Friday, August 27, 2010

Romaine Lettuce, Basil Dress, and Tuna Steaks

We bought a few tuna filets from The Shrimpman. Given a choice, I always prefer tuna to salmon. Janet is just the opposite. She likes her salmon cooked with butter, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a bit of dill. Granted, it tastes good this way, but it's just not something that I ever think, "Man, I would love to have some salmon."

Fresh tuna is a world away from canned. The two could be different products even. Now, canned tuna will suffice from time to time, but if a person has the opportunity to buy fresh tuna filets, they should. Of course, I like mine cooked just a little bit more than some people prefer, but again, I am a textural weirdo. While I don't want my tuna to be rare, I don't want it to be well done, either. It is precarious to perform this type of balancing act in your cooking.

I gave the pan a little bit of olive oil, salted and peppered the tuna steaks, and threw them in. Even with the extra bit of cooking time I prefer, they do not take a long time to cook. I already had a plan for the steaks: a salad with tuna. Oh, yeah. Good eatin.

I had a bunch of Romaine lettuce that I rinsed and chopped a little, and I added a few tomatoes. The best part about the salad, however, was the basil dress. Bright and flavorful, it is perhaps my favorite method of dressing salad. Into a bowl, I heaved a tablespoon or two of Duke's Finely Crafted Mayonnaise, a good bunch of chopped basil, and the fresh juice of one half of a lemon. Here is where "to taste" becomes relevant. I may add a little more juice. You might add less.

This is better than anything in a bottle. Better than ranch. Salt and pepper, a good mix with a fork, and that is that. Put your salad on a big plate, pour the bud-tickler over it, and mix it very well with your fingers so that the whole salad is dressed properly. I still had some baguette, so I toasted it a little and placed a few pieces of the tuna atop. Drizzled a little of that dressing on it, and this was good. Like smack your lips good. I would venture to say that it was better than anything some people would eat in their entire lifetimes. Thank you, tuna fish. I do appreciate it.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cheese Grits with Shrimp

I like to eat food. You like to eat food. Everybody likes to eat food. Here is my new idea: The Food Party. In the Food Party, no squabbling will exist. There will be no slander, no libeling, no proselytizing. In food we trust. No fear mongers, no hate mongers, no mudslingers, no right, no left. No bullshit.

If you like your meat rare, you will have the freedom to enjoy your meat rare while realizing the next man has the same freedom to enjoy his meat well done. You will not chastise him because he prefers New York Strip to your Filet, but you will realize that the greatest thing about being a member of the Food Party is that the right to choose exists. In the FP, we will not begrudge another member his choices and preferences, and we will not attempt to exert any ivory tower morality over his sardines with mustard and crackers. Since the proletariat will compose the FP, the FP will be composed of the proletariat.

Highfalutin? Perhaps, but we have room for nonstick and stainless. So if you have eaten food today, sit down and be pleased at your good fortune. If you have eaten food today, consider yourself happy. Let no game over which you have no control sully your feast. Chop your veg and sear your meat. Walk softly and wield a sharp knife. These shall be the mottos of the Food Party.

Now, as I sit here I am quite happy because I just ate a big bowl of shrimp and grits. I have been thinking and thinking about shrimp and grits for the last two or three weeks, I suppose. Ken the Mandolin Player informed me that the dish is historically considered a breakfast dish. I never thought of it as such since the way I make it would create a hectic stomach early in the morn, but shrimpers apparently like to breakfast on shrimp and grits during the season.

Living in the south now for the last seven or so years, I have learned to appreciate the culinary culture here. It wasn't difficult. Fried chicken, seafoods, and sweet tea are all splendid treats, as is shrimp and grits. I will admit that I usually drink Yankee Tea, however.

I realize I am fortunate to live on the coast for many reasons, access to super-fresh seafood being one of them. Near the Piedmont Triad Farmer's Market, the Shrimpman sets up his stand every weekend, just like he has ever since we started shopping there a few years ago, and he is fully stocked with freshly caught shrimp, tuna, salmon, scallops, et cetera, et cetera.

Yesterday, we bought a pound of medium shrimp, and today I undertook the job of shelling and de-veining the shrimp. The heads were removed already, and I am glad about that, as the buggers are quite sharp with their heads intact. My Uncle Duck and I bought quite a few pounds of heads-on shrimp at the beach several years ago, and it took us a long time and a lot of cursing to finally get them cleaned.

I sharpened a paring knife so I could access the poop vein easily. Slicing along the outside of the shrimps, I removed the intestines with the tip of my knife. Then I ran some cold water over the naked crustacean to get rid of any remaining junk. I have eaten shrimp that were not cleaned first, and it doesn't really bother me, but today I just felt like scraping away shrimp junk.

So now my shrimp are cleaned. Several of the shells I placed in my pot of vegetable broth with a bit of salt to impart a little more flavor. Flavor is important in cooking.

Now the liquid for my grits is boiling, and I added a cup of that ground corn to the pot. Not everyone likes grits. I understand that. But I can also guarantee that unless you have physically removed your tastebuds, the finished grits component of this dish will appeal to you.

After awhile, the grits had absorbed all of that liquid. I nearly scorched the grits, as I was cooking my lunch for the next two days concurrently, but I remembered the grits at the most opportune moment. I gave them a stir and added just a bit of water. Now comes the creamy part. Eight ounces of organic cream, stir, maybe two cups of shredded cheddar, stir, and let that warm on the lowest heat for a few moments. Taste it? It is good. I would not lie to you.

As my grits warmed through, I prepared my pan with about a tablespoon of locally churned butter and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. I let the fat come to temperature before adding a bit of Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle, a glug of Chardonnay, just a bit of salt and finally those beautiful shrimp. Smells good. The shrimp do not take long to cook, but I like them to curl up on themselves before I take them from the heat. I like my shrimp cooked just so. Too little cooking, and I don't like their texture. Too much cooking and they become rubbery.

I made a bed of cheesy, creamy grits, over which I placed several shrimp along with a little of the delicious broth they cooked in. Yes, man. I chopped a few scallions to add to the plated dish. I also had a baguette I bought earlier today that I used to sop up a little of that broth and any remaining grits from the bowl. Needless to say, I was filled to the gills. Shrimp and grits. Or as some folks down here say, scrimps 'n grits.