Shrimp and Grits

There is something deeply inviting about a dollop of fresh butter slowly melting on top of a warm bowl of grits. Indeed, magic can be found at the bottom of that bowl. For many of us who were raised in the south, grits are a reminder of home, of nourishing breakfasts that taught us to savor food, and of meals prepared with warmth and care. No matter your locale, a bowl of well-made grits is a comforting way to start the day, which is why this recipe for Shrimp and Grits seems especially fitting for Mother’s Day.

Beyond childhood breakfasts, grits have a long history of being prepared with soul. Hominy grits were developed by Native American tribes as a thick porridge from stone-milled corn. An offering of goodwill, this simple meal was shared with early colonists in Roanoke, North Carolina, and used to greet settlers of Jamestown, Virginia. Like masa harina, hominy grits underwent nixtamalization—they were softened, hulled, and then ground after being treated with an alkaline solution. Adopted by Southerners, grits were cheap and readily available, a tasty way of feeding hungry communities. The roots of shrimp and grits can be traced to the coast’s low country, where fishermen added freshly caught shrimp to create a humble, yet satisfying breakfast.

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You can make grits from course-ground cornmeal from nearly any variety: white, yellow, and blue. The kind of corn and size of the grind affect the cooking time and the amount of water needed. Traditional methods of making good grits require attention—left unattended, the cooking corn meal will stick to the pot and develop lumps. Instant grits offer shorter cooking times but at the cost of blander flavors. Instead, use a pressure cooker and enjoy the real thing, quickly and without constant stirring.

Regional and subregional variations on this dish are abundant. We intensified our Shrimp and Grits by cooking course-ground grits in Pressure-Cooked Crustacean Stock, and the addition of Redeye Gravy adds even more flavor. The soft-cooked egg seems to melt over the finished bowl of warm grits. For a more traditional take, add prawns that have been seared or cooked sous vide.

Save room for something sweet: Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnut Holes pair well with morning coffee and are the perfect way to end an incredible tribute to the mothers in our lives.

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Pressure-Cooked Fresh-Corn Tamales

Tamales are a true comfort food. Warm pillows of ground cornmeal surround both sweet and savory fillings. The dough of these steamed bundles is made from course-ground corn flour called masa harina. Inside, a bounty of different fillings can be found: cheeses, pork, chilies, cinnamon and raisins, and roasted vegetables.

The corn husks of tamales hide another secret: science. To make masa harina, corn is boiled and then steeped in lime water, an alkaline solution, in a process called nixtamalization (from the Aztec word nixtamal). The etymology of this word reflects the ancient roots of the process, which developed across Mesoamerica over 3,000 ago. The earliest evidence of the process was discovered in Guatemala and dates back to around 1,500 BCE.

The development of nixtamalization made corn a viable ingredient for cultures throughout the Americas. The process makes it easier for humans to digest corn and extract nutrients, particularly niacin. The alkaline lime water breaks down the kernel’s cell walls, making nutrients accessible. The reaction also intensifies the cornmeal’s flavor, giving it a distinctive roasted taste.

For many tamale recipes the filling is the star; however the focus of this recipe is corn. Our fresh-corn tamales are more like a delicate steamed cornbread, good enough to eat alone. We think they make a marvelous side dish, however you can easily turn them into an entrée with fillings of shredded meat, like carnitas.

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

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Coffee Crème Brûlée

The term “custard” spans so many possible ingredients and techniques that it is most useful to think of a custard as simply a particular texture and mouthfeel. Custards have been made for centuries by lightly cooking a blend of eggs and heavy cream, but Modernist chefs have invented myriad ways to make custards. The techniques here offer greater consistency and more control over the texture, which can range from airy, typical of a sabayon, to dense, as in a posset.

The one constant among custards is the use of plenty of fat, which not only provides that distinctive mouthfeel but also makes custard an excellent carrier of fat-soluble flavors and aromas. Lighter varieties of custard, however, can be aerated in a whipping siphon into smooth, creamy foams.

One of the more iconic custards is crème brûlée, which has a distinctively rich, velvety texture, and, like many other custards, egg yolks and heat serve as its thickener and gelling agent, respectively. For this recipe, we gave our Coffee Crème Brûlée a twofold Modernist twist by combining the techniques of sous vide and cold infusion. Sous vide provides increased precision and temperature control over the custard, and cold infusion better preserves the aromatics and coffee flavor.

Adapted from Modernist Cuisine at Home

Matzo Ramen

When it came to preparing for Passover, my mother would always buy matzo in bulk, just in case we ran out. After the holiday, my family would attempt to consume the remaining boxes of matzo, only to surrender to fatigue after a few weeks. Those boxes would then be stored in my parent’s pantry and used throughout the year for matzo brei, which, for us, is spiced and then fried, like scrambled eggs. Given my family’s tradition, I was absolutely delighted when our culinary team developed the Matzo Ramen Noodle Soup recipe, using leftover matzo from our Matzo Ice Cream.

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Our Matzo Ramen Noodles are not kosher, however, because of the addition of hametz ingredients: vital wheat gluten, bread flour, and baking soda. Hametz are leavening ingredients that include wheat, spelt, oats, rye, and barley. While matzo is made of wheat, it is made under strict supervision to ensure the baking process does not exceed 18 minutes once the wet and dry ingredients have been combined—the 18-minute rule guarantees that the dough does not rise. We added baking soda to provide a wonderfully chewy mouthfeel that we attribute to ramen and Chinese noodles. Alkaline ingredients like kansui powder or in this case, baking soda, are traditionally what give these noodles their characteristic yellow color and chewiness. The hametz ingredients in this recipe might not be fit for traditional Passover observances, but Matzo Ramen is a great way to put leftovers to use after the holiday.

Similar to a matzo ball, these noodles sop up the savory, pressure-cooked chicken broth. And despite the unconventional shape, they retain that distinct matzo flavor. The addition of bright, tender vegetables to the broth is a reminder of spring. You can also pair this ramen with your family’s favorite broth for a new take on a beloved tradition.

– Caren Palevitz, Online Writer

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Matzo Ice Cream with Manischewitz Caramel

Whimsy is one of my favorite things about Modernist cuisine. When I nostalgically described my childhood seder dinners to our culinary team, two themes emerged: matzo and Manischewitz. Matzo is an incredibly humble yet important food—I like mine sandwiched with a generous portion of haroseth, which my mother made with walnuts, wine, and apples. I always looked forward to each symbolic dip and drink of Manischewitz that we would take throughout seder. But, growing up in a relatively small southern town, we didn’t have many options when it came to Passover-friendly goods and usually struggled to make it through the week despite my mother’s adept skills. I loved her apple cakes, made with matzo meal and flourless chocolate cakes, but I (very) secretly longed for something new.

When it comes to desserts, for me, good ice cream trumps all. When our head chef suggested using matzo as an ice-cream base, I knew he had stumbled upon the Passover dessert I always wanted as a kid. Here, matzo is transformed into a delicately sweet ice cream, and the sugary Manischewitz makes perfect sense as a caramel to complement the ice cream. Matzo and Manischewitz work together in a new way but still retain notes of the original ingredients, adding delightful layers of whimsy and surprise to this dessert.

—Caren Palevitz, Online Writer

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Lamb, Slow-Baked Onion, and Pistachio Puree

Lamb has a rich tradition of being the focal point of spring meals. Signifying the passing of winter and the renewal of life, lamb was often the first fresh meat available each year, making it a logical springtime choice. Whole lambs were cooked on spits or in earth ovens, bringing together communities for religious and cultural ceremony in Mediterranean countries, Africa, Central and South America, and Polynesia. Lamb also holds symbolic meaning when served for Easter dinners and at the Passover seders of Sephardic Jews.

When we started discussing a lamb dish to celebrate the spring, we knew we wanted to honor the tradition of “neck-to-shank” cooking. As it turns out, however, it’s rather difficult to procure an entire lamb in the United States due to FDA regulations. We quickly realized that we would not be able to bury a lamb by The Cooking Lab, although it would have made for an interesting experiment—instead, we decided to give the tradition a Modernist twist. To butcher our whole lamb, the team first broke it down into primal cuts and then separated out the retail cuts. We used Modernist techniques to highlight the unique tastes and textures of each cut, resulting in thirteen different recipes.

Good lamb is moist and tasty, not tough and gamey. Many people associate lamb with the mouthfeel of chewy, overcooked chops, but done right, it can be extremely tender, nearly falling off the bone. Cooked sous vide for 18 hours, our recipe for Lamb Breast yields succulent results. Salt, olive oil, thyme, and garlic complement the natural flavors of the meat. Plated with a Slow-Baked Onion and Pistachio Puree, the finished dish is a humble Modernist homage to a timeless tradition.

Easter Eggs, Two Ways

Good Easter eggs shelter hidden surprises—plastic eggs break open to reveal jelly beans, and chocolate eggs often hide nougat, caramel, fudge, or peanut butter. We embraced this idea, but reimagined the egg’s contents in our own versions of this iconic treat. Our first egg is a tribute to our favorite candy eggs, with a bit of a twist.

Serrano Egg

Chocolate on the outside, when cracked open, another iconic Easter dish is unveiled: ham. Serrano ham to be precise. Have no fear, the center is made of chocolate as well.

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Our featured recipe, however, approaches the concept of the Easter egg in a very different way. Instead of being filled with sweets, these eggs contain savory fillings of shiitake custard and shrimp foam, topped with a bit of crab dressed with chives, lemon, and chervils. The flavors and textures of this dish are quite delicate and refreshing, which contrast the sweet, rich fillings of other egg-shaped confections. This recipe is the perfect addition to any Easter celebration.

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Smoked Dry-Rub Pork Ribs

Nathan, I, and the entire Modernist Cuisine team were saddened earlier this month when barbecue legend John H. Willingham passed away.

This year, I had the opportunity to be a member of his River City Rooters team, which competed at the Memphis in May World Championship a few days after his passing. Although Willingham’s absence was keenly felt by everyone on the team, it strengthened our determination to honor his memory by delivering strong showings in both competition and vending. Willingham’s daughters, Karla, Kara, and Kristi, were a constant presence in the pit, always working, encouraging others, and keeping spirits up. Willingham’s son-in-law, Clay Templeton, orchestrated the vending, and Paul Holden, long-time pit-master of the Willingham team, simultaneously managed six W’ham Turbo Cookers, including a giant version built inside a trailer!

Although Willingham was most famous for his contributions to barbecue, he was a true renaissance man. He played for the St. Louis Cardinals, served as a county commissioner, and was known for providing shelter to the homeless. An accomplished inventor, he held 17 patents, including the patent for the nasal spray bottle. Perhaps his most intriguing invention was the W’ham Turbo Cooker, which was unlike any other barbecue cooker at the time and offered a giant leap forward in the accuracy and consistency of cooking over a live fire. Electronic controls in the turbo cooker slowly feed pellets into a firebox to generate heat and smoke, which waft into an offset chamber where food is hung on rotating racks. The system ensures even heating and flavoring of the food. The influence of Willingham’s inventive ideas is clearly visible in many other cookers; vision and offset fireboxes with electric controls are now very popular on the competitive barbecue circuit.

Willingham was an avid participant in barbecue competitions for decades. He crisscrossed the country to compete in events from Boston to Alabama, collecting trophies almost everywhere he stopped. Over the years, he twice captured Grand Champion at Memphis in May (once when he invited Nathan to join his team) and also took Grand Champion at the American Royal in Kansas City, two events that many be considered the most competitive in barbecue.

During my time in Memphis this spring, I soaked up Willingham’s wisdom on how ribs should be cooked. By combining those insights, with tips mined from Willingham’s cookbook, I was able to produce the recipe below, which consistently produces delicious ribs and can be reproduced at home even if you don’t have a dedicated smoker. Although this recipe might not win any trophies, it will definitely result in a great meal. I hope it inspires you to get out your grills and gather your family and friends for some fun outdoor cooking. That would be the perfect way to remember John H. Willingham.

-Sam Fahey-Burke, Research and Development Chef

Red Wine Glaze

A red wine glaze is a standard sauce and a favorite of many chefs, but the classical technique for preparing it  is both lengthy and labor-intensive. We retooled it, using a pressure cooker, to get great results much faster.

Sam Fahey-Burke, Research and Development Chef

Melty Queso Dip

When I brought this dip to a party, explaining that it was actually made from real pepper jack cheese, I was met with baffled looks. “What else is in it? Butter? Cream?” my friends asked. I smiled and told them it really was just cheese, plus a little water and sodium citrate. That means there is no added fat to impair the flavor or coat your mouth when you take a bite. That pure taste of pepper jack cheese makes it the best queso around.

Judy Oldfield-Wilson, Online Writer