Hominy on the Side
Do you remember hominy? I ate it growing up. Aunt Hen served it as a side dish, warmed up, seasoned a bit, but more or less plain from the can. Its giant puffy kernels, mild flavor and unexpectedly chewy texture appealed to my childish imagination. I thought it was fantastic and a bit mysterious. I enjoyed it as a gentle foil to the more complex flavors of casseroles and other main dishes that challenged my tender palate.
Recently I ran across an article I clipped some years later but now many years ago. Perhaps it came from the Sunday magazine insert of our local newspaper. It featured Julia Child and several recipes that looked approachable for green beans and hominy, two side dishes that have always reminded me of home.
Hominy in the Lime-light
This time the mystery of hominy finally got the best of me and I did an internet search to see what hominy is all about. What I learned is fascinating, though not wholly appetizing. I found that hominy is dried field corn, or maize, soaked in a lye or slaked lime solution to soften the outer husk which is later rinsed off along with the solution. This process, called nixtamalization, kills the germ of the kernel and prevents sprouting during storage.
But what sounds bad (food treated with lye or slaked lime) and is hard to say (nixtamalization) turns out to be a good thing when you read on to learn that nixtamalization also acts on the corn, enhancing its protein and transforming it into a useful source of calcium and niacin. The process also acts on the protein structure of the corn to allow the resulting meal, masa harina, to form a dough used to make tortillas. More coarsely ground hominy is known as grits, another southern staple.
Hominy à la Julia Child
This is a nice recipe for bringing hominy to those who may resist both the mystery and the details. Like making Cheese Grits Casserole for the grits-averse, this cheesy hominy casserole dresses those curious kernels in a familiar flavor and context. Much like Macaroni and Cheese this casserole speaks of comfort and satisfies big appetites on a budget. Even if you don’t have fond childhood memories of hominy I’ll think you’ll enjoy this introduction a la Julia Child.
For more information and ideas on using hominy:
There are some great ideas in these posts and in the comments. I have found several here that I hope to try soon.
From an old newspaper clipping featuring Julia Child
4 15oz. cans of hominy (white, golden or a mix of both)
3 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons flour
1½ cups milk, warmed
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pinch of white pepper
3-4 ounces grated Cheddar or Swiss cheese, divided
Generously grease the bottom of a shallow 2 quart casserole (I used a 7.5” x 11” rectangular glass baking dish.) Set aside.
Drain hominy in a colander and rinse well with cold water. (You can use white or golden hominy. I used a mixture of the two.) Set aside.
In a sturdy saucepan, melt 3 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until smooth. Cook and stir over moderate heat until the mixture has bubbled for two minutes without deepening beyond a buttery yellow. Remove from heat.
When the bubbling stops, add the warm milk, whisking into the butter mixture until smooth. Return to heat, and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Continue to simmer and stir for 2 minutes, adding the salt and white pepper and a few more drops of milk to thin the mixture as necessary. (The sauce should be thick enough to coat a spoon with a light creamy layer.)
Remove from heat. Stir in 2 ounces of grated cheese. Adjust seasoning as needed.
Spread a thin layer of the cheese sauce in the bottom of the buttered casserole dish. Add the hominy and cover with the remaining sauce, shaking the pan and stirring a bit, to let the sauce drip down among the kernels of hominy. Scatter the remaining grated cheese on top.
Bake at 425F for 25 minutes or until bubbly and browned on top.
Serve and enjoy!