Spring has Sprung
by Chef Tom
Spring has sprung.
We're mere days away from the the opening of the Spring/Summer season at our downtown Lexington Farmer's Market. Even now, although it's early in the season, nibbles of Spring (baby arugula, baby kale, and wild mushrooms) have saddled up next to the familiar hardy winter stalwarts.Riding the seasonal cusp, the arrival of the baby stuff at the farmers market has always been one of my favorites times of the year. Quietly, they whisper hints to what's yet to come.
Eager to get the ball rolling so early in the season, farmers fill their farms stands with whatever is big enough or small enough to offer those of us wanting to shake off the the long winter's tale. While we'll have to wait a bit longer for the glorious jewels of summer, now is the time for the delicate firsts of Spring.
A springtime spin on shrimp and grits. Fried Shrimp and Grits with Andouille Marmalade, Baby Kale, and Blood Orange-Chili Gastrique. Grits. I brought 3 1/2 cups water and 1 cup milk to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirred in 1 cup Weisenberger Mill stone ground white grits, added 2 teaspoons salt, reduced the heat, covered the pan, and let the grits rip for 25 minutes, stirring the pot every few minutes to prevent the grits from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan. When the grits were smooth and creamy, I pulled them from the heat, added 1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar cheese, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, and 1 cup thinly sliced green onions. After incorporating the cheese until it was thoroughly melted, I poured the grits onto a parchment-lined half sheet pan, and slid them into the refrigerator to set up. Andouille Sausage Marmalade. Throwing reason out the window, I totally went there. After petite dicing 9 ounces smoked andouille sausage, I tossed the tiny pieces into a small skillet set over a medium high flame. When they started to crisp around the edges, I added 1/4 cup minced shallots and 2 minced garlic cloves. Just before the garlic browned, I deglazed the skillet with 1 tablespoon worchestershire sauce, 1/4 cup sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons Makers Mark bourbon, and 1/2 cup chicken stock. I let the liquids reduce by half before adding 3 tablespoons Oberholtzer's organic sorghum and 1/4 cup dark brown sugar. After seasoning the marmalade with salt and cracked black pepper, I reduced it to a porky sticky syrup and pulled it from the heat. I could have stopped right there and called it a day. Gastrique. I adore gastriques. Sweet. Savory. Acidic. Tart. Whether sweet, savory, or a combination of the two, they pack a powerful punch. I halved 3 large blood oranges, squeezed enough juice out of all three to yield 1/2 cup juice, and set the juice aside. After heating a small cat iron skillet over a medium flame, I added 4 1/2 tablespoons sugar and stirred constantly until the sugar slowly melted from the heat and turned from glossy clear to molten amber. When the sugar hit the amber g-spot, I hit it with 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and a whopping 1 1/2 tablespoons Green County Cracklin' Hen Jalapeno Hot Sauce. Tricky business. It's the nature of the beast for a gastrique to seize up when acid is added to burning hot melted sugar. When it relaxed and melted into itself, I added 1/2 cup fresh blood orange juice and 3/4 cups chicken stock. I brought the gastrique to a boil, lowered the heat, and let it bubble away until it reduced to 1/4 cup before pulling it from the heat, about 40 minutes. Shrimp. I peeled, deveined, and rinsed 1 pound U/15 shrimp. After carefully separating handfuls of pre-thawed shredded phyllo dough (Kataifi dough, where have you been my entire life?), I aligned long portions of the fragile flaky strands onto a wooden bread board. Starting at one end, I loosely wrapped each shrimp with the delicate dough, covered them with a damp towel, and set them aside. The fun part. I pulled the chilled grits from the refrigerator, used a cookie cutter to slice the grits into into uniform discs, dusted them with flour, pan fried them until they were golden brown, and placed them onto paper towels to drain.When the oil came back up to temperature (350 degrees), I used a spider to carefully lower the phyllo-wrapped shrimp into the hot oil. Within seconds, the phyllo bloomed and crisped around the perfectly cooked shrimp, so I scooped them out and gently rolled them onto paper towels. They. Were. Gorgeous. I slathered the fried scallion-flecked grits cakes with the smoky sweet andouille sausage marmalade, feathered fresh lemon-splashed Elmwood Stock Farm baby kale on top of the sausage, nestled the delicate phyllo-wrapped juicy tender shrimp into the kale, and puddled the fiery sweet/tart chili-infused blood orange gastrique to the side before finishing with slivered fresh red bell peppers and chives from my garden. Unconventional. Unexpected. Utterly fabulous.
This article also appears on page 11 of the April 2016 printed issue of Ace. Subscribe to the Ace e-dition for Lexington news, arts, culture, and entertainment, delivered to your inbox every Thursday morning.