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.
You don’t want to miss out an all of the bounty soup provides – long, slow simmering, delicious aromas, and incredible tasting food. Here’s a beautiful recipe for shrimp bisque from today’s post and my soon-to-be-released new book:
The Obstinate Daughter
Here is a link from yesterday’s post on The Permant Tourist Charleston about this brand new, shining restaurant on Sullivan’s Island:
Peas and Carrots (lower left) and SC Peach Salad from The Obstinate Daughter.
In some ways, 2012 was, for me, the year that wasn’t. At least six months of it weren’t fun, were definitely very painful, and the last three months of the year, even walking wasn’t possible. So, nearly all of the things I enjoy in work and life (dining, cooking, writing, tennis, long walks) were off the table for much of the year. Fortunately, reading was a readily indulged passion and I finally found the pesky pain culprit (avascular necrosis in my left hip ball). With oustanding medical help, a great surgeon and the passage of healing time, it’s now fixed and the future looks bright in 2013.
Thank goodness and there is so much on the plate. Starting with a new book (that I was able to complete last winter and summer) release on March 1, 2013. The French Cook: Sauces is a fun, saucy and informative cookbook on classic French sauces and I’m really excited about the recipes, design, photography – everything!
And, here’s a picture of one of my favorite recipes in the book, luscious, sweet Lowcountry shrimp married with a beautiful, buttery red curry sauce. Like all of the recipes in the book, I had a ball balancing classic French technique with fresh product and flavor pairing inspiration. There are over 50 recipes in the book. I can’t wait to see it and I hope you feel the same way.
So, as I start looking forward to 2013, I have the promise of promoting this book in the spring, and several new projects to begin. First, the second book in the same (new) series, The French Cook: Eclairs and Cream Puffs (Sweet and Savory). I’m underway in my kitchen and having a ball, literally, within the extremely diverse and beautiful world of cream puffs and eclairs.
In between takes, and likely on weekends, I’m going to begin work on my first-ever novel, a debut in a culinary romance novel series. I have a top-secret title I love (I always begin with a title) and am getting an airtight case on the plot which will involve at least one French chef and will take place in Paris and somewhere else in the U.S. Voila! It promises to be slightly naughty, but nice, and full of all things delicious and fun.
Finally, it’s time to put together a revision to The Charleston Chef’s Table Cookbook. First published in 2009 (Globe Pequot Press), so many wonderful, exciting and delicious additions to the dining scene have since happened and many new trends developed, especially in 2012. Certainly, Sean Brock and Husk lead the extreme localvore, Southern devotee parade with the opening of this award-winning restaurant, a trend we saw deliciously extend its march onward (much of it on or near Upper King) in restaurants such as The Lot, Butcher & Bee, Two Borough’s Larder ,The Grocery, and The Macintosh to name just a few.
I think 2013 will bring Charleston continued culinary excellence. My personal wish list includes a greater expansion into ethnic restaurants or dining options (as we have seen in food trucks), such as the Vietnamese twists we’re seeing with CO and Phuong. Maybe add Moroccan to the list (ideally at the exotic former Saracen location) and/or some crazy good out of this world Chinese? As an admitted francophile, I’d be delighted to see a very romantic, very French bistro serving exquisitely prepared yet price accessible French bistro fare somewhere in another area that is growing nearly as fast as Upper King, North Charleston, peut-etre?
Meanwhile, I have plenty of targets on my list to visit, research and write about on this blog for the new Chef’s Table revisions as we begin unpeeling the delicious Charleston restaurant layers in 2013. These include closer looks at The Ordinary, Stars, Carter’s Kitchen, Rutledge CAB Company (when it’s open), and many, many more.
Yes, indeed, I think that 2013 will bring many wonderful culinary surprises to beautiful Charleston and I look forward to uncovering them and describing them to you on this blog. So thankful to be “kicking” again and for your loyalty. Bon appetit and a Happy, Healthy New Year!
Voila! The stock and fumet chapter is put to bed, so now it’s onto bechamel in the new sauce book. Some might argue, and in fact some of my friends have, that bechamel is boring. One of the five French mother sauces, I agree that it is certainly basic. It’s a simple white roux, sometimes flavored with a bit of onion and finished with milk and/or cream and seasoning.
But to me, that’s a huge part of bechamel’s beauty. The simple flavor backdrop and creamy, slightly thick consistency sets a dynamic flavor potential stage that help it evolve into anything from a Nantua to a Soubise with the addition of herbs, stock, cheese, or really just about anything that makes sense depending on what you’re pairing it with. Consider a chive and Parmesan bechamel over soft-scrambled eggs and toast or seasoned with mushrooms and wine as a tasty pasta topper? The possibilities are literally endless!
Not just a sauce, bechamel is also the tasty glue that holds together casseroles and gratins, as it does in this recipe I tested in my kitchen yesterday.
The inspiration for the recipe came from a visit to my local fish monger. I found some gorgeous seasonal shrimp and some beautiful fresh stone crab (one pound of each). I crushed the crab with a mallet, leaving the raw flesh in place, and peeled and de-veined the shrimp. Both the crab and the shrimp shells went into a large pot with a bit of butter and a finely chopped leek and a finely chopped small onion. After it softened, I deglazed the pan with a fat splash of Chardonnay, reduced it down, added 8 cups of water, and allowed the whole thing to simmer lightly, skimming along the way (see previous post) until it reduced by half. Then, I strained the entire fumet, discarding the solids, returned it to the pan and reduced it until it was down to a cup of liquid. The result is known as a glace – in this case a crustacean glace. Two tablespoons of this were whisked into the bechamel, along with some herbs and seasonings to top the beautiful fresh shrimp and some more lump crab. The result was creamy, rich goodness that utterly defies the concept of a boring bechamel! Sacre bleu!
Crunchy Crab and Shrimp Gratin
(Makes 8 to 10 portions)
1 shallot, finely chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons All Purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cold skim milk
1 cup cold Half & Half
Heat a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Add the butter and shallot and sweat to soften, for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the flour and whisk to incorporate. Cook another 2 – 3 minutes, whisking, and avoiding coloring the roux. Add the milk and Half and Half all at once, whisking to incorporate smoothly. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the bechamel up to a gentle boil. Reduce heat slightly, and continue cooking until thickened enough to coat a spoon and the flour flavor has cooked out – about 5 minutes. Season careful to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve warm for the gratin recipe, which only uses half of this recipe. The rest will store fine in the refrigerator for a couple days until you’re ready to make those eggs!
For the gratin:
1/2 recipe Basic Bechamel (above)
1 tablespoon sweet Vermouth
2 tablespoons of crustacean glace (see top of the column for instructions on preparation) OR substitute best quality fish stock or clam juice
2 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
Generous dash Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 pound shrimp, peeled, de-veined and coarsely chopped
1 pound lump crab meat
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup bread crumbs tossed with 4 tablespoons softened butter
Preheat oven to 375F. Prepare the basic bechamel. Divide in half reserving the remainder for future use. While still warm, whisk in the Vermouth, glace, scallions, parsley, Old Bay Seasoning, Tabasco, lemon juice. Taste carefully and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, arrange the shrimp in the bottom of a shallow, baking dish or pie pan. Top with an even layer of the crab. Pour the bechamel over the top, spreading with a spatula to distribute it evenly. Top with a layer of the bread crumbs. Bake until golden and bubbling, 20 – 25 minutes. Serve warm! All this needs is a small salad to be a meal, and also makes a great appetizer with toast points.