Cooking With Fire: Johnny Cakes

Mar 8, 2019

Credit Justin Cary

Johnny cakes are a classic east coast dish made, most simply, from cornmeal and water.

These cornmeal cakes, which are similar in size and shape to pancakes, are beloved from the Caribbean to Canada. It is said that Native Americans first showed white settlers how to create the dish and the tradition has continued, nearly unchanged.

In the South the common term for a Johnny cake is "hoecake," but the recipe is essentially the same. The simplicity of the dish may be a reason it isn't popular once you leave the coast. How could corn gruel cooked on a griddle be this good? I believe it has to do with the high sugar, or starch, content in corn. The grain lends both an earthiness and a sweetness to the recipe, so little needs to be added.

But of course over the years the recipe has been adapted to fit local culinary traditions and tastes. These days it is not uncommon to find Johnny cakes that have been made with both wheat flour and corn meal, a mixture that is also used for modern cornbread recipes; on top of that fats like milk, eggs and butter are also added.

But in the end the dish is wholly different than the traditional pancake and can be eaten as a side dish to your entree, as a meal unto itself with a little butter, or as a dessert covered in syrup or honey.

No matter how you eat it, the Johnny cake is a truly versatile dish that deserves to be prepared more often.

In this episode of Cooking with Fire, Chef Tom and Josh prepare Johnny cakes topped with pulled pork and black pepper honey. Enjoy!

Johnny Cakes with Pulled Pork & Black Pepper Honey

Ingredients

 For the Johnny Cakes:

  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp white sugar

For the Black Pepper Honey: 

  • 6 oz wildflower honey
  • 1 tsp coarse ground black pepper

For serving:

  • Leftover pulled pork
  • Unsalted butter, softened

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients for the Johnny Cakes and mix just until everything is incorporated and all dry spots are gone.
  2. Cook the Johnny cakes in small batches, just like pancakes, over medium heat in a greased cast iron skillet or griddle. Wait until the bottom is golden brown and bubbles begin to form on the top. Flip and cook until golden brown on the other side. 
  3. Combine the honey and black pepper. Mix well.
  4. Serve the Johnny Cakes smeared with butter, topped with leftover pulled pork and a drizzle of Black Pepper Honey.
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