There are certain dishes that require cornbread to really complete them as a meal. Things like Black Eyed Peas, King Ranch Chicken, maybe Chili, and definitely Beef Stew.
Sadly, there is also a wealth of horrible cornbread out there, delivering results that miss the mark of perfectly complimenting a hearty dish that begs for a slice of cornbread. Too sweet. Too dry. Too flavorless. Too thin. Too greasy. Too cake-like.
My perfect cornbread is first and foremost crusty and craggy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside. A crunch, followed by a satisfying softness. The flavor is tangy, with a hint of sweetness, but it in no way resembles dessert. I also want some heft, some height, something that can stand up to beans or stew.
My recipe for Buttermilk Cornbread is both a formula of ingredients plus a method. The formula is a list of basic pantry staples. The wet ingredients are mixed into the dry ingredients, and it comes together quickly without any fancy equipment needed.
The method is the real game changer. An 8-inch cast iron skillet is brushed with oil, then set in a hot oven to heat up before adding the batter. Once the batter hits the hot oil, it sizzles and instantly forms a beautiful crust. The batter continues to cook for twenty minutes until it is done in the middle. It is exceptional, and in my opinion, exactly what cornbread should taste like.