I recall those pre-cyber days, when friendships were made and advice bestowed in measured teaspoons, face-to-face. Since I’ve begun writing for AnnArbor.com, the dynamics of friendship have changed. Friends have been made and recipe advice given, in heaping cups on-line, without so much as exchanging a smile or a hand shake.
Case in point: Ann Arbor’s Tom and Stephanie Teague. Last year Tom made a comment on my “Poor Girl’s Seafood Etouffe” blog, suggesting my mother’s technique for darkened roux “…was a nice heretical touch…it may take some of the guesswork out of my tasso gravy production.”
Tasso gravy? Would that be the tasso gravy in my Magnolia Southern Cuisine Cookbook; the one in the recipe for Shrimp and Grits? Bingo. Turns out, Charleston’s Magnolia Restaurant is a favorite of Tom and Stephanie’s. He refers to the restaurant as “the mothership” — it’s one of my favorite restaurants too.
Honoring my Aunt Jane’s 80th birthday last year, I made her favorite, less complex, recipe for Shrimp and Grits; I sent them the link. They still preferred their Magnolia version, though Tom complimented the photo of Aunt Jane.
“I took an instant liking to your Aunt Jane just from her photograph…Stephanie and I would like to take her out for tea if she comes to town… Carson’s makes good iced tea.”
Anyone who flatters my Aunt Jane is a friend for life; perhaps I’ll tackle their Magnolia adaptation of Shrimp and Grits, after all. The timing is perfect — the Mardi Gras season ends next Wednesday, and an American regional recipe incorporating Louisiana flavors would be delicious; the spicy Cajun flavors softening the blow of Michigan’s icy chill.
Shrimp and Grits also figured into the courtship of Tom and Stephanie: Tom made the dish for Stephanie, who works for Main Street Ventures, when they were dating. Witnessing his struggles with the recipe, she shared a restaurant secret: pay careful attention to the mise en place.
Tom explains this is a French phrase “… for admitting you can’t be in two places at once and planning accordingly. Our adaptation of the Magnolia recipe (below) is based on your creating three separate m-e-ps so you can bring all the pieces together at the same time.”
“Today I’m a mise en place fiend and have a great collection of bowls and ramekins and usually hand write out the sequences for each dish in a menu so I can look for hold points and places where things can be done concurrently.”
As with many romances teased by the flames heating a seasoned skillet, Tom, a man from the mountains of East Tennessee, married Stephanie, a Michigan woman with Greek family roots; Shrimp and Grits festooned the reception table, tastefully complementing the specialties of Stephanie’s families native Greece.
So, here’s the grits:
A treatise on grits could be written, a “Gone with the Grits” if you will; but it may be a tedious read for those of non-Southern persuasion. Suffice it to say, comparing instant grits to an artisan stone-ground grits is like comparing Wonderbread to an out-of-the oven Artisan bread; instant grits have their very essence pounded out of them.
Tom and I agree that stone ground grits (available via mail-order and at Zingerman’s) or quick grits (available at most groceries; just saw ’em at Hiller’s), would work well in this recipe; we recommend avoiding instant grits at all costs.
Zingerman’s stocks Anson Grits, which are the preferred grits of Charlie Trotter, chef and owner of the world-renowned Chicago restaurant of the same name. They have a chunky texture and capture the true flavor of corn. They command top dollar, for good reason, but require a longer cooking time — the attention reminiscent of risotto preparations — though not quite as much stirring.
Other ingredients for the recipe may be found locally; Morgan and York stocks a delicious tasso,which is a hot and spicy smoked Cajun ham. (Word of caution: this Louisiana specialty lent most of the spice needed in the recipe; we did not use additional salt or peppers in the gravy.) They also stock saltwater shrimp from Okemos, Mich. Whole Foods and Sparrow Meats supply fresh-made Andouille, Italian and chorizo sausages; all are suitable in the following recipe.
My Aunt Jane is looking forward to coming up from Alabama to have an ice tea with Tom and Stephanie; maybe I’ll tag along for a handshake and a smile.
Recipe adapted from Magnolia’s Southern Cuisine cookbook and tweaked to perfection by Stephanie, Tom and, of course, Aunt Jane.