Make sure the butter is cooled before adding in the eggs, or they will scramble! Form a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquids; fold over and mix until just combined and most of the lumps are gone. Add in the scallions, chili, and lap cheong and stir to evenly distribute.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9x5 baking dish with parchment paper and butter the sides. Pour in the batter and bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean.