Fry Bread With Cornmeal and Coconut Oil
Ingenuity is behind Indigenous fry bread. When the United States government forcibly relocated Navajos (Diné) from ancestral lands in the 19th century, Native American women invented fry bread from government-issued commodities: flour, salt, yeast and water. Today, Native Americans have reclaimed this survival food as a tasty symbol of resilience. Cooks improvise on the basic formula using ingredients based on preference and geography: Styles, sizes and shapes differ by region, tribe and family. Fry bread is comfort food, and variations are shaped by memory and connection, leading to playful jests about the “right” kind. This particular recipe has Afro-Indigenous origins with its use of sugar and cornmeal, which add sweetness and density. But raw sugar replaces white sugar, and coconut oil steps in for lard. When used for frying, the oil’s aroma announces the arrival of something special.
- Serves: 38 persons
- 1cup finely ground cornmeal
- 2(1/4-ounce) envelopes instant dry yeast
- 1cup raw sugar
- 1teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 ½cups all-purpose flour
- Unrefined coconut oil, for frying (about 32 ounces)
Step 1In a large pot, bring 2 cups water to a boil over medium-high. While whisking, add cornmeal to boiling water. Continue whisking slowly until smooth. Reduce heat to medium, add 1 1/2 cups cold water and cook, stirring continuously to prevent lumps, until thick, about 6 minutes. It should be the consistency of oatmeal. Remove from heat and let cool in pot.
Step 2Add yeast, sugar and salt to the cooled cornmeal, along with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water to moisten the mixture. Gradually add flour, stirring with a metal whisk or potato masher to get rid of as many lumps as you can. Sprinkle with water as needed to keep dough moist but thick. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise for 3 hours.
Step 3Once dough has risen, it should be springy and sticky. Heat 1 inch of coconut oil in a cast-iron skillet to about 350 degrees. Test the heat by dropping a small portion of dough into the oil. It should gently sizzle but not splatter. Use two large, oiled spoons to make golf-ball-size portions: Scoop the dough with one spoon and push the dough off into the hot oil with the other. Re-oil the spoons using the oil in the skillet as needed to make new balls of dough. Work in batches, leaving room in the skillet, as the balls will expand in the hot oil.
Step 4Fry until bottoms are cooked to your desired color (light gold, golden or dark brown), about 3 minutes for golden. Using tongs, flip balls over to cook the other side to the same color, 1 to 3 minutes. Gently lift out of the oil, shaking off excess oil, and transfer to paper towel-lined plates to drain. Eat while hot.