Monday, February 2, 2009

Johnny Cakes

When my friend Jess visited me in Minneapolis, I took her to a little restaurant called Cafe Maude for brunch. She noted that they had a most unusual brunch menu (offering things like chorizo hash and tempura asparagus) and happily ordered a Croque Madame. I ordered the Roasted Sweet Corn Johnny Cakes with sauteed shrimp.
I never had johnny cakes before. Johnny cakes were originally made back in pioneer days. The flat cakes were a mix of cornmeal, milk, and salt - simple and inexpensive to make on the frontier. They were cooked on a griddle, or in the absence of one, on the blade of a hoe. That is why in some recipes they are called hoe cakes. This makes them sound like a Little Debbie snack cake!
When Jess got the Croque Madame she ordered, the waitress brought me the wrong order. Instead of johnny cakes she arrived with flatbread. So I sent it back and waited. Jess chowed on her sandwich while I watched. When she was done eating, I started shooting the waitress nasty looks. She stopped by once and said the kitchen was backed up. Finally, after 45 minutes, she brought out my order and said it was on the house. And even though one of the cakes was burned, they were good enough for me to forgive the poor service and plan on making my own, timely johnny cakes.
A modern johnny cake recipe, like the one in Cooking Light that I found, has more than just cornmeal, milk and salt. Fresh corn, egg, and leavening make the cakes puffy and moist. The recipe also calls for scallops, which I replaced with shrimp. The sauce, a blend of mayo, ketchup and mustard with sour cream, slightly resembled McDonald's "orange sauce", and would probably be better with just sour cream, onion and herbs.

The johnny cakes turned out beautifully and would be ideal for someone who likes cornbread and fresh corn. My favorite part was the extra shrimp that I fried up to garnish the cakes. I doused it in lemon juice, salt, pepper, and chili powder and tossed it into the pan. I added some of the leftover corn kernels and then arranged the garnish on the cakes with a scoop of sauce and some chopped chives. I don't know what took them so long at Cafe Maude...

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