This is one of those sneaky dishes that doesn’t look like much but packs a ton of flavor. Light and airy, the cornmeal rises like a soufflé but is much more forgiving and devourable as it deflates a little once out of the oven. Traditionally, spoonbread is made with self-rising cornmeal or with the addition of baking powder, but I like to enlist whipped egg whites to give extra lift.
I prefer to make this in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet but a baking dish or 2-quart soufflé dish work just as well. The beauty of spoonbread is that you can bake it up any time of year and flavor it according to the seasons or your palate. Try subbing in fresh dill and a tablespoon or two of cream cheese to serve alongside smoked salmon. Or toss in cilantro and roasted green chiles and queso fresco along with the jalapeño. In the summer, I add a fresh tomato-herb salsa to serve on the side. For the holiday table, bring it out at the last minute once everyone is seated. Leftovers make a delicious snack as is or with a crispy fried sunny-side-up egg on top.
Corn and cheese spoonbread soufflé
Makes 8 servings as a side
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 1/4 cups whole milk (or half milk half water/broth)
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (fine-to-medium grind) yellow or white cornmeal
2 to 3 ounces good-quality grated Gruyère, Comté or Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup frozen corn kernels (or fresh when in season)
1 small jalapeño, stem removed (and seeds, if desired), minced
4 large eggs, separated
Garnish: sliced green onion and more butter, as needed
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9- to 10-inch cast iron skillet or 2-quart soufflé dish. Heat milk with salt and pepper in a large pot set over medium-high heat. When milk starts to bubble slightly, whisk in the cornmeal; reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring almost constantly, until smooth and creamy and slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in most of the cheese (if desired, set about 1 tablespoon aside for topping), corn, jalapeño, and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Separate eggs. Beat the whites until firm peaks form. Stir yolks, one at a time, into the cornmeal mixture. Add a large spoonful of whipped egg whites to the mixture and mix with the hand mixer until just blended; be careful not to overmix. Then, preferably using a soft silicone spatula, gently fold in remaining egg whites, being careful not to overmix — you don’t want the whites to deflate too much as you stir them in. Top with more cheese, if desired. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until fluffy and golden; the center will jiggle slightly. Serve at once with more butter and green onions, as desired.