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The Dish: Caribbean Style Shrimp and Grits at Pusser’s

Oct 05, 2011 09:55PM ● By Anonymous

So it should come as no surprise that even shrimp and grits, a southern staple, has Caribbean flair. Instead of a traditional dish, the Pusser’s version is an infusion of Dutch, French, and Low Country South Carolina flavors, created by chef James Eriksen, that uses polenta cakes rather than grits. Eriksen shares with us the method behind the menu at Pusser’s, and shares his twist on the southern comfort-food classic.

Describe the culinary influence present in your dishes.
In the Caribbean, there are many cultures all fused together, so we are able to use many cooking styles and flavors, but still maintain our roots in authentic Caribbean food. Many of the ingredients in classic Caribbean dishes can’t be found locally, so I have taken a lot of traditional dishes and blended them with ingredients found locally.

How did you come to work at Pusser’s?
In 1995, I was the executive chef at another downtown Annapolis hotel that had just been bought by a new company. One of the people I worked with there got me an interview with the people from Tortola, British Virgin Islands, to take over the kitchen here at Pusser’s. Back then, it was a young restaurant company without a lot of culinary people on board. They were willing to allow 75 percent of the menu to be my own stuff as long as it was either Chesapeake or Caribbean. Needless to say, I jumped on it and have been here ever since.

How often do you add new dishes to the menu?
We change the menu twice a year. In November, we downscale a little bit to make room for our monthly specials, like the $19.99 surf and turf, and take off the items that are not readily available in the colder months. In April, we unveil a new menu with all new items.

What is your favorite food?

Well, as you can tell by my girlish figure, I am no stranger to a knife and fork. At the top of my list is probably prime rib (I’m not too exotic) and fresh Opah fish from Hawaii.

What kitchen tool or gadget could you not cook without?
Over the years, I have bought all sorts of gadgets and time-savers that all end up in the bottom of the junk drawer. But the only truly invaluable culinary tool is a good quality, sharp 10-inch chef ’s knife.

What makes this dish special to you?
Shrimp and grits is a very popular dish in the south. We have taken that as our base and infused Caribbean flavors into it, making a truly unique menu item that is better than any other I have tried. Someone from the low country in the Carolinas would probably say it’s not shrimp and grits, but I think they would have to admit that it is a truly tasty dish.

Is there a particular wine or drink that goes well with this dish?
Of course, the Pusser’s Painkiller goes with everything, but a nice Chardonnay is a very good accompaniment.


Pusser's Caribbean Style Shrimp and Grits

West Indian Corn Polenta Cakes
2 cups chicken stock
11⁄2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of white pepper
5 tablespoons polenta
5 tablespoons semolina flour
1/4 cup grated Fontina cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

In a heavy saucepan, bring the chicken stock and cream to a boil. Add nutmeg and salt. Whisk in the polenta and seminola and reduce heat. Cook over low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring often until the grains are soft. Fold in the cheese and turn off the heat. To encourage the polenta to come out of the pan easily, run a spatula or wooden spoon around the sides. Turn the heat back on full blast, and wait for a large bubble to push the polenta upward. When this happens, immediately pour it into an 8x8 baking dish. Spread the polenta evenly and refrigerate it overnight to firm. When ready to serve, cut it into 3x3 squares.

1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 shallot, chopped
1 bay leaf
Six whole peppercorns
Cornstarch slurry, to thicken
2 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup red pepper, sliced
1/2 cup green pepper, sliced
1/2 cup onion, sliced
32 large shrimp
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cup water
2 ribs celery, diced
1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Splash of Worcestershire Sauce
Splash of hot sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and devein the shrimp, saving the shells to make stock. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the shells, sautéing until they turn red. Add the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and press down on the shells with a potato masher to crush the shells and release the flavor. Let it simmer for about five minutes. Strain the mixture, keeping the liquid and discarding the shells.

In the same pan, melt the second tablespoon of butter. Sauté the celery, onion, carrots, and garlic. Once the onions have turned translucent, add the shrimp stock and tomato paste, and bring to a slow simmer. Allow the mixture to reduce. Add the Worcestershire and hot sauce to taste.

In a medium saucepan, bring the wine, bay leaf, and peppercorns to a slow simmer. Allow it to reduce until the wine gets a little syrupy. Add the cream and allow the mixture to come back to a simmer. Thicken it with a cornstarch slurry, which is equal parts water and cornstarch whisked together.

Sauté the shrimp in olive oil (or butter). Once they turn pink, add the shrimp stock sauce. Allow it to come to a simmer, and then thicken it with the cream sauce. Place a square of polenta in the center of the place. Arrange eight shrimp around each cake, and divide the sauce evenly over the shrimp.