Don’t give me a bad hushpuppy

September 10, 2020

22  comments

a terrible looking hushpuppy - frozen, no doubt. - leslieannetarabella.com
This rock-hard on the outside and gummy dense gooey hushpuppy was served at one of the nicest restaurants in Mobile, Alabama. Of all the nerve!

Go ahead and talk ugly about my hairdo, say my pearls are plastic, but whatever you do, don’t ever give me a hard-as-a-rock, pre-cooked and flash frozen hushpuppy. 

They’re easy to spot and wildly rampant these days, even in the best restaurants. Looking like little brown jawbreakers from the gumball machine, and tasting about as good, the balled-up rock of bread isn’t fit to feed a human, much less toss to a poor yapping hound.  

Fried fish and hushpuppies - leslieannetarabella.com
Southern fried fish and hushpuppies done right.

Cornbread pairs nicely with collard greens and biscuits are appropriate for Hoppin’ John or anything with gravy. But if you are feasting on Southern seafood from the Gulf of Mexico or a fat catfish from a cool wooded lake, hushpuppies are the only way to go.

If cornbread is good, then deep fried cornbread is even better. And if butter on bread is good, then bread you are encouraged to dip in cocktail sauce is amazing. Crunchy on the outside, soft and steamy on the inside, why is it so hard for restaurants to get this right? 

Cordell Harrison - leslieannetarabella.com
My Dad, bringing in the catch of the day

I always pictured the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes with fried fish and hushpuppies because that’s all I ever knew growing up on the Gulf Coast. I never doubted the story because a Southern version of the Seafood Passion Play was reenacted in my backyard almost every weekend. Cooking the fish, he and his friends had caught just hours before, my dad would fry them in a hot pot of oil. The hushpuppies were saved for last. Friends, cousins and neighbors all came to enjoy his freshly caught offering. After the blessing, Daddy always made the same joke, “The only rule we have for eating fish in this house is that you keep one foot on the floor at all times.” Ha-ha-ha, just pass the hushpuppies. 

Hushpuppy paddle - leslieannetarabella.com
The hushpuppy paddle — Daddy scratched his name on the handle and underneath wrote “from Malcolm Laird” — his uncle.

Daddy’s uncle made him a “hushpuppy paddle” that looked like a smaller version of the paddle my elementary school principal carried around and tapped against his hand as he talked to the wide-eyed children. 

The hushpuppy paddle was loaded with the thick batter my mother prepared (with diced onions but never sugar). Holding the mounded paddle over the pot, daddy would use a knife to push a lump off the end and send it plopping into the sizzling oil. Each hushpuppy had an uneven oblong shape, a sure sign of an authentic, homemade “pup.”

Hushpuppy Recipe from DeFuniak Springs Garden Club Cookbook. - leslieannetarabella.com
The old DeFuniak Springs Garden Club Cookbook. Our family didn’t really use a recipe for hushpuppies, but the one in here from Maude Saunders is pretty much what we use.

Biting into a restaurant’s fakepuppy, all the moisture is sucked from your mouth and your tears are dried up for a week. Visitors to our Alabama beaches don’t know any better and just think the giant marbles served with their fish are a game to play with, like Cracker Barrel’s little triangle and golf-tee game. “Do we juggle them, throw them, roll them, use them to balance the wobbly table?” Sure, but whatever you do, don’t eat them. 

Crying out to all the restaurant owners, do any of you still make real hushpuppies? And by the way, the pearls are real, so . . . “hush” puppy.

Hushpuppy Recipe from DeFuniak Springs Garden Club Cookbook. - leslieannetarabella.com

This story first appeared on AL.com. Click HERE to share it with a hushpuppy lover you know. It will be in the Sunday edition of the Mobile Press-Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.

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  • Love a good hushpuppy. I put sour cream in mine-makes for a super moist tender hushpuppy. I’m one of those that doesn’t go by a recipe, just mix it up until it “looks right”. Now I’m wanting to fry me up a batch of hushpuppies.

    • Your method sounds delicious. I’ve already heard from one restaurant owner near Gadsden who makes their own from-scratch hushpuppies. Maybe I’ll keep a list and publish it! Good for you for knowing a good hushpuppy when you eat it!

  • You go Girl! Get em!!

    Imagine serving a puppy if dropped on your foot would break it!
    Even this ole Yankee knows a great Pup when they are served! I have sent some back and ask to be replaced with fresh!
    Lover of fried fish, hush puppies and the whole deliciousness of it all, gotta have slaw!!

  • Oh lawdy, you are making me hungry AND homesick for fried shrimp and hush puppies! We grew up two blocks from Shem Creek where the shrimp trawlers come in (on the other side of the bridge from Charleston). I haven’t been home since Christmas because of the pandemic. Missing my sister and eating my weight in a fried shrimp platter.

    • Hang in there Roxanne. It will be back to normal soon — I hope and pray! Put shrimp and hushpuppies at the top of your list of things to do when the world is open again – after church, library, shoe shopping . . . you know.

  • Yours are Miss Maud Saunders’ hushpuppies? My mother’s recipe was Ruby Lord’s hushpuppies! I’ll have to look up the recipe in my Bread notebook, a notebook I haven’t opened in a long time, and compare them. You are so right! I don’t even bother to order hushpuppies anymore when I order fried catfish or shrimp. I had a craving for some today when I made a tuna fish/rotini pasta salad and popped some frozen ones in the oven for supper earlier. Not anywhere near as good as my mother’s but actually better than any restaurant ones I’ve had in decades. My favorite when I was growing up were the ones I got each summer at Lee’s Kitchen, outside of Myrtle Beach with a fried shrimp platter. And I did have some delicious hushpuppies in Mobile one year as a teenager with a crab salad that was so good I still crave it.

    That was a big platter of fried fish your daddy caught! Those were good old days, right?

    • Absolutely. My brother and I are trying to duplicate the frying process, but it never turns out right. I like that you remember the specific place in Myrtle Beach that had good hushpuppies. They really add a little something special to a seafood dinner, don’t they?

  • If I could have just one meal from my childhood it would be my Uncle Loran’s fried fish (usually just plain old mullet) and my Aunt Bebe’s hush puppies. Both fried in a huge iron skillet outside on my uncles hand built brick fireplace/grill. Grits and slaw for the sides, and tons of sliced lemon for squeezing over the fish. Surely that meal will be served in heaven.

    We have a great seafood place here in Houston (well, actually we have lots of good seafood places here, but this one is a favorite) called Blue Water Seafood that serves hush puppies that come pretty close to Aunt Bebe’s. When this dang pandemic is over it’s the first place I want to go eat. Sure they have take out right now, but honestly fried stuff just doesn’t take out well, you know?

    • That sounds like the perfect meal. Mullet were always our favorite as well. I understand what you mean about the take-out fried foods, and that’s one thing I’ve found my new air fryer is good for – reheating – or re – “frying” fried foods like French fries. It crisps them up as it heats. Can’t wait for you to be able to make the trip to Blue Water Seafood.

  • Oh girlfriend you read my mind!~ I have wanted to go into every kitchen on the Alabama gulf coast and teach them how to make REAL hushpuppies every time we go down there. To get a plate of all that awesome fried fish and shrimp and then they DROP that hard oval tiny football of a thing on the side of my plate that could break a tooth and taste NOTHING like a hushpuppy……well it makes me wonder IF they really are southern at all down there.
    My recipe is about identical to yours except I’ve always used hot rise cornmeal and self rising flour so the baking powder is not needed and I use reall buttermilk not milk. You will even cath me dropping a spoonfull of dried crushed jalapeno in the batter too sometimes.
    I hope hope hope that your article hits every restaurant owner and kitchen down there! And then maybe instead of just an anual shrimp festival they’ll become home of the world famous anual homemade hushpuppy festival too!!!! Yummy Yummy !!! If so I’ll see ya there!

    • I think you know your stuff! Lots of people are like you and like the jalapeño flavor, but we’ve never been that bold. I think your idea of a hushpuppy festival sounds great. I’ll bet if I search for one, there’s already one out there somewhere! Good idea!

  • I just found your blog while reading up on Fannie Flagg and I’m delighted that I did. As a Northerner I don’t know if I’d know a good hush puppy from a bad one but we had some delicious (to me) hush puppies at a seafood restaurant in Myrtle Beach. I loved them so much but can’t find them around here. So glad you included the recipe because I think I have to give it a whirl! Thanks again!

    A new fan!

    • So glad you found me! That Fannie Flagg is a fun person. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her few times and she’s as genuine as she seems on camera. You don’t have to be from the South to recognize great food when you taste it. Good luck finding a real, bonafide delicious hushpuppy! If you live near Fairhope, you can join me for my book signing on Nov. 10th where we’ll have the real-deal hushpuppy! thanks for the note and thanks for reading.

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