Ingredient of the Week, January 27: Cornmeal
The most traditional American food may well be cornmeal. Cornmeal began as a Native American staple. It was domesticated by Native Americans in about 5000 BC and since then has occupied a central role in their nutrition, religion and ritual.
The earliest archeological specimens of maize are from Puebla, Mexico and dated from 5500 years ago. But the physical resemblance to its wild ancestor is slight.
They ground the corn kernels into cornmeal and mixed it with salt and water. Then they baked it. This recipe was introduced to the early colonists, who experimented with it and developed their own uses for cornmeal.
Colonists of Americas used corn as money and even traded corn for marriage licenses.
Indigenous cooks of Mesoamerica and the Southwest ground corn, or maize by rubbing a handheld stone that the Spaniards would later called a ‘manojh.'
Unlike modern cornmeal eaten in North America today, this had been soaked in a mixture of water and ashes or ground limestone, so it was more like grits or hominy grits.
The Aztec emperor chose form among 30 dishes for his dinner each day. The ordinary citizen, however was sustained primarily by maize and beans a perfect protein complex.
After ground and mixed with water to make cornmeal, the maize was consumed as a thick gruel called atole or was cooked with various ingredient - beans and chile peppers for tamales, or patted into flat maize cakes called tortillas.
Cornmeal was also used as the basis for poultices, as well as being infused and drunk for stomach problems. A gruel made form cornmeal is used by the mayo for treating diarrhea.
Spanish colonial cooks made a stiff dough of cornmeal, water and salt that they patted out on a board or griddle and baked over or in front of the fire to make a kind of bread that they called bannock, hoecake, or sometimes johnnycake, a name that came from the word "joniken".
Cornmeal is gluten free.
Cornmeal is really just dried ground corn. Whole-grain or stone-ground cornmeal is crushed between millstones leaving a coarser texture with the nutrient-packed germ still attached. Cornmeals also come in white, yellow and blue varieties (depending on the color of the corn). Self-rising cornmeal is a white or yellow cornmeal with leavening agents and salt added.
How to store: Keep in a cool dry place in an air-tight container for up to 6 months or in the freezer for up to 2 years. The oil in whole-grain cornmeal goes rancid easily, so it should be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for 1 month (or in the freezer for up to 2 years.
Cornmeal can be used in many different ways, from making cornbread or cornmeal pancakes to being used as a breading for fried fish, seafood or chicken, green tomatoes okra or other vegetables.
How do you use cornmeal?