One of hard things about writing books is that they are in constant flux and then they are permanent. Thanks to the organic nature of blogs, I can make amends.
When I was at the Culinary Institute of America, one of my best and favorite teachers was Eve Felder, who taught Garde Manger. She was the Cheshire Cat of chefs, perched high on stacked stools, who taught us that “Cooking is alchemy, cooking is magic!”
And she was right. Righter than I knew, in fact.
I’m heading to her native city, Charleston, South Carolina, and so she’s been on my mind. When I wanted to do a butter-poached shrimp for Ruhlman’s Twenty, I naturally wanted to pair it with grits. Who did I call for grits finesse points? Chef Felder. In the editing process of the book, she was not only excised from the headnote, I failed to acknowledge her in the Acknowledgements! Herewith the original headnote and recipe.
With everlasting thanks to a great cook, great chef, great educator, Eve Felder.
(please see update at bottom of recipe for link to chef felder cooking.)
Shrimp, so often overcooked in boiling water, is perfectly and beautifully poached in butter—it remains tender, does not become rubbery, and develops an almost unfamiliar sweetness. What better to pair buttery shrimp with than butter loving grits, for one of the great regional American dishes.
I contacted my friend and former teacher, Eve Felder, a chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America [now director of the CIA Singapore campus] and a Charleston, South Carolina, native raised on the stuff. For her, shrimp and grits was just that, little creek shrimp, floured and sautéed in butter, grits cooked with milk and water. This would not have been “dinner,” the main meal served around 2 pm, but rather breakfast or a light supper later in the evening.
“For the grits, the key is to cook them for hours,” Eve wrote to me during our discussions. “This last summer I got to starting the grits after breakfast on the stove at about 9 a.m., then put them in a crock pot to cook all day until we ate supper at 9 p.m. After a long day playing on the beach and floating down the creek, we found they had the perfect consistency. Michael, you know I’m a purist so I only eat shrimp and grits in Charleston. When I grew up we had artesian water on Sullivan’s Island and the grits were unbelievable. As with all simply prepared dishes, it’s all about the main ingredients: the shrimp, the quality of butter and the quality of the corn from which the grits were made. We’d always dump the butter from sautéing the shrimp into the center of the grits on the plate. You’re making me hungry.”
Thanks, Eve, you’re making us both hungry.
The following recipe keeps it simple, grits cooked with bacon and onion, shrimp gently poached in butter; the butter, flavored by the shrimp, then enriches the grits, which love, love butter.
Butter Poached Shrimp with Grits
- 4 ounces/115 grams bacon, cut into small dice
- 1 medium onion, cut into small dice
- Kosher salt
- 1 1/4 cups/250 grams high-quality stoneground grits
- 2 cups/480 milliliters milk or homemade vegetable or chicken stock (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup/225 grams butter, cut into about 12 chunks
- 1 pound/455 grams shrimp/prawns, peeled and deveined
- 4 lemon wedges
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the bacon and water to cover. Cook until the water has cooked off, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the bacon is lightly colored and enough of the fat has rendered to cook the onion. Add the onion, season with a three-finger pinch of salt, and cook until softened.
- Add the grits and stir. If using milk or stock, add it along with 2 cups/480 milliliters water. If not using milk, add 4 cups/960 ml water. Raise the heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook the grits, stirring, for about 30 minutes. Give the grits several grinds of black pepper. Add more milk or water as needed (about 2 cups/480 milliliters) to keep the mixture fluid. You should use enough water so that the grits don’t stick to the pan and they can absorb the moisture they need. You can cook off additional moisture, so err on the side of using too much liquid. Keep the pan covered on low heat over a heat diffuser for up to 12 hours; monitor the moisture level, adding milk or water as needed. (You can also put the grits in a slow cooker on low or in a covered pan in a low oven, 150° to 200°F/65° to 95°C, for up to 12 hours.)
- When the grits are ready, put 2 tablespoons water in a saucepan that is just large enough to hold the butter and shrimp/prawns. Bring the water just to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add a chunk of butter and whisk continuously as the butter melts. When the butter has begun to melt and emulsify into the water, add three more chunks and continue to whisk. (Or you can swirl the butter in the pan; it needs to keep moving—how you do it is up to you.) When all the butter is incorporated, add the shellfish and stir. Keep the pan on medium-high heat until the butter gets hot again. Use an instant-read thermometer to maintain a temperature just below a simmer, 170° to 180°F/77° to 82°C. Don’t let the butter to boil. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove a shrimp, cut it open, and check that it’s just cooked through. It should be white at the center, not translucent gray, and tender and juicy.
- Put the grits over medium-high heat to get them up to temperature. They should be loose but thick. Taste and add more salt if needed. Stir about a third of the poaching butter into the grits.
- Spoon the grits onto plates, and arrange the shellfish on or beside the grits as desired. Garnish with more butter, freshly ground pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.
update! just returned from an awesome dinner on behalf of Ruhlman’s Twenty at Anson’s in Charleston where one of the attendees, a chef, had not only read this post but had, that same day, seen a video of Eve Felder, THE chef Felder demoing fried chicken. If you want to see her cook, watch this epicurious.com video. she is her prefect self. notice how she asks you to listen to the sounds of the cooking. she doesn’t have her Cheshire smile on (you only get that in person), but you get a sense of her care. What do you say–every sunday, fried chicken? i think it’s a good ritual. Thank you, Eve.
If you liked this post on Do-over: Charleston, Eve, & Grits, check out these other links:
- My rant on animals and the ethics of eating: It’s a Wonderful Life.
- Learn how to make grits with sausage.
- Hushpuppy Nation is a blog focused on the Southern food’s history and culture.
- Video: watch the Perennial Plate catch shrimp in New Orleans.
© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved