Shrimp And Grits

Shrimp and saffron are a magical combination. Flowers and shellfish have an affinity in general; I remember Grant Achatz telling me that it was one of his favorite combinations when I praised his dish of scallops, lilac, and lavender during our meal at Alinea in 2009. Now that flowers are beginning to appear, this is a combination I plan on exploring further in the coming months.

Saffron is of course one of the most exotic and expensive flowers around, but mercifully a little goes a long way. I met a French farmer a couple of years ago who has the only commercial saffron farm in France, and he maintained that one just needs athread or two per person plus one for the pot, soaked in warm water for a while, and added just before serving lest cooking corrupt its complex aroma. He used it in some pretty spectacular jams, and its ability to amplify other flavors—much the way salt does—is impressive. Nothing evokes Spain quite as profoundly for me as the smell of shellfish and saffron, and the addition of some sherry and smoked paprika really pushes the result deep into Iberian splendor. This dish is simple shrimp and grits, but the addition of those flavors, and some homemade pantry staples, of course, make it into something wholly other.

A couple of extra steps also helped elevate it above the quotidian. I cooked the polenta in some chicken stock, made from cooked leg bones we had several days before, which imparted their own Mediterranean inflection to the broth, and I made a quick stock from the shrimp shells, reducing it pretty hard, so I had it on hand to deglaze the shrimp pan (along with a generous pour of sherry, of course). The rest was simplicity itself: sauté a chopped onion, add some garlic and herbs, throw in the shrimp, deglaze when they’re cooked, add a little homemade ketchup and smoked salsa to thicken the sauce, and serve.

The garden is coming along nicely; peas, carrots, and favas are up, volunteer cilantro and wild arugula are sprouting copiously, and the two salad/greens beds are almost big enough to begin cutting. The claytonia and chervil from last fall are roaring back, soon to bolt, so we’re eating them all before they do. Besides the garnish, I made a big bowl of claytonia/baby spinach/chervil/chive salad with a sharp apricot vinaigrette. This was perfect spring food: comforting, but not too heavy, and a celebration of the growing season. Just what the day required.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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