Mardi Gras Shrimp and Grits
I know I will face some traditionalist dissent on this…shrimp and grits are from the Georgia/South Carolina low country…New Orleans shrimp is etouffee…Mardi Gras is all about gumbo. I hear you, but encourage you to compare the ingredients list for this recipe to the venerable NoLA French Market’s Mardi Gras float above…shrimp, hot sauce, sausage (the pig is playing the saxophone)…I’m sure cheese grits are on the back side…I think I see corn. And this recipe is EASY — a galley priority. So, Chere, as the Indian sing…
Get out the dishes,
Get out the pan,
For this week’s post we commandeered our friend Alex’s galley, as ours were winterized. Despite a full canvas cover and a torrential rain, the pirates prevailed!
To make the cheese grits: old fashioned (not quick cooking) grits, whole (or lowfat) milk, sour cream, and sharp cheddar cheese (white cheddar if you seek to be fancy). For the shrimp: a pound of larger shrimp, raw but peeled, paprika, cayenne, kielbasa/polish-type sausage, sour cream, hot sauce, and green onions.
Combine 1-1/2 cups milk, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 2 cups water in a saucepan and bring to a boil (if you’re using lowfat milk, use a bit more sour cream and cut back equally on the water). When boiling, whisk in 1 cup grits and a teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook until thickened, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While grits are cooking, sprinke shrimp with paprika and cayenne; this is largely where the heat comes from, so there is a bit of “to taste”…we tend to like hot, and use about 1/2 tablespoon cayenne and a tablespoon of paprika.
Slice 8 ounces* of the sausage in half lengthwise, then into half-moons. Sautee sausage until browned in a tablespoon or so of bacon grease or oil. (*We actually tend to use the whole 16 ounce package of the sausage, both to avoid having leftovers rattling around the icebox, and so that family who don’t do shrimp can pick around those and still share the dish.)
When the sausage is browned, remove and set aside and use the pan with the heavenly drippings to cook the shrimp. If your pan is big enough, you can leave the sausage in for this step, but you don’t want the pan too crowded or the shrimp won’t cook evenly. They will take about 3-5 minutes to cook through, turning pink and firming a bit…just bite into one to test it.
When shrimp are cooked, turn off the stove and stir in a healthy spoonful (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup) sour cream, letting it mix with the well-seasoned drippings to form a silky sauce.
When grits are cooked, remove from heat and stir in a cup of shredded cheese, and a half teaspoon or so of pepper.
Before serving, add hot sauce to the shrimp — we are Crystal people, but Tobasco or whatever you like. This is, again, a matter of taste — we go about fifteen shakes. Stir thoroughly to combine.
Put a healthy dollop of grits on each plate, making a well in the center. Top with shrimp and chopped green onions.
Join us as our celebration continues with New Orleans “Wop Salad” and King Cake. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
Your Galley Pirates have debated for weeks what to do about this recipe; whether to be bravely authentic and, we think, culturally and historically enriching, or to trim to the winds of political correctness. In New Orleans, this has traditionally been known as “Wop salad”; as recently as my Captain’s childhood, it was known as nothing else. More recently, some out-of-towners have pointed out that such nomenclature involves what is now considered to be an ethnic slur, and many (but not all) restaurants have yielded, renaming it “Italian salad.” You may file it under whatever name you see fit; our nod to its naming-past is out of love for the unique New Orleans version of the “melting pot”…rough-around-the-edges as it may be.
Oh, and by the way, call it what you may, but it is DELICIOUS.
The key distinguishing ingredient for the salad is olives. Many recipes call for olive salad–a heavenly condiment prevalent in New Orleans and used primarily in muffaletta sandwiches, it is a mixture of chopped salad olives and marinated giardiniera-type vegetables (our favorite is Rouse’s jalapeno olive salad…if you are in New Orleans, stop at this family-owned regional grocery and buy us a few jars!) In the absence of olive salad, chopped salad olives with pimientos are just fine as well–you will need about 1 cup of olives, or 1-1/2 cups of olive salad.
In addition to the olives, you will need about 6-8 cups of good romaine lettuce leaves, a couple of tomatoes (the Wop salad calls for Creole tomatoes, but those are only grown within a mile of the Mississippi River in that famous mud/soil, so substitute heirloom or other good quality ones), 8 garlic cloves, 1/2 to 1 cup of coarsely grated Italian hard cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino-Romano, etc.), and a vinaigrette comprised of a cup of olive oil, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon of Italian herbs/seasoning, and 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce (that last item is another signature of the dish). ( The traditional recipe also involves about 16 anchovy filets, but my Captain would make me walk the plank or clean the bilge for a month if I so much as brought them aboard, so this will be the last even parenthetical mention of them!)
Shave the garlic cloves on a mandoline or slice as paper-thin as possible. )If you don’t have patience for this, mince them finely or even put them through a press into the vinaigrette, but don’t call it New Orleans Wop/Italian salad then!)
Toss all ingredients and let them sit for a good 20 minutes to let the garlic, olives, and vinaigrette work their magic.
New Orleans King Cake
There is nothing like the New Orleans King Cake. Like its medieval French ancestor the Galette des Rois, it is traditionally served on Epiphany or Kings Day, after the 12th night of Christmas. But in that beautiful way that New Orleans takes delicate french things and makes them its decadent own, NoLA serves this giant sugar-encrusted pastry from early January straight through Mardi Gras some six or so weeks later. The first months of any school year were a blur for my Captain as a child in New Orleans; one parent brought the Kings Day cake on Epiphany, and whichever child got the piece with the baby…his parents had cake duty for the next school day. New Orleans schoolkids are hopped up on sugar from Halloween clear through Ash Wednesday.
This is actually a great, easy coffee cake recipe for any time of year…the decorative sugar (and embedded baby or other “prize” if you dare) are what make it a King Cake.
Ingredients: two cans of crescent roll dough, 8 ounces cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla, one or two granny smith apples, cinnamon sugar, chopped pecans, and a little milk and decorative sugars if you’re going for the fully decorated version. The purple, gold, and green sugars can be purchased at cake decorating suppliers like Michaels, or you can make them with coarse sugar (not typical table sugar…it will clump) and food coloring in small ziploc bags.
After setting the oven to preheat to 350, open the cans of dough and separate the individual triangles. Lay them out in a pan or dish with the points hanging over the edge, overlapping points in the middle, and use several pieces to fill in the bottom as shown. I adapted this recipe from one in a magazine; they used a perfectly round 11-inch pastry dish and they made this exquisitely uniform, symmetrical, decoratively perfect. We’re on a boat and I have a rectangular cake pan…we are going to be more “rustic.”
Mix 8 ounces softened cream cheese with 2/3 cup powdered sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla; spread in center of pastry.
Peel, core, and slice thinly the apples and spread them across the cream cheese. Sprinkle with about a tablespoon of cinnamon sugar.
Sprinkle 1/2 cup or so of chopped pecans over the apples.
Fold the outer triangles in toward the center, turning the points under in the middle to make a ring, and sealing edges together toward the outer edge as best you can, to keep filling inside. Again, this was impressively flawless in the magazine version…it’ll taste good anyway! If you are going New Orleans authentic, embed a plastic or similar baby or other small figurine into the outer edge of the ring before folding over one triangle. Wrap it in foil if you are concerned about its heat tolerance or food-worthiness. Whomever gets the baby gets good luck! Or buys drinks. Or swabs the deck. Captain’s rules on a maritime Mardi Gras!
After 20-25 minutes in a 350 oven, it is lovely, no? Stop here if you are just after coffee cake.
For King Cake, make a glaze with about 2 tablespoons milk and 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Spread this over the top of the cake, covering as much of the exposed pastry as completely as possible to allow sugars to adhere. Sprinkle Crescent-City-liberally (Big Easily?) with purple, gold, and green sugars — the Mardi Gras colors for justice, power, and faith.