Saturday, June 09, 2007

Further Fusion: Smoked Salmon with Grits

Having posted my effort at copying the fabulous shrimp grits that I had at the Watershed, a trendy modern Southern restaurant in Decatur, our neighboring town in the eastern shadows of Atlanta, I wanted to give you an even more fused Southern-and-"other" creation based on grits. But this one is mine, not my steal from another chef.

While I love and seek out local stone-ground grits from Georgia, any "regular" (not "quick") grits will do for the recipe I have below. Grits may sound like banal, if beloved, breakfast food to many Southerners, and foreign and questionable to Northerners, but there are in fact elegant traditional grits dinner dishes in the South (like Shrimp and Grits from the Low Country of the Carolinas and Georgia, and jalapeƱo-cheese grits casserole from Texas). But modern chefs, at least in the South, are revisiting that country staple and turning grits into up-town fare. I've even had local stone-ground grits ("Red Mule" brand from Athens-Clarke County, ground allegedly by an old red mule ploding round and round turning the grinding stone) infused with truffle oil at "Farm 255", a creative natural-foods restaurant in Athens. So here is my modernized grits offering, Smoked Salmon with Grits, for a (reasonably) light lunch or an appetizer course.

Although I have lived longer in the South than anywhere else, I grew up in New England, then worked overseas for a number of years after that. For me as a child, Northern Europe, where salmon is loved, was represented by Polish and Lithuanian Jews rather than Scandanavians, who had migrated elsewhere. So my introduction to smoked salmon (and to pickled herring for that matter) was at the Jewish delis of my childhood, where "Lox" and "Nova" were the salmon of choice. And mostly went on warm bagels schmeered with cream cheese, and maybe with a slice of red onion and a sprinkle of capers. I've since learned that "lachs, or gravlachs" is simply a name (Swedish in this case) in Scandanavia for cured salmon. Thus the "lox" of deli fame. Lox tends to be fairly salty, so I now go for other smoked salmon, which is readily available and made with farmed Atlantic salmon. I use smoked salmon in a number of ways, including in an "alfredo" sort of pasta dish with peas, but that's another story for another day. The recipe below is a variant of the one I developed to imitate the Shrimp Grits of Watershed.

Here's a smoked salmon grits dish, which makes an excellent, if non-tradional, light lunch (serves 4) or the appetizer course (serves 6) for a dinner. It goes well with a fairly rich cold white wine, such as a Chardonnay. Warm buttered crusty bread -- or a good cornbread, like Virginia spoon bread -- is a great accompaniment, along with a light salad or sliced ripe tomatoes.

Smoked Salmon with Grits Tim

1/2 pound smoked salmon
2-1/2 cups water
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
1-1/4 cups stone ground, or at least "regular" (not "quick"), grits
1 small clove garlic, put through a press or finely minced
4 teaspoons prepared horseradish (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
A pinch of black pepper
A pinch cayenne or a large squirt of tobasco sauce
A pinch of nutmeg
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon capers for garnish

Coarsely chop the smoked salmon with a chef's knife, and set aside.

In a heavy pan, bring the water, milk and cream to a gentle boil, and add the grits in a steady stream while stirring the mixture. As soon as it boils, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and simmer, covered, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan. When the mixture has thickened, add the horseradish, garlic, salt, pepper, cayenne or pepper sauce, nutmeg, and wine, and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the grits are reasonably tender, 20-30 minutes depending on the variety used. Set the grits pan in a larger frying pan partly filled with hot water, so the grits stay hot and cook slowly. After the grits are tender (stone-ground grits never become truly soft), stir in the salmon and the butter. Keep hot in the water bath, stirring occasionally, at least 5 minutes. Taste and add salt as needed. Stir in a fresh sprinkle of black pepper. Keep the mixture warm in the water bath until needed.

To serve, spoon out onto a plate, and sprinkle with a small amount of drained capers. A light salad and a glass of crisp cold white wine make a great accompaniment.

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