My Best Shrimp and Grits Recipe

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grits close up

Living in the Low Country where the best shrimp in the world is harvested, one is soon drawn to a variety of shrimp recipes and there is one dish that is so classically Charleston which always comes to the forefront. This was and still is a great breakfast recipe, but I love it for dinner. There are as many Shrimp and Grits recipes here as there are Charleston kitchens. I play around with the elements, sometimes adding cheese to the grits and sometimes adding chiles or okra to the shrimp element. I always use tomatoes, small shrimp and really good grits.

Grits

Let’s talk about grits for a moment. This dish would be seriously compromised by anything other than the very best stone ground grits you can find. I prefer mixed grits, a combination of yellow and white grits. If you live in Europe, you can use coarse polenta. Polenta is always made with yellow corn. Whereas southern grits are available in yellow and while as well as mixed (my favorite). Speckled grits mean that they leave the hull of the corn on (also my favorite).  I do like polenta for some things, it is not the same as good southern stone ground grits. At the bottom of this post I am adding a few links to what I consider the best online sources for the best grits. I am lucky that I can buy mine from Celeste Albers at the Charleston Farmer’s Market. But you can buy really great grits online now.

shrimp boat

Now, let’s talk shrimp. Buy wild caught when you can. For this recipe I really like small shrimp. Not the tiny ones for salads, but about an inch or two long. Buy them with the shells on and peel just before cooking. If you freeze shrimp, put them in a zip lock bag and fill with water, making an ice block.  There will be no freezer burn. I am lucky to be able to go to the docks and get shrimp caught that day here. You may not be so lucky. Our shrimp season is from June-December give a week or two. This is to promote sustainable fisheries. Our shrimp are born early in the year and grow in our incredible estuaries (a series of creeks, marshes and rivers) and then swim to the sea in late May.

On to the recipe! This is one of my favorites, but I play around with it all of the time.

Shrimp and Grits Sassy Spoon Style

My grits recipe is done in a rice cooker, but if you do not have one, follow instructions on the bag. Here is a link to my recipe: http://sassy-spoon.com/2012/07/19/grits-in-a-rice-cooker-perfection/

Mise en place

Ingredients:

  • One recipe of grits for four, cooked
  • 3/4 pound small shell on shrimp, shelled
  • 1/2 cup of butter &/or olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves finely chopp
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup of sliced okra (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chives
  • 2 cups tomatoes chopped
  • Pork in one way or another. In this recipe I used a Chinese sausage. You can also add cooked bacon or andouille sausage.
  • Your favorite hot sauce
  • Sea salt and lots of fresh ground black pepper

Method:

  • If using sausage or bacon, brown slightly in a skillet, remove and reserve
  • Put the butter/oil in the skillet
  • Add onion and saute till the onion just starts to turn golden.
  • Add garlic and saute another minute
  • Add tomatoes, herbs, hot sauce and seasonings, cook for 10 minutes on simmer
  • Add shrimp and stir. It will be ready when the shrimp starts to turn pink.
  • Scoop out the grits and top with the shrimp mixture
  • Garnish with chives or parsley

Here are some sources for great stone ground grits.

Authentic Mapo Dofu (Tofu) Recipe, a Szechuan delight!

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Authentic Mapo Dofu (Tofu) Recipe, a Szechuan delight!

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One of my favorite Szechuan foods is Mapo Dofu. It is a peasant dish with tons of flavor and textures.It is spicy, slightly crunchy and yet cooling and smooth at the same time.  I make mine with ground pork, but you can also use beef. If you get all of your ingredients together mise en place, this cooks quickly. Start the rice cooker before you do anything. Note, there is one ingredient that you may have a hard time finding, it is fermented broad bean sauce. It is available on Amazon.com. 

There are several stories about the naming of  Mapo Tofu, but the commonly accepted myth is that this dish was created by a pock-faced old woman. She was cast out of the Sichuan capital of Chengdu due to her disfigurement. One day, a weary trader happened upon her shack and she was so delighted by the company that she scraped together her meager provisions to create this dish.

broad bean

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns, divided
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons cold water
  • 1 1/2 pounds silken tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pound ground lean pork
  • 6 garlic cloves grated on a microplane grater
  • 2 inches of fresh ginger grated on a microplane grater
  • 2 tablespoons fermented broad bean paste
  • 4 tablespoons Xiaoxing wine or sherry
  • 1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup chicken  or beef stock
  • 1/4 cup roasted chili oil 
  • 1/4 cup finely sliced scallion greens
Mise en place

Mise en place

Method

  1. Heat half of sichuan peppercorns in a large wok over high heat until lightly smoking. Transfer to a mortar and pestle. Pound until finely ground and set aside.

  2. Add remaining sichuan peppercorns and vegetable oil to wok. Heat over medium high heat until lightly sizzling, about 1 1/2 minutes. Pick up peppercorns with a wire mesh skimmer and discard, leaving oil in pan.

  3. Combine corn starch and cold water in a small bowl and mix with a fork until homogenous. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat and add tofu. Cook for 1 minute. Drain in a colander, being careful not to break up the tofu.
  4. Heat oil in wok over high heat until smoking. Add beef and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add chili-bean paste, wine, soy sauce, and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Pour in corn starch mixture and cook for 30 seconds until thickened. Add tofu and carefully fold in, being careful not to break it up too much. Stir in chili oil and half of scallions and simmer for 30 seconds longer. Transfer immediately to a serving bowl and sprinkle with remaining scallions and toasted ground Sichuan pepper. Serve immediately with white rice.

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Best Brunswick Stew Recipe, Sassy Style!

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Brunswick on table with window

Brunswick Stew is a sassy one pot dish full of flavor. It is however a dish with a questionable heritage. There are three schools of thought on the origin of Brunswick Stew.  The first is from Queen Victoria’s adoration of the dish coming from the original Brunswick: Braunschweig, Germany. Next Brunswick, Virginia and the nearby coastal communities in North Carolina claim the dish started there. Finally, Brunswick, Georgia and St. Simons Island, Georgia also say the dish originated there. The two US versions vary slightly. In Virginia the protein is usually chicken. In Georgia it is a mixed plate of smoked chicken, pork and sometimes beef. What is similar in the two recipes is a tomato base with a variety of vegetables. The Georgia version is sassier… more vinegar and more smoke and that is what I am presenting here with a Charleston twist, okra and fresh tomatoes.  One more thing, the original versions were made in hunting camps and often contained opossum, squirrel or rabbit, I am NOT going there, but feel free to add them if you wish.

The secret is in the sassy sauce! Yield one gallon. Freezes well or serves a crowd!

The Sassy Sauce

Brusnwick sauce

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup of butter
  • 1 ½ cups ketchup
  • ¼ cup prepared yellow mustard
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 cup of liquid smoke
  • 1/8 cup of hot sauce (I like Texas Pete for this)
  • ½ cup brown sugar or cane syrup if you can find it

Method:

  • In a 2 quart sauce pan, melt the butter
  • Add ketchup, mustard & vinegar and stir to blend
  • Add garlic, peppers, liquid smoke, hot sauce and brown sugar and stir to blend.
  • Simmer for approximately 10 minutes, do not allow to boil. Reserve for the stew.

The Stew

Brusnwick potatoes

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup of butter
  • 1 cup of diced onion
  • 3 cups of small diced potatoes (Yukon or red potatoes are best)
  • 3 cups of chicken stock
  • 2 14.5 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 14.5 ounce cans of fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 pound each: smoked turkey or chicken, pulled pork and ham
  • 2 cups each: frozen lima beans, frozen or fresh corn, frozen peas, fresh cut okra & fresh cut tomatoes (any fresh veggies can be added)
  • ¼ cup liquid smoke

Brunswick Simmering

Method:

  • In a large stock pot, melt the butter and cook the onions and potatoes over medium heat for a few minutes
  • Add chicken stock, tomatoes and the meats and bring to a rolling boil for 5 minutes
  • Add the veggies, reserved sauce and place on a very low simmer for 1 hour

Brunswick bowl

Serve with cornbread or hush puppies

Re-Creating Husk’s Kentuckyakai Chicken Wings, Something different for Superbowl

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Many people have heard of Husk. It is a terrific restaurant here in Charleston. Chef Sean Brock is at the helm. Last year they also opened a Husk Nashville location. Sean has a passion for all things southern and everything at Husk is made from southern ingredients. At a lunch there I tasted their signature Kentuckyaki Chicken Wings. They utilize a sauce made by Bourbon Barrell Foods called Kentuckyaki Sauce.  The sauce is basically a kicked up teriyaki sauce made with southern ingredients (except for maybe the ginger). Since I did not have the sauce on hand and I wanted to try these wings for Superbowl… I checked the ingredients for the sauce on the Bourbon Barrell website and deduced that I have access to all of the ingredients to the sauce … so I did a dump and taste version of the sauce and here are the ending results:

Sauce Ingredients:
2 Cups Soy Sauce (soybeans, wheat, salt, water, yeast)
1/2 cup Kentucky Sorghum
1/2 cup local honey
1/2 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
8 cloves Fresh Garlic very finely grated
a 2″ piece of Fresh Ginger very finely grated
1 cup of Kentucky Bourbon divided in 1/2 cup portions

Add all ingredients except the final 1/2 cup of bourbon and simmer on medium low heat for 30 minutes. Add the second 1/2 cup of  bourbon and simmer for five minutes. Allow to cool completely. This the basic sauce, which is quite thin and can be used if you want to make more of a glaze, you can add a cornstarch slurry of 1 tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with 3 tablespoons of water. Add to the sauce and simmer further till thickened.

Prepping the wings:

Brine:

Make a gallon of sweet tea using mint just as you would for drinking (1 cup of sugar to 4 qts. water and 2 ounces of loose leaf tea). I add several sprigs of mint in mine too. I also added some juniper berries and about 1/3 cup of sea salt. Put the wings in a heavy duty ziplock bag or plastic container and refrigerate overnight, or up to 24 hours.

Smoke:

Remove the wings from the brine and dry off with paper towels. Put them in a smoker for 3 hours on very low heat. You only want a small amount of smoke and you want the wings to retain moisture.

Fry:

Fry the wings in peanut oil (350 degrees) and drain. It is best to do this in small batches so that the oil maintains temperature. It should not go below 225 degrees. Drain the wings on a rack and then keep warm in the oven as you are frying.

Presentation:

Toss the wings in the sauce and place on a platter. Scatter sesame seeds and chopped chives on the wings. Enjoy!

These also go great with my North Carolina style coleslaw!

Husk…. Sean Brock’s Southern Food

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Bon Appetit hailed it as the Best New Restaurant in the US…. accolades have been streaming ever since. It is not all hype, the food is amazing, creative and interesting. Husk is the love child of James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock of McCrady’s and the Neighborhood Dining Group. Since opening Husk in Charleston he opened another outpost of Southern ingredients in Nashville. He recently opened Minero, a taqueria in the high rent district of downtown Charleston. There is word that he is also taking that concept to Atlanta where the Neighborhood Dining Group is headquartered. He transforms the essence of Southern food over and over again. Solid… delicious… promising. Sean is dedicated to bringing back old Southern grains, beans, greens and other treasures that were all but lost. He is the champion of the old non-gmo crops that were grown 200 years ago in the south. His food reflects that without being obvious. It is just delicious food, and then you learn its history and all of the work that went into bringing it to the table.

Led by Brock and Chef de Cuisine Travis Grimes, a Lowcountry native, the kitchen reinterprets the bounty of the surrounding area, exploring an ingredient-driven cuisine that begins in the rediscovery of heirloom products and redefines what it means to cook and eat in Charleston.

Starting with a larder of ingredients indigenous to the South, and set within a building complex dating to the late 19th century, Brock crafts menus throughout the day, responding to what local purveyors are supplying the kitchen at any given moment. The entrance beckons with a rustic wall of firewood to fuel the wood-fired oven and a large chalkboard listing artisanal products currently provisioning the kitchen, but like the décor that inhabits the historic building, the food is modern in style and interpretation.

At Husk there are some rules about what can go on the plate. “If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door,” says Brock, who has even stricken olive oil from the kitchen. As he explains, the resulting cuisine “is not about rediscovering Southern cooking, but exploring the reality of Southern food.” This modern approach results in playful dishes such as Deviled Eggs with Pickled Okra and Trout Roe, and new classics like South Carolina Shrimp and Choppee Okra Stew with Carolina Gold Rice and Flowering Basil.

Seed-saving, heirloom husbandry, and in-house pickling and charcuterie efforts by the culinary team are the basis of the cuisine at Husk. The restaurant is as casual as it is chic, evoking a way of life centered on seasonality and the grand traditions of Charleston life—one lived at a slower pace, preferably with a cocktail and a wide porch in the late afternoon. It is a neighborhood gathering place for friends, and a destination dining spot for travelers, with a little bite of the South for everyone’s palates.

These photos are from my lunch there with Nathalie Dupree and Holly Herrick, two Charleston based friends of mine than rank in the upper echelons of Food Writers.  And so we were treated to many things that we did not order. On of the most amazing things that day was totally unexpected, the fried chicken skin with honey and hot sauce. It is a dish I have reconstructed at home a few times. I also reconstructed Husk’s Sweet Tea Brined Kentuckyaki Chicken Wings and you can get the recipe here.

Taste of a decade: 1840s restaurants

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Devany:

From my friend Jan Whitaker… great food history!

Originally posted on Restaurant-ing through history:

1849Marden'sEating places began to show a French influence as places called “restaurants” and “cafes” replaced “eating houses.” Many hotels adopted the European plan which allowed guests to choose where they would eat instead of including meals in the hotel in the room charge, a change that encouraged the growth of independent eating places. A “restaurant culture” had begun to develop, yet with stiff resistance from many who associated restaurants with vice and immorality.

Menus, particularly those of cheaper eating places, contained mostly meat, pastry, and ever-popular oysters. Meat production was still local; NYC had 200 slaughterhouses in operation. Out-of-season fresh produce was beginning to come North by steamboat from the South, but still not in large quantities. Harvey Parker’s well-known eating house in Boston was celebrated for acquiring peas from Virginia in 1841, but strawberries remained a seasonal delicacy in the Northeast later in the decade.

U.S. territory grew substantially…

View original 600 more words

A Chef With the Heart of a Servant at Swig & Swine

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AnthonyLast week I had the pleasure of spending a few hours with a remarkable man, Chef Anthony DiBernardo of the relatively new smoked meat (A.K.A. BBQ)  restaurant … Swig and Swine. His restaurant is new to the Low Country, but he is not. He has been cooking all over the Charleston area for many years. I was so impressed when I heard his story that I just had to meet him and do a profile to share it with y’all. If you are a frequent follower of this blog, you know I do not do restaurant reviews any more, that was relegated to my Chicago days. But I have been writing about food, where it comes from and who is cooking it for the last 14 years, sometimes in publications, sometimes on my blogs and Facebook. Here is the story of a Chef who has the heart of a servant. 

Click on any of these pics for a close up…

In the Beginning:

Anthony comes from rural southern New Jersey, technically in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Born to a Scotch Irish mother and Italian father he was the youngest of four children, the other three sisters, who were 16, 14 and 7 when he came into this world. His maternal grandmother died when she was young, so Anthony’s Italian grandmother taught his mother to cook. All she knew was Italian food. There were many big family gatherings full of wonderful food.

At the age of 14, Tony started a dish washing job at a local country club owned by Ron Jaworski. He took to the back of the house like a fish to water, quickly climbing to the hot line. By the time he was a Junior in high school he was working on the line at the Tellford Inn. That is the time he decided to enter the US Navy because his parents were about to retire and he did not want them to have to put him through college. He signed on with a delayed enlistment the summer of his Junior year. As soon as he graduated from High School in 1990 he was off to San Diego for 60 days of cooking school. He went to Submarine School in Connecticut and his first deployment was to Charleston where he stood stunned to find he was to submarine Batfish “687,” the same number as his parents’ address and his grandfather’s winning lottery number. It was no accident. He teared up telling me the story.

Cooking Underwater:
Imagine being one of three chefs cooking day in and out for 130 people on a nuclear submarine, never knowing exactly where you will be going or how long you will be there. They would put fresh provisions inside the torpedo tubes and switch the refrigerators to freezers for long hauls. They did all baking in the galley because that much bread would take up valuable storage space. He kept busy taking video courses, including one on Poetry by Maya Angelou.

A Charleston Chef is Born:
In May of 1994, Anthony climbed out of the submarine and started cooking all over Charleston. Starting at Blossom, then venturing on to the old resort at Kiawah where he was executive chef for four years. He assisted in opening the new hotel and all of their kitchens. It was a tough time, working long hotel hours, weekends, holidays and special events. In 2001, his son was born and he knew that he had to make a lifestyle change. He took some time off and at a church retreat he met Sal Parco, the owner of the Dine with Sal Restaurant Group. Anthony took the helm of the culinary team and opened The Long Point Grill, Uno Mas and Mustard Seed. After seven years, he moved on to Kickn’ Chicken Restaurant Group’s Rita’s on Folly Island. It was sold to Hall’s Hospitality Group in July of 2013 and that is when Anthony started to think about what he was going to do.

Dreaming:
He took 30 days to develop a game plan and drove around West Ashley scoping out locations. He fell in love with the old OK Tire Store and its retro look. It was next door to The Glass Onion, a popular spot for dining. He got the keys and walked the old store using graph paper to design his kitchen, dining room, smoker areas and bar. Suddenly there was a call from Steve Kish, chef and co-owner of 82 Queen, along with Johnathan and Patrick Kish, they wanted to talk to Anthony about opening a restaurant on the peninsula. He sold them another idea. A deal was struck and they became 50/50 partners in the new concept, Swig and Swine. It took every penny Anthony had and some of his family members’ funds to come up with his half of the opening investment.

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The Dream Comes to Life:
Permits were applied for in October 2013. The process was a long one and they did not all come through until March 2014. So what does a hard working chef do for five months while waiting for those permits? He builds the tables, the bars, the benches and the work spaces of the restaurant. He designed the smokers with the guys at Gorilla Fabrication. After the fancier one in front of the store, they tweaked the second one, adding more insulation to the smoke box. Each one is running several nights a week, fired by oak and hickory and finished off with pecan. At midnight at least three nights a week, Anthony starts the fires in both smokers. He has an assistant tending the smokers when he is not there. He spends all night minding the smokers, adjusting the flues and taking short cat naps on the wooden benches in the dining room. He works around the restaurant and leaves about 4 pm when he can spend some time with his wife, 12 year old son and 8 year old daughter, sometimes returning back to the smokers again at midnight.

Brisket

The Food:
DiBernadino emphasizes that his place is a smoked meat restaurant, not just another BBQ joint. He broke from tradition by approaching the restaurant from a Chef’s perspective. Nothing is pre-processed. Everything depends on the food in those smokers every night. One bad move and they lose business for an entire day. 40 pound batches of meat are smoked and cooked 3 to 4 times in a 24 hour shift. When he is not spending the night next to the wood boxes, he keeps an eye on the smokers using remote cameras.

Brisket, chicken, turkey, pork belly, wings, ribs, house-made sausage and pork butt all have their place on the smokers. Freshly prepared smoked meats are placed in the case in the dining room just before lunch service and more continue smoking through the day so that the dinner service has fresh smoked meat. The wings and ribs have a dry rub with spices, everything else just gets old fashioned salt and pepper. Leftovers are usually made into a special sandwich. I had one with leftover ribs from the day before… incredible. It was on jalapeno corn bread loaf with BBQ onions and house made pimento cheese.

The sauces are all made in house, as are the sides which vary from day to day. The day I was there there was a fantastic dish with brussels sprouts, smoked mushrooms and béchamel sauce. The usual suspects are mac & cheese, collard greens (very well done), hash and rice, beans with brisket, baked potato salad, coleslaw, Brunswick stew and pickled vegetables. There are also house-made cucumber pickles on every plate with a slice of white bread and slices of onion.

Taps

Drink Up! The bar :
There are 52 Bourbons including 2 bottles of Pappy Van Winkle that reside under lock and key at night. He has recently started smoking bourbon, to make some of the best Manhattans on the planet. A terrific list of craft beers on tap and plenty more in bottles. Wines are also available. And of course there is plenty of sweet tea.

 

Anthony and Pappy

A Servant’s Heart:
Anthony confessed to me that it is all about giving his heart, talent and compassion to those who sit at his tables. He would not have it any other way. He also gives back to the community in a multitude of ways. He cooks and donates food to a variety of causes, and at this moment is collecting money to support the Ronald McDonald House’s Red Shoes Campaign. Thanksgiving he is not taking the day off. He is generously serving up a huge Thanksgiving dinner for those who do not have family here in Charleston. We are two of the lucky people that will be a part of that dinner. I will report on that soon.

Red Shoes