Hush puppies are a deep-fried fritter, particularly popular in the Southern US, and made primarily from cornmeal. They’ve grown in popularity since they were first invented, probably sometime before the Civil War. You’ll now find them throughout the US in several chain fast food restaurants, especially those specializing in fried fish or fried chicken. Hush puppies are usually round balls of cornmeal, mixed with a little white flour, eggs, buttermilk, and different seasonings, and are best eaten hot. Since they’re so portable, each only a bite or two at most, it makes sense that fast food restaurants would offer them to customers.
The name of hush puppies isn’t recorded until the early 20th century, but many believe southerners first made the food either during or before the American Civil War. Some say hunters first made these tasty fritters, or that Confederate soldiers invented them while supplies of food were still fairly high. Either way, the name may come from the fact that dogs accompanying soldiers or hunters would be given a few fritters while everyone else was dining, essentially to “hush” them so people could eat in peace.
Probably, the inspiration for hush puppies comes from Nigeria, and was brought to America by captured Nigerians who were then enslaved. A Nigerian dish, acaraje, is made from black-eye peas, rolled into balls and then fried. Using cornmeal instead may have been thought an improvement in the US. The coarse grain of cornmeal makes for a very crunchy exterior when the hush puppies are deep-fried.
This side dish, a soul food classic, is typically served with fish, and may contain onions so that the hush puppies have more flavor. As with all foods that are deep fried, oil temperature is particularly important. Most recipes recommend an oil temperature of about 350 degrees F (176.67 C), and a cooking time of just two minutes at most. Most importantly, when you drop the balled hush puppy into the oil, it should immediately rise to the top of the oil. If it sinks, your oil temperature is too low.
The quality of hush puppies is going to depend very much on how they’re made, and also on proper cooking temperature. Some recipes are very salty, calling for seasoned salt or MSG. Since they are deep-fried, they must be immediately served after cooking, or they’ll lose their crunch, and taste greasy. There’s no getting around the fact that these little balls are definitely high fat.
If you’d like a slightly lower fat version of the hush puppies, you can try corndodgers. These are baked instead of fried, and usually come in an oblong shape. In other respects, the ingredients of corndodgers are very similar to the hush puppy, and may be enjoyed just as much.