Wednesday, February 6, 2013



  Of all the US cities I've visited in my 25 years on this earth, Charleston is without a doubt the most charming. The oldest city in South Carolina, the town welcomes you with its wise and stoic buildings, its beautifully preserved history, and its lively abundance of artists, designers, and foodies. My husband and I spent our honeymoon here, in an elegant, old-world inn in the French Quarter. It felt as if we had stepped back in time- we would bicycle to a local bakery for breakfast, stroll the sun-baked shoreline in the afternoon, and go hand in hand to dinner each night, traveling down carriage-worn streets to candlelit mansions, reflections of an enchanting past.
     This town was just that- enchanting. My favorite walks were the ones in which we would find ourselves happily lost down some ancient street, a few stars piercing through the blackness of night, mimicked by the faint lights inside the archaic buildings, as the families inside were getting ready to turn in for the night. We were perfectly content in taking our time to find our way back, having just eaten at one of Charleston's fantastic restaurants (and there are so many, too many to mention), content with simply being together, being tremendously and hopelessly in love.
     Charleston food is literally in a category of its own. Known as "lowcountry," its cuisine originates from a vast number of cultures, including African, French, Native American, and Spanish. Many people compare the importance of lowcountry cuisine of Charleston and the Georgia coast to what Cajun cuisine means to New Orleans. Out of this melange of nations was birthed something remarkable- a portfolio of some of the most satisfying and exceptional dishes, such as shrimp and grits, she crab soup, and seafood pirlau.
     Shrimp and grits have become a classic, for Charlestonians and Southerners alike. The grits are normally served in a shallow bowl with the shrimp scattered over the top, but my recipe is a new take on this old favorite. Grits are combined with whipped egg whites and spooned into ramekins to make mini souffles, and the dish comes together with a creamy (and incredibly tasty) roasted corn sabayon, a French sauce made with cream and eggs. The individual elements take a bit of effort, but together they create something your taste buds are going to love.

Shrimp and Sausage with Grits Souffle and Yellow Pepper Sabayon

3 ears corn, unhusked
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Salt and black pepper

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1/2 of a yellow bell pepper, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp salt
1 egg yolk

Grits Souffle:
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup quick-cooking grits
Salt and black pepper
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar
2 eggs, separated

Shrimp and Sausage:
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces andouille sausage, cut into 1-inch slices on the diagonal

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 6-8 souffle dishes (or a muffin tin) and refrigerate.

For the corn: Remove the husks and silks, and rub each cob with butter; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake on a baking sheet until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees for the souffles. When cooled, slice the kernels off the cobs and set aside for later.

For the sabayon, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook about 5 minutes, then add garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add the cream and 1 cup of the corn and cook until mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Transfer mixture to a blender or food processor and puree, set aside.

To prepare the grits souffles, bring milk to a slight boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in the grits and cook until they have reached a porridge consistency, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the salt, pepper, butter, Cheddar, and egg yolks.

With an electric mixer, beat the remaining egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold egg whites into the grits mixture, and spoon into the cold souffle dishes. Place on a baking sheet and bake until souffles are just set, about 20 minutes.

While they are baking, finish the sabayon: use a sieve to strain the pureed sabayon mixture through it and into a saucepan over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in the salt. Whisk in the egg yolk and continue to whisk until mixture thickens, 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

To prepare the shrimp and sausage: toss the shrimp with salt, pepper, and cayenne in a bowl. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and cook about 2 minutes on each side, or until they are pink and cooked through. Transfer to a plate. Cook the sausage in the same skillet until browned, about 5 minutes. Drain on a paper towel lined plate.

To assemble the plates, spoon the sabayon sauce in the middle of each plate. Unmold a souffle onto the sauce. Top with the shrimp and sausage, and sprinkle on some of the remaining corn. Garnish with parsley or scallions if desired.

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