July 20, 2015
crevettes et maïs bouillie
(shrimp and grits)
There are certain food words that, for me, always have a place associated with them. Say cioppino, and I think of San Francisco. Specifically, DiMaggio’s Restaurant in the Fisherman’s Wharf district and high‑school dates in the 1960s. Say artichokes, and I think of Castroville, the sell‑proclaimed artichoke capital of the world. Say hot dogs, and I think of Chicago, even though I’ve never eaten a hot dog there and love the hot dogs in Paris best. Say clam chowder, and I think of Legal Sea Foods at Copley Place where I ate the thick soup many times in the 1980s. Say grits, and I think of the mid‑south. When I spent 90 days in Nashville in 1984, I resided mostly at the Marriott Hotel outside the center of town. I don’t think the building, if it still exists, is a Marriott Hotel any more. Each morning, the breakfast buffet held a large pot of grits on an electric warmer. Next to it was butter and some unidentified yellow cheese. I never ate grits in those days.
The first time I ate a dish specifically called grits was April of 2015. I’ve eaten polenta on many occasions, but there is a segment of the population that claim there is no similarity between the two preparations even though both are made from corn. Not wishing to offend, I yield to the opinion of those who are more knowledgeable on the subject than I am. So, like I said, I only had grits for the first time a little while ago.
The occasion of my initiation into the world of grits was a dinner on Amelia Island in Florida. My wife, her younger brother, and I were on the second night of a sixteen‑hundred‑mile driving trip up the east coast of the Untied States. We were attempting to visit every major, and an occasional minor, historical site between St. Augustine and Philadelphia (except those in and around Washington, DC). We had stopped in Amelia Island to visit with an old friend from my Marietta, Georgia, days.
Our restaurant for the evening, Brett’s Waterway Café, is located across the street from the hotel where we had set up temporary residence. It sits at the edge of the St. Mary’s River, less than 2 miles from the Atlantic Ocean and the Florida‑Georgia border. The menu claims that the restaurant serves local shrimp so I selected the shrimp and grits for my main course. The dish was listed on the menu as “Shrimp & Grits – Tasso Ham, Red Eye Gravy, Anson Mills Cheese Grits – $20.” (I did notice the missing hyphen in the compound adjective, but I chose to ignore it. I didn’t think our server would appreciate an English lesson.)
When the dish was placed in front of me. My first thought was Chinese‑style sweet and sour shrimp on white rice. (The previous evening we ate at an empty Chinese restaurant in Winter Park.) In many ways, the flavor was similar to a Chinese‑style dish. It was good, and I ate everything. That, and the two neat bourbons I drank with my meal, made me a happy camper.
For the remainder of the trip I ate grits at every breakfast opportunity, always with cheese. There was much variation in the various grits dishes in both taste and texture.
When I returned to California, I went looking to buy some grits. I was sorely disappointed. None of my local stores that handled bulk food items carried grits in any shape or form. The grits I found, and that took three employees of the chain‑supermarket much walking from aisle‑to‑aisle to find the lone selection on a high shelf, were Albers Enriched Hominy Quick Grits. This brand would not have been my first choice, but at less than one‑quarter the price of and less hassle than mail‑ordering “good” grits, it didn’t take much thought to purchase it. (When they read this, all my grit‑eating friends will disavow any knowledge of my existence.)
These days, at least one morning a week will find my plate covered with cheese grits and a couple of fried eggs. I prepare a four‑to‑one water‑to‑grits ratio using a quarter cup of grits. When cooked, I add a quarter cup of grated parmesan cheese. Yum.
I knew that first night that I ate the shrimp and grits that I would have to make an amuse‑bouche version of the dish. My concern from the beginning was not the shrimp or the grits. Selecting the right sauce would be a potential problem. Since the sauce on the plate of shrimp and grits that I ate in Florida reminded me of a Chinese sweet and sour sauce, that came to mind first. Then I thought about a shrimp with hot sauce recipe that I’ve made from Pei‑Mei’s Chinese Cook Book for thirty‑five years. I looked at the recipe. I figured that the sauce proportions would make about fifty amuse‑bouche portions. That would be hard to scale down to four portions. Its main ingredients were Heinz ketchup, Hunan‑style black‑bean‑chili sauce, fresh ginger, and fresh green onions. I decided to just spice up the ketchup and use the ginger and onion as a garnish.
Here’s the proportions for the three elements that make up my shrimp and grits. The grits can, and should, be prepared a long time in advance. The shrimp and the sauce are last‑minute preparations.
240 ml (1 c)
40 g (1⁄4 c)
Albers Enriched Hominy Quick Grits
1. Bring the water and salt to a boil over high heat. Whisk in the grits, lower the heat, cover, and cook until thick and smooth, about five minutes. Stir the mixture a few times while it’s cooking.
2. Set a silicon mold
with shallow, rectangular, 21
‑ by 41
‑cm (1‑ by 13
‑in) cavities on a baking sheet. Fill as many cavities as you can, leveling the tops with a small offset spatula. With my mold, 16 cavities get filled.
3. Place the mold, still on the baking sheet, into your freezer. When the grits bars are frozen, remove them from the mold, and transfer them to a more appropriate container for freezing. I use a plastic bag.
quantity as required
shrimp, size 52‑60, deveined and peeled
1. Heat the oil over high heat in a small frying pan. Cook the shrimp until not quite done. Drain on absorbent paper, and keep warm until needed.
Heinz (U.S. version) ketchup
ground, smoked paprika
ground, cayenne pepper
1. Mix the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Heat the sauce in a microwave oven. Stir to mix.
Yield: These quantities are enough for 4 portions.
This amuse‑bouche should be finished and assembled immediately after cooking the shrimp and preparing the sauce.
very fine strips
very fine strips
green onion tops
1. Place the frozen grits bars on a plate and cover with plastic wrap. Reheat 10 to 15 seconds on high until warm.
2. Arrange a hot grits bar on each serving plate. Spoon a quarter teaspoon of sauce over the grits. Place a shrimp on the sauce. Arrange a few strips of ginger and onion on top of the shrimp.
3. Serve sooner than immediately.