Years ago we were shopping for furniture in the mega markets in High Point, NC. Needing a lunch break we asked one of the reps where the best “meat ‘n three” was. If you’re not from the South, that went right over your head, didn’t it? A meat ‘n three is a place serving simple country food: a meat choice with three down-home sides like collards, fried okra, slaw, etc. When done right, it’s glorious. We were directed to a place that was, well, pretty tatty, but the servers treated everyone like family and many of the veggies came straight out of the owner’s garden. Our meal started with a basket full of the BEST darned white cornbread we had ever eaten. That cornbread floated straight down from the meat ‘n three in heaven.
I had to know how they made it. I was told it was a special family recipe and top secret. Bummer! However, a few minutes later our waitress whispered in my ear the only info she dared give me: “the secret ingredient is mayonnaise.” Huh??? I immediately got to sleuthing that out. Bonus tip: if you really enjoy something at a restaurant, ASK about it – most professional cooks love to share their craft with others. I have learned so many great tips and techniques chatting with everyone from the servers to the short order cooks and the restaurant owners. The worst that can happen is they tell you “it’s a secret”, but then they usually relent and at least give you a hint!
To recreate that heavenly cornbread I started with one of our favorite cornbread recipes that I make with fine white cornmeal (which I think makes a finer textured cornbread that doesn’t seem to stale as fast) and tinkered with adding mayo. This cornbread is sweet, light-textured, tender, moist and perfect for slathering with butter and serving with spicy chili, a plate of pulled pork and greens or a hearty breakfast. Actually, for us this cornbread is so good it overshadows whatever you serve it with, so go ahead and just eat a pan of cornbread for dinner. : ) Enjoy!
“Secret Ingredient” White Cornbread
- 1 ¼ cups finely ground white cornmeal
- ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup mayonnaise (Hellmans or Blue Plate are best)
- 1 egg
Preheat oven to 425 and grease an 8″ square pan. In a mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients. In a 2 cup glass measure whisk together the milk, mayo and egg. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and gently stir and fold till just combined: lots of stirring = gluten formation = tough cornbread! Pour batter into pan and bake about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a crumb or two (the top of the cornbread will not be very browned – if you brown the top, the bread will end up dry). Cool a few minutes in pan and serve! with butter! or honey…or…