Kitchen Staples: Blue Corn Pancakes

I’ve written before about the wonderful blue cornmeal that’s available at the Los Ranchos Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. A local couple, the Molinas, grow the blue corn, shell the kernels off the ear, then (this is the important part) roast the kernels to bring out their flavor before grinding them to a flour-fine meal. I feel rather proud of having discovered this cornmeal because you can’t tell from any distance that they have it. Their small and unassuming booth is recognizable by the display of rocks that Oracio has picked up over the years. If you try to use another blue cornmeal, make sure it’s ground very finely, and if it has chunky bits in it, grind it again in the blender. Then toast the meal lightly in the oven until it has a light toasty smell, making sure not to burn it or let it darken. Personally, I buy it at the market and let Oracio and Lourdes do the work. It makes pancakes that will light up your weekend morning.

1 cup blue cornmeal, very finely ground
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon agave nectar or light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1-2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup melted butter
3 real free-range eggs
clarified butter for frying (I seldom bother to clarify mine, but you have to fry more carefully with unclarified)
butter and maple syrup

Mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar if using together in a mixing bowl. Get your cast-iron skillet or other big heavy skillet heating over medium heat at least 5 minutes before you want to start cooking. Beat the eggs, the melted butter, and 1 cup of buttermilk together lightly. If using agave nectar instead of sugar, add it to the egg mixture. When the skillet is hot, mix the wet ingredients quickly and roughly into the dry ingredients, and add enough of the second cup of buttermilk to make a pourable batter. Film the skillet with clarified butter, pour in about a third of a cup of batter, and spread it out a little to make a pancake. Cook on the first side until the upper side shows little holes from the leavening, then flip skillfully and cook the other side until done. Slather with the best butter you can get, repeat to make a stack, and serve with real maple syrup.
A pancake is a very personal thing, and any recipe will need adjusting to your preference. I like the batter a little on the thick side and I can only judge this by eye, so I don’t measure the buttermilk after the first cup, I just mix enough in to make the texture right. I cook the first side until it’s lightly browned, as shown above, and then cook the second side to about the same color. I prod them a little with my finger to test for any uncooked dough in the center, but if you haven’t been doing this for a few decades, you may need to cut the first one open to make sure you’re cooking them through. I don’t cook over high heat because the outside gets too brown before the inside cooks through. I hate chunky inclusions of any kind, like berries and fruit. I like real maple syrup and don’t eat any other type. Other cooks say that thin batter is good, that browner is better, that oil or lard or bacon grease are the best cooking mediums, that honey is better than syrup, and I understand that some people are so lost to decency as to put cheese, chocolate chips, or big hunks of fruit in pancakes. Suit yourself. That’s the joy of cooking at home.
By the way, it is possible and even fun to cook with two skillets, or with a big griddle, and get pancakes on the table more quickly.

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