Unwrap a Charleston Food Tradition at Your Christmas Table
Shrimp and grits has become the epitome of elegance; the heart of Charleston cuisine in the minds of many. Originally a simple, quick stew served over long-simmered and stirred grits to feed fishermen after a day at sea, it’s now a principal player at many of Charleston’s best restaurants and locals’ holiday tables.
Donald Barickman, founding chef at Magnolias, often gets credit for putting grits on the elegance map with the addition of cream to his version dating back 30 years ago. But, I contend its rise to prominence has just as much to do with the excellence of its two main ingredients. The shrimp that inhabits through Charleston’s waters is uniquely delicious. The tidal flows and the grassy marshes both nurture and protect the shrimp, a prince of a shrimp habitat, that yields a sweet, buttery brine unlike any other, white and brown varieties alike. And, the grits. There are quick and mass-produced varieties available, but served over organic, stone-ground grits available from Anson Mills , you’re in for a toothsome, incomparable, and authentic treat.
This version from Old Village Post House Inn‘s former chef de cuisine, Jim Walker, and featured in The New Charleston Chef’s Table, uses both. I love this recipe because it’s not very complicated, it’s beautiful, delicious, and relatively easy to prep ahead and finish at the last minute. It’s one of the dishes most requested by my cooking class students and it’s especially enjoyable to prepare, the sweet and piquant fragrance filling the air as it cooks -shrimp, country ham, Cajun seasonings, and andouille sausage. A celebration not just of the season, but of Charleston, it would be a fabulous choice to head your Christmas Eve or Christmas Day table. Do try and get your hands on fresh, wild caught shrimp if you cannot find fresh, local Charleston shrimp and serve it over stone-ground grits. It really makes a difference. I use the shells from the shrimp to cook down with some water into a quick glaze to add to the final sauce or “gravy,” which can be strained and whisked in with the butter (see directions) at the last second.
Old Village Post House Inn Lowcountry Shrimp & Grits
(Serves 4 to 6)
For the grits:
8 cups water
3 cups stone-ground grits
1 stick (1/4 pound) unsalted butter
1 – 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the shrimp sauce:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 3/4 pounds Thibodeaux’s andouille sausage (or substitute another brand), but into approximately 28 1/2-inch thick slices
1 cup cubed country ham (cut into a 1/4-inch thick dice)
1 1/4 pounds large (21-25 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup peel and seeded tomatoes, finely chopped
1/4 cup scallions, finely sliced
4 teaspoons garlic, minced
4 teaspoons Cajun-style fish blackening seasoning (suggest R.L. Schreiber brand)
1 cup salt-free chicken stock
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To prepare the grits, bring the water to a boil over high heat in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Add the grits, stir, and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly with a whisk or flat-tipped wooden spoon to prevent sticking. Continue cooking on low heat, stirring, until thickened (the grits should plop like thick cornbread batter), 30-40 minutes. Turn off the burner and let stand covered, so the grits can continue to slowly absorb the water, for 1 – 2 hours.
Just before serving, reheat the grits over medium heat, stirring for about 5 minutes. Add the butter and heavy cream, stirring to incorporate. Heat through and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, about 20 minutes before serving, prepare the shrimp sauce. Heat the oil over high heat in a large, deep saute pan. When hot and sizzling, add the sausage and country ham. Saute, tossing until the sausage and ham begin to turn golden and caramelize, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the shrimp, tomato, scallions, minced garlic, and Cajun-style fish blackening seasoning. Saute for another 3 minutes, being sure to combine well and coat the ingredients evenly with the seasoning. Add the chicken stock, increase the heat to high, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the butter and cook until the shrimp are cooked through, another 1 – 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, ladle the grits into shallow bowls and top with the sauce. Serve immediately.
With best wishes to you and yours for a beautiful holiday and Christmas season. I promise you, your guests will love this. Not only is it delicious, it is beautiful. For all of these reasons and more, it is featured on the cover of The New Charleston Chef’s Table – which, by the way, makes a beautiful gift for the food and Charleston-lover in your life.
Bon appetit! You can always visit me here with any questions, comments or to book a cooking class or culinary tour. Look for details soon on Cracking the Cookbook Code, a cookbook writing, marketing, and photography retreat I’ll be hosting early next spring with my wonderfully talented friend, culinary professional, blogger, and photographer, Beckie Carrico Hemmerling. Until next time, stay safe, warm, happy, and well fed.
Destination Heaven for Lunch and a Beach Stroll at The Sanctuary’s Jasmine Porch – And a Book Give Away
I’ve lived long enough to know, if you’re not careful, that it’s too easy to take people, places and things for granted. Even more so, perhaps, living in beauty and nature-kissed Charleston. It’s one of the most popular vacation and wedding destinations in the world, yet it takes a visitor from out of town this weekend to remind me of Kiawah Island, a gorgeous barrier island just about forty-five minutes from greater Charleston. Though short in distance, the travel along live oak and Spanish moss canopied drives with sweeping marsh vistas delivers a transformation so complete that by the time you’ve passed through the gates to Kiawah, you feel like you’ve landed someplace divine and are shifted into extreme relaxation gear as if by osmosis.
Initially, we had planned to visit Kiawah’s public beach, but since it was lunch time, we decided to visit Jasmine Porch at The Sanctuary, a luxurious destination anytime of the year, but particularly welcome at the debut of the week and the off-season. The massive, early 19th-century inspired and elegant lobby with views of a sparkling Atlantic almost within reach felt almost like our own private mansion, so scarcely was it populated on a recent Monday early afternoon.
Jasmine Porch is the sister restaurant to the ultra elegant Ocean Room and is situated on the ground floor at The Sanctuary off the main lobby. The food is described as Lowcountry bistro. Here, more than you might expect at a resort, the Lowcountry notes are strictly adhered to by purist and talented Chef Jeremiah Holst, who buys only from local (and seriously vetted) producers of local produce and fishermen. Strict attention to culinary detail is evident in the layered nuisances of the she crab bisque – the flavors of the long-simmered crustacean, the shells’ natural color, nutty butter, and just the right amount of sherry and thickening with Charleston’s own Carolina Gold rice. The same is abundantly evident in the flaky, hot biscuits, and smoky hot pimiento cheese spread, garnished with pickled okra.
Other notables on the lunch menu include the plucky fried green tomatoes, with a delicate touch of acidity countered by the cooling and extreme crunch of a well seasoned panko crust, and chef Holst’s pristine version of shrimp and grits. For dessert, try the moist, fragrant coconut cake layered with crispy shards of shaved coconut and butter cream and served on a cold, silky creme anglaise with notes of fresh vanilla. First-class service from the entire staff makes a visit to Jasmine Porch even more sweet. All this for just $100 (or so including a three-course lunch for two with cocktails and a tip) followed by a complimentary, lingering stroll on a wide and very lightly traveled off-season beach on a sparkling October afternoon felt like an investment with lifelong memory dividends. If you feel like staying for dinner, visit the luxurious Ocean Room, featured in my latest release, The New Charleston Chef’s Table.
The New Charleston Chef’s Table Give Away!
Just in time for the holidays, I’m offering a complimentary, signed and delivered copy of my latest cookbook, The New Charleston Chef’s Table (retails $29.95) featuring The Ocean Room and some eighty delicious dining destinations, recipes, Charleston history and culinary lore and gorgeous photography to a randomly selected individual from comments/responses to this blog post. Tell me what you love about Charleston, restaurants, or even just why you want this book for you or someone you love, and I’ll post the winner on Friday, November 9. I look forward to hearing from you.
Bon appetit! Holly
Charleston’s King of Rice Takes this Classic Comfort Food to a New Level
Growing up in rural New England in the 1970’s, rice (which usually came from a tired plastic bag or Minute brand white rice box) didn’t thrill me, to say the least. Potatoes, especially my Nanna’s mashed version, were another matter. It wasn’t until much later when I became acquainted with aromatic rices and Arborio that I started to really appreciate it and experiment with it in both savory and sweet dishes. But, when I moved to Charleston in 2000, I discovered rice nirvana in the form of Carolina Gold rice. Almost golden, you can taste it well before you put it in your mouth. Its buttery, hazelnut aroma/flavor entices your nose even as you sift it through the canvas bag in which it is most often stored. It is on every Charleston holiday table and supper tables several times a week and is the stuff of pirlou dreams.
Carolina Gold was the first commercial rice produced in the United States. By 1820, 100,000 acres of the rice was growing throughout the South, where it especially thrived growing in the tidewaters and marshes of South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina. It was a staple of the Lowcountry economy, which prior to The Civil War, was supported largely by the rice planting and harvesting skills of slaves imported from western Africa. The commerce thrived, and by the middle of the 18th century, was a dominant stepping stone of both the Charleston/Lowcountry economy as well as her inhabitant’s lusty appetite for the gloriously fragrant and delicious rice. The Civil War and merciful end to slavery as well as time all but killed production of the the cherished rice. Fortunately, growers such as Anson Mills (click for purchase or to learn more about the rice) resurrected its complicated production and harvesting.
The composition of the rice lends itself to fluffy, individual grains, a creamy risotto kind of mixture or sticky, depending on how it’s cooked. Fall gets me thinking about all things comfort, which gets me thinking about Carolina Gold rice, which gets me thinking about Carolina Gold rice pudding, which is exactly what I put together this past weekend. Cooked in milk and stirred frequently, like a risotto, it naturally forms a pudding “sauce” of its own, no eggs required. While it’s still hot, stir in some sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, orange zest, and butter and let it set and cool for a for a few hours. Meanwhile, simmer raisins in fresh orange juice, cinnamon and rum. That also sits to absorb and eventually they’re all mixed together and the pudding is blended with a final kiss of freshly whipped cream to give it a mousseline airiness. It is divine. Try some on your holiday table this year. Rice pudding will never taste quite the same to any of your guests ever again. Don’t add the fresh whipped cream until within an hour or so of serving. All the rest can easily be prepared a day ahead.
Comforting Carolina Gold Rice & Rum Raisin Pudding
(Makes 8 generous servings)
4 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
3/4 cup well rinsed and drained Carolina Gold rice
Zest of 1 orange
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Generous pinch salt
For the raisins:
1 cup raisins
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup light rum
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Generous pinch salt
To finish the pudding:
1 cup very cold heavy whipping cream
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Bring the milk and the 1/2 teaspoon salt to a low boil in a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Add the rinsed rice and stir to combine. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered and stirring every few minutes, until very tender and most of the milk is absorbed, about 25 minutes. It will have a creamy, wet consistency similar to risotto. Meanwhile, turn your attention to the raisins. Combine the raisins, orange juice, rum, vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt in a small saucepan. Bring up to a boil and reduce to a lively simmer. Cook until the liquid has reduced to just about 1/4 cup, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and turn out into a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate at least three hours or overnight to macerate and mature the flavors. Return to finish the rice, when done cooking and still very warm, turn out into a large bowl with the orange zest, 3/4 cup sugar, butter, vanilla, cinnamon and generous pinch salt. Stir well to combine. Cover tightly and refrigerate three hours or overnight.
To finish the pudding (within an hour or so of serving), whip the heavy cream with the remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar until firm peaks have formed. Stir one-third of the whipped cream into the cold pudding along with the reserved, cold raisins. Gently fold another third of the whipped cream into the rice pudding until well but gently blended. Serve cold in an attractive serving bowl or in individual pudding cups or ramekins with a generous dollop of the remaining whipped cream.
Upcoming Book Signing
Come see me this Saturday, October 20 for the Daniel Island Library Harvest Tour of Homes.
I will be situated in the beautiful home at 341 Lesesne Street on Daniel Island from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. signing copies of my latest cookbook, The New Charleston Chef’s Table. Would love to see you there! It makes a lovely gift anytime of year, but especially during the holidays for the Charleston loving cook in your life.
Barley, Mushroom, Butternut Squash, and Spinach Soup Recipe – and new culinary tours!
October in Charleston is officially the beginning of the fall season for me, at least emotionally and also from a cooking standpoint. Most of the beastly heat and hurricane threats are behind us, and we can settle into the beautiful winter squashes, greens, apples, and root vegetables of the season and the grains and flavors that pair so well with them. I’ve been thinking about barley a lot lately. It reminds me of my Nanna who loved to cook with whole grains and simple, unprocessed ingredients like barley, because we all should eat more of it (just one cup contains 128% of a day’s worth of dietary fiber), and because its chewy/soft, nutty goodness is a shoe-in pairing with winter squash, which are bursting from the grocers’ bins and farmers’ markets these days.
I love cooking with all kinds of winter squash. Hubbard, delicata, acorn, butternut, pumpkin, turban – all of them. A preferred way to use them is to roast them, halved, and puree them with seasonings, a little stock, cream or butter. They make beautiful soups practically all on their own. I have several such recipes in Mashed – Beyond the Potato (Gibbs Smith, 2017) . One of my favorites is the luscious and deceptively simple Maple Acorn Squash Soup (page 97) which was inspired by my mother’s maple syrup and butter-filled bacon acorn squash halves that we regularly enjoyed at our fall dinner table and sometimes for holidays.
I’m using butternut here because it can increasingly be found pre-cut, the pesky hard cover removed, and already cubed for handy additions to soups (such as these), or a steamed, roasted or pureed side. Any of the others would work just as well. Be careful to cut and peel with care. A sharp, sturdy paring knife and ample patience will do the trick. Simmering the barley with the mushrooms and squash adds a lovely richness to the soup with virtually no added fat except for the olive oil used to sweat the onions and celery. Fresh or frozen spinach (or substitute kale) is added near the very end. You will likely need to add more liquid to the soup left-overs, as the barley is notorious for absorbing extra liquid as much as bad cholesterol from our bodies – another reason to love it and eat it often. Most of all, the soup comes together simply and quickly in one hour. I enjoyed its aromas watching football this weekend and recalling fond memories of my favorite season.
(Makes 10 to 12 servings)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, medium dice
3 stalks celery, medium dice
Light kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped button mushrooms
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped shitake mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried, rubbed sage
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup uncooked pearl barley
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 quart chicken stock
1 quart water
3 cups cubed, peeled, fresh butternut squash
Juice of 1/2 lemon, about 2 tablespoons
3 tablespoons local honey
4 cups additional stock or water as needed
2 cups chopped, frozen spinach
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and light salt and pepper. Stir to coat and sweat until softened, three minutes. Add the button and shitake mushrooms, garlic, garlic, sage, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Stir to coat and cook another three minutes until just wilted. Add the barley and wine. Stir and cook a minute or so until wine has reduced to nothing. Add chicken stock, water, butternut squash squash, lemon juice and honey. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, uncovered. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. After thirty minutes, add additional water/stock as needed (you want soup consistency, not porridge). After forty five minutes of cooking, add the spinach, stir and heat through for a final fifteen minutes. Serve hot. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley, grated Parmesan cheese or finely chopped walnuts as desired. (Note: The soup will store well, refrigerated and covered, for several days. More liquid may need to be added before reheating and serving).
Cooking Classes and Now Culinary Tours
A lot of my cooking class students have been asking for culinary tours for themselves, friends or even their businesses. I have added customized tours – those built around individual tastes, budgets, interests (history, culinary, chefs, restaurants, menu items, etc.), and timeline, to my repertoire. These can be bundled with classes in my kitchen, signed copies of my cookbooks, and a personalized tour led by me. Pricing dependent on dates, tour size, length and details of tour. Contact me on my website if you’re interested in finding out more.
Happy cooking, enjoy the cool and wonderful days of October.
Bon appetit – Holly
Absolutely Not-to-Be Missed Epicurean Delights in Charleston
At least once a week and probably more often than that during peak season, I get asked by friends, family, visitors, students and people on the street about the best restaurants in Charleston. The next question is invariably, “What should I order?” These are both tough questions to answer when you consider the broad range in taste, budget and even location these people usually represent. But, as a tough professional and personal food critic and trained chef, I always go to the ground rules. For me, these include chefs and kitchen staffs that utilize restraint, balance, and pristine technique in their dishes, use only the best and freshest ingredients, and execute both of these elements on a consistent (as in every time) basis. In addition, the spaces need to be immaculate and pleasant and have a professional and informed staff to make my must-do recommendation list.
Of course, in Charleston, there are many that do. But, there are only four that always do that I know of: FIG, Charleston Grill, Little Jack’s Tavern, and Hominy Grill. Each of these gems create the stuff of dreams, daily. Some of them inhabit my own, frequently. And, all of them are places I recommend without hesitation to anyone who asks. Everything is perfect at each of these places, but I’m going to tell you my favorites and why because I don’t want anyone to go through this life without sampling them, because life is too short to miss this kind of deliciousness – the kind that makes breaking any diet rule worth it, at least once.
A star almost since it opened in 2003, this now super star and James Beard-winning destination at the corner of Meeting and Hasell Streets in downtown is almost impossible to book, it’s become that famous. A master of restraint and technique, Chef and Partner Mike Lata has curated some of the best talent and instilled the same crafts within, most notably with super talented and affable Executive Chef Jason Stanhope. If you don’t think ahead to make reservations, try a seat at the comfortable bar (best bet is early or late to ensure seating) and order the silky chicken liver pate. Served with cool and sweet bread and butter pickles, imported French Dijon, and brioche toast points, it’s infinitely better than the very best foie gras, a more humane preparation, and a much better buy at $15. I never want the little square of French perfection to be finished. Add the Yukon Gold potato puree ($10) side to your go-ahead-and-do-it list. It’s smoother than butter and cream, and lovingly fortified with both, but the airy puree of golden potatoes spontaneously lifts every spoonful closer to ethereal heights. In recent years, the restaurant’s made award-winning improvements to its wine list, too. Locally sourced pristine fish and produce all shine on the menu.
Leading the special event dining destination pack since I moved here in 2000 and before, Charleston Grill remains that white linen tablecloth experience and more. It is jazzy, sexy, cosmopolitan, and subdued, and an ideal destination with go with a group or all alone to enjoy the live jazz and outstanding service. You won’t feel alone. You’ll feel sublimely pampered in the expert hands of Executive Chef Michelle Weaver and General Manager Mickey Bakst. A star player on the dinner menu and the bar menu, the fluffy, crisp, and tender crab cake is the not-to-be-missed specialty here. As Weaver has described them to me, “One bite is like tasting a mouthful of the Lowcountry.” The golden cakes are all crab and taste all of that plus sweet and buttery and expertly dressed with creek shrimp and a lime tomato vinaigrette. Sit and stay awhile. You may very well build up an appetite for another.
This is the place I always take guests to when they’re in town, not only because it will please them, but because, like a greedy little lady version of Wimpy, I’m always craving their Tavern Burger, and really every single thing on their menu. Everything is perfect. The menu is abbreviated, but chock full of nostalgic American, Rat Pack-era bravado and friendly, neighborhood service. Parking is easy (and always welcome), but the “baby” burger as I call it, not the double version, is the number one (closely followed by the first-class service) reason to come here. The 1/2″-thick patty emanates ground in-house freshness and just enough fat to enhance the sweet flavor of the “Tavern” sauce and tender, griddled onions. Nestled on a soft bun, custom made and baked daily in-house it, it drips with fully melted, wonderfully mild American cheese. It’s so sublime, it’s even on their dessert menu for those that want one more. Also outstanding here, steak tartar, all of the salads, baked egg, fries, and house cocktails, especially the Bee’s Knees.
Saving the best for last, Hominy Grill is my most recommended and favorite restaurant in Charleston. That’s because it possesses all the qualities I demand (and outlined at the top of the story), but adds elegant, authentic and homey Southern food (what most people come to Charleston to sample) for both breakfast and lunch in an adorable single house prepared by a man that has to be the one of the world’s most humble and hands-on and talented chefs, Chef/Owner Robert Stehling. His training comes from his childhood in North Carolina and later stints at celebrated Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill and some of Manhattan’s best before he brought it all home to Charleston.
I break all the rules here – diet, budget, restraint. If I had the foresight to know what my last meal on earth would be, I would make sure it was here and I would order a cup of she crab soup, a bowl of the shrimp and grits, a high rise biscuit with butter and house made preserves and for dessert, the chocolate pudding or the buttermilk tart, or both. Each of these are examples of some of the best food in Charleston, and arguably, the world. The shrimp are utterly Lowcountry local, rife with the sweet, briny flavor for which they’re known and settled on a bed of stone ground cheese grits with a simple, slightly lemmony mixture of mushrooms, scallions and bacon. The chocolate pudding, as a North Carolina- bred friend of mine used to say, is the best thing I ever put in my mouth. Dark, deep chocolate and silky smooth it (like the tart/sweet heavenly buttermilk pie) comes topped with a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream.
All of this ambrosia comes with a price – fame, and ensuing long lines. Best time to come is just before 9 a.m. on a weekday morning. You’ll likely get in the queue in short order and you can make an excuse to sip one of Hominy’s also delicious house Bloody Mary’s on the front patio.
Now you know my list. Go out and make your own when you’re in town. Charleston is full of the good stuff! I’ve featured each of these four in my latest cookbook, The New Charleston Chef’s Table Cookbook (Globe Pequot Press, May, 2018). along with many others. You can find recipes for Michelle Weaver’s crab cakes and Little Jack’s steak tartar, too. But, even better to go in person.
Bon appetit! Enjoy Charleston and don’t hesitate to write and tell me about your favorites, too.