David Chang’s Shrimp & Grits

from Momofuku, pp. 110-111.

If you need more incentive to make David Chang’s Ramen Broth (or my version thereof), his Shrimp & Grits ought to be enough. I save the “Grub” category for special occasions, mainly those times when I’m in danger of licking the plate. Using the ramen broth adds two sub-basements to this structure. The flavor goes deep. And I’ll say it again: this recipe is all about umami. I could eat this once a week. But I won’t.

Here we go…

2 cups water

2 cups white or yellow quick-cooking grits from Anson Mills

Shadowcook: I order Anson Mills grits, but they did not arrive in time. The grits I used — Moore’s Flour Mill grits — compare unfavorably with those of Anson Mills, at least according to two grits experts, friends from South Carolina. Well, the grits I made were pretty good anyway. I’ll be curious to taste the difference.

2 cups Ramen Broth

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

Shadowcook: Given how I adapted the ramen broth recipe and omitted taré, I used regular soy sauce.

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 pound smoky bacon, cut crosswise into 1- to 1 1/2-inch long batons

Shadowcook: Wary of adding more smoked flavor, I used guanciale, which added a surprising sweet note that comes soaring over the top.

1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil

4 poached eggs

1/2 cup chopped scallions (greens and whites)

1. Soak the grits in the water overnight or at least 8 hours in the pot you’ll cook them in.

2. Drain them, then add the broth to the grits and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, whisking all the while. Continue to whisk for 5 minutes after the liquid simmers, then turn the heat down to low. Chang cites Anson Mills’ instructions in this regard. The first 5-minute cooking period is called “cooking to first starch.” “First starch refers to the early stage of grits and polenta cookery in which fine corn particles thicken the liquid enough to hold the larger particles in suspension. It is crucial to stir constantly until the first starch takes hold and to reduce the heat immediately after it does so.”

3. Add the soy sauce, a large pinch of salt, and a few turns of black pepper. Keep the heat low and whisk regularly if not constantly; the grits should be thickening, undulating, and letting occasional gasps of steam bubble up and out. Soaked grits will be cooked after about 10 minutes over low heat; unsoaked grits will take 20-25 minutes. They’re ready when they’re no longer grainy, when they’re thick and unctuous.

Shadowcook: I think it generally takes longer. When I soak the grits, I cooked them for 30 minutes.  They were deliciously creamy.

4. Add the butter, stirring until it has melted and been absorbed into the grits. Taste them and add additional salt or pepper as needed. Set aside, covered to keep warm, while you get the rest of the dish together (or serve at once if you’re eating them on their own.)

5. Cook the bacon: Heat a skillet over medium heat for a minute or so, until very warm. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until it shrinks to about half its original size and is crisp and browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain it on paper towels. Drain the bacon fat from the pan and return the pan to the stove.

6. Put the shrimp in a mixing bowl, pour the grapeseed oil over them, and add a couple of large pinches of salt. Toss them in the oil and salt until they’re coated. Wipe the pan cleanish with a paper towel and turn the heat up to high. Cook the shrimp, in batches if the shrimp will crowd your pan, which is probably the case. As soon as the shrimp hit the pan, press down on them, using a bacon press or the back of a spatula, or a smaller pan or whatever works, and sear them for 1 to 2 minutes on the first side.

Shadowcook: A bit fussy, that. Just make sure not to overcook them. Sear them but do not overcook them. So, pay attention to the following.

Watch as the gray-pink flesh of the raw shrimp gradually turns white in the side pressed against hot metal, and when that white line creeps about 40 percent of the way up the shrimp, flip them and press down on the second side. Sear that side only long enough to get a decent but not necessarily superdeep brown on them, about a minute. They should be just slightly shy of cooked when you pull them from the pan — they’ll continue to cook after they come out of the pan. (And nobody like overcooked shrimp.)

7. Poach the eggs.

8. Make up plates for everybody: start with a big helping of grits, nestle a poached egg in the middle of the dish, and arrange some of the bacon and shrimp in separate piles and then some sliced scallions in another. Serve at once.

Judy Rodger’s Salmon Cooked with Flageolets, Bacon & Red Wine

from The Zuni Café Cookbook, pp. 324-26.

I needed some comfort food this past weekend. That meant there was only one place to look. I swore I would not post another Zuni Café Cookbook, but the book is so deep that it’s difficult to judge where fair use ends. I decided I hadn’t reached it yet. And let me once again urge you to buy this book!

It would never have occurred to me to cook salmon with red wine and beans. I’m so glad the idea came to Rodgers. Now that I’ve made it, I’ve been trying to articulate to myself why it worked so well. It must have something to do with the so-called oiliness of the fish. Its richness sunk into the beans and drank up the wine.

I made one portion for myself, so if you’re cooking for two, just double the portion.

Here’s my synthesis of her recipes for the salmon and the beans…

1 cup dried flageolet beans

1/2 carrot, diced (save the other half for below)

1/2 small yellow onion (save the other half for below)

1 tablespoond duck fat

Kosher salt

1/3 lb salmon fillet, preferably Pacific or Alaskan, at least an inch thick.

Salt

1 cup medium-bodied red wine, such as a Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, or a light Merlot

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 thick strip of bacon, preferably unsmoked, cut into 1/4-inch strip

About 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1/2 carrot, diced

1 rib celery, diced

1/2 small yellow onion, diced

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

1/2 bay leaf

Seasoning the salmon (for the best flavor, do this several hours in advance): Season the salmon evenly with salt. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Shadowcook: Rodgers is a proponent of salting all meat, including fish, several hours, sometimes days, in advance of cooking. She urges home cooks to get into the habit of doing this, which means knowing what you’re going to eat well in advance, and promises that the meat will taste better and become more tender. I think she’s right.

First, my interpretation of Rodgers’ recommended method of cooking the beans: Put the cup of dried beans in a pot. Cover with water by about an inch. Bring to a simmer. After skimming the scum off the surface of the water, add the carrot, onion and bay leaf. Partially cover the pot and let simmer until the beans are tender. That could take about an hour, perhaps longer, depending on how old the beans are. Cook them until they still have a bit of bite to them. You don’t want them falling apart, because they have a few minutes of intense cooking under the broiler later in the recipe.

When the beans have reached that point, add salt. As Rodgers points out, it takes a while for the beans to absorb the salt, so judge by tasting the cooking liquid. Then add the tablespoon of duck fat to the beans.

Shadowcook: By now, I hope everyone who reads this blog has acquired the habit of keeping duck fat in the fridge at all times. It just makes life a little bit richer. They also now say duck fat is good for you, but who cares?

Update: Here’s the article about duck fat that reinforced my commitment to have it always on hand.

Remove a cup of beans from the pot. The cooking liquid that comes with the beans is fine. Set aside.

Preheat the broiler. Position the rack about 6 inches from the element.

Place the wine in a small saucepan and reduce to about 1/3-1/4 cup. Add the chicken stock and return to a simmer. Turn off the heat.

Place the bacon in a small ovenproof skillet and lightly brown it in its own fat over medium heat. Reduce the heat slightly and pour off all but a film of the fat. Add about 1/2 tablespoon of butter, the other half of the chopped carrot, the celery, and the other half of the chopped onion, and the sprig of thyme. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

Add the flageolets, the reduced red wine-stock mixture, the half bay leaf, another sprig of thyme, and more butter. Raise the heat to mediumm and swirl as the liquid comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, add the salmon, and swirl and tilt the pan to baste the top of the fish. Make sure no beans, bacon, or bits of vegetables are perched on top of the fish, where they could burn.

Place the pan under the broiler. Cook for about 6 to 7 minutes; the salmon should be quite rare and the whole surface of the dish should be sizzling and beginning to color. Watch closely; if the fish or beans threaten to char at any point, reduce the oven temperature to 500.

Shadowcook: I thought 6 minutes was plenty. It depends on the thickness of the fillet. My fish came out medium-rare, which was fine.

While the fish is cooking, set a plate in the oven for a minute to heat.

Transfer the pan to the stovetop. Using a spatula and tongs, transfer the salmon to the plate, where it should reach medium-rare as you finish the sauce. Protect from drafts.

Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Taste. If the liquid looks or tastes thin, simmer briefly to reduce and allow the starch from the beans to bind the sauce. If it seems winy, add a splash of the reserved bean cooking liquid. Correct the salt, Swirl in more butter.

Spoon the saucy beans over the waiting fish.

Shadowcook: And prepare to gobble it up!

Rick Bayless’s Mexican Paella with Shrimp, Mussels, and Chorizo

from Fiesta at Rick’s: Fabulous Food for Great Times with Friends, pp. 276-280.

I’ve been home from New Orleans for a month now. What with the rich food I ate there and the hot weather here, I haven’t much been in the mood to cook. Last night, I made up for it. Rick Bayless’s new book has a recipe for paella cooked over a wood-fire. My pyromaniac nerve twitched the moment I saw the photos in his book. I summoned six of my friends together on a weekend night and we had a feast.

However, Rick let me down a bit. I should have known better. The cooking times don’t work. Plus, I overestimated the number of mussels.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. His recipe is intended to feed 30 heartily and 120 stingily. I am going to adapt his recipe to feed 8 people with leftovers. As usual, you will benefit from my mistakes.

The paella pan: I bought an enamel-coated paella pan for 10 servings at The Spanish Table in Berkeley for a comfortable $34. A well-informed employee explained to me the differences between the various kinds of pan. The one I bought was a good quality low-maintenance pan. The enamel does not require seasoning like the carbon steel one does. I thought it worked very well. Now that I’ve used it, I am interested in finding other things to cook in it.

The rice: The man at the store said to calculate 1/3 – 1/2 cup short-grain white rice (like arborio or better yet Catalan rice) per person. I think 1/3 cup of rice per person is ample.

The plan: Organize, prep, organize. Set up a table by the fire. Carry out to it aluminum foil, a timer, tongs, a long grill spatula, salt, trivets. Prepare all the ingredients, except for the chicken, immediately after lighting the fire. I put everything in separate storage containers until I was ready to work at the fire.

The fire: You need a base on which to place the paella pan. If you don’t have a base like this, go buy a bunch of fire bricks — enough to stack them in a circle four or five bricks high with airholes between them. You’ll build your fire within the circle. I know, I know: this is a commitment.

Here we go…

8 chicken thighs

3 – 4 cups chicken broth

1/2 tsp saffron threads, crumbled

Salt

1 – 2 lbs ripe tomatoes or 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with their juice (preferably fire-roasted)

1 large fresh poblano

1 large red bell pepper

1 large white onion, chopped

4 large cloves of garlic, chopped

1 pound fresh chorizo sausage, casings removed

1/2 cup olive oil

2 cups short-grain white rice

1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled (leaving the tail and final joint intact, if you wish) and deveined

2 pounds mussels, scrubbed, any “beards” pulled off

2 cups peas, fresh or frozen

1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup silver tequila (optional)

Heat the oven to 375. Put the chicken thighs on a baking sheet and roast until mostly cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and put on the prep table outside by the fire.

At the end of the 30 mins, go out and start the fire. Make it a good one. Then go inside immediately and get the following chopping done as soon as you can.

Put the broth with crumbled saffron threads in a saucepan and heat until warm. Turn the heat off or keep on lowest flame. You’ll bring this outside to the prep table when the other ingredients have been cleaned and chopped.

Set oven rack 6 inches from the broiler flame. Heat the broiler. Put the tomatoes, poblano chile, and red bell pepper on the baking sheet and broil, turning once, until they are charred on all sides. Remove from oven, put the peppers in a bag while you peel and chop the tomatoes. When you’ve chopped the tomatoes and put them in a container that you’ll take outside, peel and cut up the peppers. Add the cut-up peppers to the tomatoes.

Chop the onion and garlic and place in container that you’ll take out to the fire. Chop parsley and store separately.

Either sausages into 1/2-inch discs or break up into pieces. Put in a container to take outside.

Measure out the olive oil and the rice.

Clean the mussels, ripping or snipping off the gross little bits that hang outside the shell. Store in container with the shrimp, which should be peeled and deveined already.

Now you’re ready to put it all together. Get everything outside on a table within easy reach of the paella pan on the fire. Make sure the fire is hot and that you’ve got wood nearby to keep it hot. The way to adjust the heat is to use a poker to remove a log out from under the pan.

Place the pan on the fire and pour in olive oil. Tilt pan to let the oil cover the entire surface of the pan. Place the chicken thighs in the pan, skin-side down, salt the chicken, and let saute for about 10 mins each side. Remove and put back in the container they were in.

If there is still sufficient oil, don’t bother adding more. Add onions, garlic, and chorizo to the pan. Stir to make sure all of it will cook. In about 10 minutes, add the tomatoes and the peppers. Stir and cook until the oil separates from the tomatoes, about 7-8 minutes.

Pour in the rice, stir up, and keep stirring so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. When the rice has absorbed the oil and has become translucent, add most of the broth. Save some just in case it needs more moisture as it cooks. Stir thoroughly, assess the fire under the pan. And then don’t touch the rice for about 15 minutes. Adjust the fire, if need be. When the rice is almost soft, with still a little bite, quickly put the chicken, mussels, shrimp and peas in the rice. Bury the shrimp and mussels in the rice as close to the bottom as possible. If they sit on top, they won’t cook.

Cover the pan with foil to trap the steam. Remove the big logs underneath, but leave small pieces and embers. Push the burning pieces of wood and embers together so they form a hill. You want the pan to feel the heat but not enough to burn the rice. Let the rice stand covered in foil for 15 minutes. Test the rice and check whether the shrimp are cooked and the mussel shells open. If not, put one of the smoldering logs back under the pan for another few minutes. When the contents of the pan are cooked, you may sprinkle on the tequila.

Get the pan to the table and tell your starving guests sit and eat.

Then again, you could try all this with a small enamel paella pan on a gas grill. I may do that next time.