• Butter-Poached Shrimp With Grits

    Butter Poached Shrimp With Grits.

    Butter Poached Shrimp With Grits.

    “Umm…ok” is what I heard from Carolyn when I told her we were having shrimp and grits for dinner. The boys just looked confused. Then I said “think of it as prawns and polenta with butter sauce” and they all looked relieved. It’s funny, because Carolyn knows that grits and polenta are basically the same thing, but there is something about the word “grits” that (at least for many outside the south) has some negative culinary vibes attached.

    gritsgrits1And that’s too bad, because this is a killer dish that uses simple, readily available ingredients and is easy to make. Carolyn and the kids loved it. And that shouldn’t have been a surprise. We all enjoy polenta (cornmeal mush), so the grits were just a slightly more rustic version of the Italian classic. Basically the grits were polenta, but with bacon, onion and butter added instead of the cheese and pancetta we might include in polenta.  Either way, pretty hard to go wrong here. Just remember to stir (the only real work with grits or polenta is to stir often to keep it from burning).

    grits2grits3grits4We adapted the recipe from Michael Ruhlman’s cookbook “Ruhlman’s Twenty“. We are fans of this cookbook, it has 20 different ingredients, tools and techniques for the home cook and then provides recipes to match. Some of it is basic stuff like “salt” “roast” and “butter”, but it is always good to remember fundamentals like seasoning and cooking with butter.  So when we want to expand or refine our cooking, we often open “Ruhlman’s Twenty“. In this case we were looking for different ways to cook shrimp and Ruhlman had butter-poached shrimp with grits in the “butter” section. Good stuff.

    grits5grits6grits8The key technique here is to poach the shrimp in a butter and water emulsion over low heat. This technique is easy and gives you very moist, flavorful shrimp. Even at low heat shrimp still cook quickly, so it only takes 4-5 minutes. This is also a forgiving technique, so if you go a little over the cooking time the shrimp will still be good (unlike high-heat cooking methods). You also get the bonus of a very flavorful butter sauce to enhance the grits and drizzle over the shrimp. Add a little seasoning and some lemon and you are in business.

    grits9grits10So regardless of what we call it, we will make this dish a few more times this summer. So, once more, we say “thanks Ruhlman” for a successful recipe, we expect to say it again soon…

    Butter-Poached Shrimp With Grits:

    (Adapted from Michael Ruhlman)

    Notes Before You Start:

    • You can use white or yellow grits, just look for high-quality stoneground grits.
    • The recipe suggests you make the grits with water and then stock and/or milk. We like chicken stock, but feel free to experiment.

    What You Get: An excellent shrimp dish and some very tasty grits. A good introduction to a southern classic.

    What You Need: No special equipment required.

    How Long? 45-60 minutes, most of it active. This is an easy dish but there is plenty of work to do. Anytime dish if you find cooking therapeutic after a long day. Otherwise, best made on weekends.

    Ingredients:

    (Serves 4 as a main course)

    • 4 oz. bacon, diced
    • 1 medium onion, diced
    • Kosher salt
    • 1 1/4 cups stoneground grits
    • 2 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or milk (or water)
    • 2 cups water
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 cup butter, cut into 12 chunks
    • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
    • Lemon wedges
    • Smoked paprika, for garnish (optional)
    • Italian parsley, for garnish

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  • Home Cured Canadian Bacon

    Home Cured Canadian Bacon.

    Also known as “back” bacon, “Irish” bacon, “rasher” bacon, or just “bacon” (in the UK), what we have here is a cured, smoked, boneless pork loin. Much leaner than bacon from pork belly (American Bacon or “streaky bacon” in the UK), Canadian bacon is very tasty and pretty good for you. If you worry about the fat in bacon, Canadian bacon is a good choice. We eat both types of bacon, you just can’t have enough bacon in your life.

    Most Americans are familiar with Canadian Bacon as a featured part of the Egg McMuffin, and while it does go well with eggs (and we do make a better McMuffin at home), Canadian bacon has other uses. We use our Canadian Bacon in grilled cheese sandwiches, diced in soups, and simply as a snack.  The best way to serve it is sliced thin and lightly browned in a skillet. The flavor is like smoked ham, but with some of the piquant flavor of bacon. Good stuff and a fun project.

    Making Canadian Bacon at home takes no special skills, just time and a key ingredient. The key ingredient is “pink salt” or curing salts. You can order them here. And if you want your bacon to taste like bacon, you need to use curing salts. Curing salts do contain sodium nitrites / nitrates and there have been some questions on their impact on health. We looked into it and any health risks seemed minimal. In fact, a little more research told us that fresh vegetables are very rich in nitrates (celery in particular) and there is no health risk associated with nitrates from veggies. So, as vegetable gardeners, we get plenty of nitrites and our health is fine. So we may as well enjoy some home-cured bacon.  (Michael Ruhlman has a good, if somewhat heated, piece about overblown Nitrites / Nitrates risks here. It also includes some other scientific links on the subject. )

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  • Adventures in Home Charcuterie: Corned Beef, Part 1

    In five days this brisket will become corned beef

    Having had a success with Michael Ruhlman’s homemade bacon recipe we decided to buy his book Charcuterie and start curing, drying and pickling at home. This is a “farm”, after all, we might as well try act like it. We already pickle a lot of our veggies, but will expand into fermentation and preservation. We are making bacon on a regular basis and experimenting with different cures and smoke (trying maple bacon and applewood smoking this week). But as St. Patricks Day is next month we figured we should try and make our own corned beef for corned beef and cabbage. (Before you even say it, I know that “nobody eats corned beef and cabbage in Ireland”. But, so what? Its good, their loss.) Continue reading

  • Make bacon at home. Have a BLT. Smile.

    A few weeks ago I was perusing Michael Ruhlman’s excellent cooking blog (Ruhlman.com) and came across a quote that piqued my interest:

    “No excuses, if you like to cook, for not curing your own Pancetta”

    Actually, I can think of many excuses for not curing my own Pancetta: Other cooking priorities, a 24-hour day, a good local supplier, fear of poisoning family, etc.

    But one thing I am learning, as I try to expand my cooking skills, is not to dismiss passionate statements like the one above. I will write more on passion and food, but I am finding that if an experienced, and thoughtful, chef like Ruhlman says something this definitive, he means it. Now at times, foodies can make passionate statements about everything (this may be why many people find foodies annoying). Random, and sometimes misinformed, passion can lead to a lot of blind alleys and poor, wasteful cooking. But I took Ruhlman at his word, and I am glad I did.

    I did make one change and start with Bacon, rather than Pancetta. It turns our both are cured pork belly, but Pancetta is air-dried while bacon is cooked and/or smoked. Other differences between bacon and pancetta include accents to the cure (sugars, herbs, garlic, spices, etc) but these accents are really under the control of the cook. The one step that may be a barrier to home-curing is the need to buy “pink” curing salts. Ruhlman gives you an internet source and I ordered it for $2 and it took a few days to arrive. I now have enough for dozens of cures.

    You want this, you really, really do...

    In all honesty, I chose to start with home-cured Bacon because it takes less time and we could not figure out where to hang Pancetta without our cat taking early samples. But the first attempt with Bacon was such a success that we will be making more of our own Bacon with different cures and smoke. Carolyn already wants a maple-syrup cured Bacon and it is easy to do! We will also make Pancetta, we just need to rig a drying setup that defeats the cat.

    Once our Bacon was made, it turned out to be the basis of a surprising off-season meal- BLTs! We had a decent hothouse tomato, (yes, yes I know it is winter but it is a local product from the farmers market, jeez), Ecopia Farms lettuce (the best in the world, seriously, more on this later) and Carolyn made a loaf of wheat bread that morning. What a gal, sigh.  The sandwiches were a great treat and it all came together because we made the bacon. Thanks Ruhlman.

    Home Cured Bacon:

    (Adapted from Michael Ruhlman)

    Notes before you start:

    -       Find somewhere you can buy pork belly. A few calls to your local butcher shops should work, but it is not as easy to find as one might think. Internet mail order is also an option.

    -       You can use pork belly with skin on or off (you may not have a choice) but if you do not want to use the skin, it will be useless added weight.

    What you get: Very tasty bacon that has sweeter, cleaner flavor with very little shrinkage. Great for all traditional bacon uses. The bacon can be thickly sliced and served by itself as an appetizer. If you have been to the famous Peter Luger steakhouse in New York and had their bacon appetizer you will get the same experience at home- friends and family will rave.

    What you need: The only special equipment required is curing salt (sodium nitrites)- which is safe in the small amounts used, it should be kept away from children. Otherwise you need a few sturdy 2- gallon ziptop plastic bags or a big plastic container(s). Space in the fridge for 7 days for curing. An accurate meat thermometer and a scale are very helpful.

    How long?: 10 minutes of prep. 7 days of curing. About 3-4 hours of cooking or smoking time. If you start on a Saturday morning you can have bacon the next Saturday evening and you will be ready for a truly awesome Sunday brunch.

    Ingredients:

    -       5 lbs. fresh pork belly. Skin-on or skin-off. It is OK to slice the belly into pieces to fit in your bags / containers.

    -       2 oz. Kosher salt (1/4 cup), Kosher salts vary in size of crystal- using weight is better.

    -       2 teaspoons pink curing salt #1 (see here for source)

    -       4 bay leaves, crumbled

    -       4 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper, freshly ground if possible

    -       1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

    -       ¼ cup dark brown sugar

    -       1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed with a knife. The garlic shows in the final product, if you do not like garlic or the cloves are large- adjust to taste.

    -       5 sprigs fresh thyme (optional- we love thyme and use it, it adds a very savory note)

    Assemble:

    1. Thoroughly mix salt, curing salt garlic and all the herbs/spices in a medium sized bowl.
    2. Add pork belly to bags or plastic container.
    3. Add curing mix to containers- rub onto belly. Take you time and get an even coating.
    4. Seal container / bags. If using bags, seal and place on a sheet pan. Add to fridge. (It is wise to add a post-it note with date and time).
    5. It takes 7 days to cure, halfway through cure open containers and spread out the cure again on the meat. You will see some liquid has been drawn from the belly- this is fine. Keep the liquid or drain.
    6. After 7 days, take out the belly and rinse with cold water.
    7. To finish bacon, preheat oven to 200 degrees (you can also smoke the bacon- but that is another recipe). Place belly on a sheet pan or rack on sheet pan (better). Cook until internal temp is 150 degrees. This may take up to 4 hours depending on the size of your piece of belly.
    8. Slice it up and cook it! Eat, repeat.