While your other correspondents were dolled up and hobnobbing at the Beard Awards Sunday night, I was just a few blocks and a world away, wearing an old Mexican dress and perusing The James Beard Cookbook. I thought I should try one of his hors d’oeuvres, since I was reading about all the party food and his first book was about canapés; when he was a young and struggling actor, he would cater parties to make ends meet, in which enterprise he met much more success than he ever did on the stage. I was delighted to find his recipe for chili con queso—where did an Oregon-raised New Yorker come up with that? Unfortunately his recipe is based on a white sauce. Has anyone ever made this recipe, or is anyone willing to try and report back? I want to hear about it but am afraid they’d take away my native-Texan card if I made queso with white sauce.
I decided instead to make spoonbread, which far exceeded my expectations. While I was awaiting something porridgey like grits, or something airy like soufflé (since the recipe is also called cornbread soufflé), this resembled a substantial, sliceable custard. It had all the sweet, buttery, corny taste of cornbread, but even my favorite cornbread recipe has nothing on this spoonbread when it comes to moistness and texture. With no sugar at all and only one egg and one tablespoon of butter per serving (not so bad), it was still wonderfully rich, like dessert posing as part of dinner. I served it with bacony collard greens and was in heaven.
- Yield:4 generously or 6 to 8 as a small side
- 2 cups of milk (I used 2%)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 4 tablespoons butter
- Freshly ground pepper (optional)
- 4 eggs, separated
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 finely chopped cloves garlic
- 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes
- 2 4-ounce cans chopped green chilies
- 1 pound shredded jack cheese
Bring the milk and salt to a boil, then reduce the heat. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth. It will also be very, very thick, almost like wet concrete. Stir in the butter and set aside to cool slightly. (I added 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper at this point.)
Beat the egg yolks well and stir into the cooled cornmeal mixture. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry and slowly fold into the cornmeal mixture in two batches. Pour the batter into a well-buttered casserole (I used a 2-quart soufflé dish) and bake at 375°F for 35 to 40 minutes, or until light, puffy, and browned on top.
Serve from the casserole with a spoon. He recommends passing plenty of butter, salt, and pepper on the side, but I found that no extra butter or seasoning was necessary. Spoonbread is edible the second day but much better straight out of the oven.
Chili con Queso
No yield was provided for this recipe. Seriously, I am dying to hear about it—will someone please make this?
Melt the butter and stir in the flour, blending completely. Remove the pan from the heat and slowly whisk in the cream and then the milk, continuing to whisk until the mixture is smooth. Return to the heat and cook slowly, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This is the cream sauce.
Combine the garlic and tomatoes and cook down over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the canned chilies and continue to cook until thickened. Stir in the cream sauce and cheese. Taste for seasoning. Do not allow to boil after the cheese has been added. Serve warm as a dip for breadsticks, corn chips, or raw vegetables.