Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fake, Good, Southern Food

PhotobucketI am open to suggestion. Talk about food, and I will find a way to incorporate our conversation into an upcoming meal.
Here's a fun example. Not long ago, a blog pal was mulling over the idea of cornmeal mush. She was certain she'd never eaten any, and decided it probably tasted nasty. I told her it was lovely, actually. American polenta. And if you make extra, you can spread some in a dish, about half an inch deep, chill overnight, and the next morning you'll cut delicate slabs out to fry gently in butter. Maple syrup!
This is true; it's a valid childhood memory of mine, and it's good. We really did call it cornmeal mush, by the way. We didn't have a fancier name for it. And now I wanted some.
Meanwhile, another blog pal has been spending the summer in the land of her heritage, the American South. She wanted shrimp and grits for her birthday supper, and that's what she got. I think. I know she got shrimp and grits sometime on her visit.
I didn't know shrimp and grits was a "dish." I like shrimp and I like grits, but this is a "together" item. Some cooks even have you stir the cooked shrimp into the grits (blech!). And now I wanted some of that.
Cranky and I did what Cranky and I do: we proceeded without a recipe. We're good at a tasty, almost Creole, preparation of shrimp in oil, garlic and herbs. That would go on top of the grits. But there were no grits. Cornmeal mush to the rescue. (You genuine Southerners may scold me here.)
To round things out, we fried up some okra. We've always had success with our cornmeal coating, but Cranky, for some reason, followed a recipe. Pow-la Deeeeeeen! Y'all let us dah-yown! The batter didn't stick. At all. Ah well.

38 comments:

Cheryl Czekala said...

I see Michelle Bachmann is in you 'hood this morning. Too bad you didn't grow any tomatoes this year!

cookiecrumb said...

Cheryl: OMG, she's in my TOWN!
Tomatoes, ha ha! ;)

cookiecrumb said...

WHAT'S A GRIT?

Kailyn said...

My grandma used to fry up leftover grits. Next time add some cheese to the corn stuff at the bottom. Probably cheddar. Now I'm dreaming of the blue cheese grits they do at 1300 but that would be too strong a flavor for shrimp. Unless... Wonder about that new cheese.

Kate said...

I've been growing okra this year. And eating it. The plants look wretched. Absolutely miserable. Yet they produce. They're like zucchini plants - check them every day or you'll be sorry. Anyway. I find that okra goes nicely in fake, good, Thai food, with rice noodles as the medium. Ginger, garlic, hot pepper sauce/flakes, soy, fish sauce, basil, lime juice, sugar, plus other vegetables of your choosing. Egg optional, though I mostly don't. Very yum. And I think the okra slime just sorta blends in with the slipperiness of rice noodles, like it's supposed to be that way. You know?

Zoomie said...

Yes, but how do you make the mush itself? Is it just grits by another name? Please help this benighted Yankee.

cookiecrumb said...

Kailyn: Yes, cheese. Now, there's a whole 'nother thing. We like cheesy polenta with jalapeƱos stirred through for breakfast. Thanks for the genuine perspective.

Kate: Ach! Growing your own okra. And your Fake Pad Thai sounds irresistible. I agree, that's a nice place to "hide" the slime.

Zoomie: Not like grits, per se. But have you ever cooked polenta? Like that. Just like that. Water, heat, and stirring.

Chilebrown said...

I saw the okra and instantly thought slimy. Then you actually gave Paula Dean a shout out. Let the mayo gods be praised.

kudzu said...

True: my friend, who lives in San Diego and considers it a hopeless wasteland when it comes to food and food-appreciating citizens, swears that when she announced a dinner menu someone actually asked,
"What's a chard?"

More on Southernism later.

cookiecrumb said...

Chilebrown: Do you ever eat okra? I've totally got Cranky into it. This goes way back to our indentured servitude in Florida.

Kudzu: What's a chard? An oaky white wine from California.
Can't WAIT to see your southernisms. CoCOla.

Little Pots & Pans Co. said...

Holy cats! I made polenta for dinner tonight. (Zoomie, do you have Bob's Red Mill products down by you? They make a coarse grit/polenta). It's also probably availably in bulk at co-ops/natural food stores. I cooked mine in a little broth, added a splash of milk/butter/cheese then sauteed up some fancy farmer's market mushrooms. I overlaid the mushrooms on the polenta then added a bit more cheese and a poached egg. Whee! One of our favorite colder weather meals.

Okra is tricky, it gets right slimy easily. I haven't had luck pan frying it, it generally gets added to stews.

cookiecrumb said...

Little Pots: Your polenta dish sounds like my kind of eating. Home cooked Ubuntu, if you've heard of the Napa restaurant. Brava!
We do have Bob's Red Mill hereabouts; what a great company.
For our okra, we merely slice, and toss the disks in plain (or seasoned) cornmeal. A quick sizzle in the pan, and the slime all dries up.
I think there's still some uncooked okra in the fridge. Good with a martini. (Well, cooked, of course.)

Zoomie said...

Little Pots, we do have the Red Mill products here and I have grits that I purchased in North Carolina, but I can't discern if corn meal mush is made with grits or corn meal, like the muffins.

Little Pots & Pans Co. said...

CC, I like anything pickled in my martini(s)! Some nights it's what's for dinner.

On a side note, I have one P/T position open in my company.. oye you want to talk about the state of things - at least a third of the responses are people *willing to move* to my area from all over the place for the job. Sigh.

Nikki said...

I've enjoyed this post and the banter above. I just want to say that polenta is just grits for the rich people & it's usually made from yellow corn. White corn grits are what we (Southerners) eat for breakfast, sometimes lunch, and almost never for dinner. I grew upon fish and grits (leftover fish from Friday night's fish fry and grits and eggs added to make it a complete breakfast meal). And about okra--I'm sorry Paula let you down. Sometimes I like to slice the okra length-wise and try them that way, in little strips. They look nice on the plate and you get the okra flavor without fussing with the mucilaginous seeds.

cookiecrumb said...

Zoomie: Cornmeal mush is made with cornmeal. Grits is made with grits. Don't use a grocery store product. Bob's is a must. (Have you cooked up any of your grits yet? Same technique.) Yum!

Little Pots: OMG. At least you're not a job-killer.

Nikki: Where you been? :)
Thanks for all that cultural information. I really like learning about it. Good stuff.

Hungry Dog said...

I am a fan of shrimp and grits, no doubt. The Front Porch does a fantastic, spicy version of it. I like okra too.

You & Cranky are cool.

kudzu said...

What non-Southern foodists often misunderstand is the very definite differences between grits and cornmeal. Grits begin as dried corn but the kernels are treated before being ground and therefore have a flavor of their own (think of masa vs. cornmeal). Grits come in a finer grind than most meal, as well.

Mush is pure cornmeal and tastes like it, eaten as cereal (and in subsequent preps like you describe). Grits are eaten as side dishes, like polenta is. There are many similarities, but the differences are very important.

As for color, it's a crapshoot. There are white grits and yellow grits, white cornmeal (which my family preferred for cornbread, muffins, etc.) and yellow cornmeal. Sometimes you can find a mixture of the two colors. Cornmeal can be found in coarse or fine grinds. It's the taste that makes the difference.

My grandmother was fond of cornmeal dumplings dropped into the simmering liquid of cooking greens, something she called "cush-cush" from her country childhood.

cookiecrumb said...

Hungry Dog: YOU are cool!

Kudzu: Awesome. I've been waiting for this!
I know that grits are treated with an alkaline bath, but I just gotta say, your comparison of masa vs. cornmeal is a fabulous illustration. I can taste the masa in my mind right now.
As for when you're supposed to serve the various corn piles, and whether they are side or main dishes... That's a little complex for this Yankee. I guess I'll be breaking some rules here and there.
I want cush-cush!

Kailyn said...

While most Southerners treat grits as a side dish, in Virginia they are served like any other hot breakfast cereal -- milk, butter, sugar. I've heard folks from Mississippi do the same with rice.

Greg said...

Late to the party but I do love shrimp and grits.The line between grits, cornmeal mush and polenta has been blurred in my mind.The upside? It all tastes good with butter.

cookiecrumb said...

Kailyn: Wow, grits with milk and sugar? I've had breakfast grits, but it's always been a side for eggs, yum. Merci.

Greg: Right! Thanks for clearing that up. :)

namastenancy said...

Well, I guess it doesn't matter where you live, Southern food stirs up a lot of controversy. You can do a lot of things with cornmeal mush - I like mine cheesy with hot peppers and tomatoes. Or you can serve them for breakfast (or gits too) with ham, eggs and red eye gravy. Cheese and grits are good too. We also used to chill the grits, cut them into squares and fry them in bacon grease and serve them with a poached egg on top. Louisiana Pic-a-pepper sauce on the side.

Okra - cook with tomatoes or in gumbo to take advantage of the natural thickening. OR - if you are really in for some hard work, make okra pickles.

Let's not even get into the issue of biscuits.

Zoomie said...

The thread has been an education for this Yankee - white, yellow, grits, cornmeal, muffins, dumplings and mush. I think I have it straight now but I will refer back to this as needed. Thank you all.

kudzu said...

One word for everybody to research: spoonbread.

cookiecrumb said...

Nancy: It hadn't occurred to me to add tomatoes to cheesy cornmeal. Sounds wonderful.
Now, biscuits. I've had a little flame burning under me for biscuits. Flour bombs!

Zoomie: Hasn't this been fun? Corny.

Kudzu: OMG, I love spoonbread. If my mother grew up in St. Louis, could she possibly be a semi-southerner?
However! I am loco over your corn loaf from the Sun. We are thisclose to making it; corn at the market tomorrow.

Lannae said...

Corn meal mush? Oh, I guess I prefer American Polenta than mush. So, I got some locally grown yellow corn, locally ground corn meal, ground by old family equipment and grinding stone. I just learned the ratio last year, the ratio is 3 cups liquid to 1 cup meal. It could be 1 cup cream, 2 cups water, and 1 cup meal, or 3 cups stock and 1 cup corn meal, or any other liquid. So damn good! Then I topped my American Polenta with a local grass fed beef braised in local tap water, wine, locally grown carrots, onions, celery, my homemade vinegar, and red wine from N. CA. No bay leaf cuz I don't like bay leaf flavor. This is a true Southern meal that is so damn good!

cookiecrumb said...

Lannae: What a great meal. Sort of beefy osso buco. I'm so happy you're making your own vinegar. Seriously great meal.
OK! Let's call it American Polenta. :)

Southern Cookie said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now & gotta say it certainly keeps me entertained! Keep up the good work! You can't quit now!

I'm a deep southern gal, so I must weigh in on the Shrimp & Grits issue. Making a tomato-based, slightly stew-y sauce and cooking the shrimp in that is how my grandmother taught me. Then spoon it into a bowl... put a dollop of cheesy grits in the center (be careful they aren't runny or you'll end up with an unsightly mess)... top with green onions.

For fried okra... simple cornmeal fish fry mix works well. But again, tomatoes are their friend. Saute onions & garlic in minimal oil... add okra... pan fry for a few minutes... add chopped tomatoes (or diced, canned ones that you have NOT drained) and let cook until tender. Of course, season to taste. This is one of my favorites over brown rice!

cookiecrumb said...

Southern Cookie: What you have described sounds so good. Thank you for not ripping me up as a fake southerner. Thank you!

cookiecrumb said...

Nancy: I think I lost a comment from you. I didn't know you were such a southern cook yourself!

namastenancy said...

Ma cherie - you have lost several but you never no mind. I'm going to do a couple of columns on Southern cooking for the "ignorant" California cook. But my grandmother was from Louisiana and my ancestors, back to the 17th century, were Southern. They can via Charleston down the Nachez trail in the 18th century before the American Revolution. My mother was born in Mississippi and lived there until she was married. We used to visit family in La and Miss and still have cousins there. You don't get much more Southern than that, unless you actually live there.

cookiecrumb said...

Nancy: Ohmahgah! I look forward to your southern posts, and I apologize for every comment of yours I've ever dropped. Never intentional.

namastenancy said...

Apologies not necessary - put it down to the vicissitudes of the Internet.

Southern Cookie said...

NamasteNancy: It's soooo nice to know I have another southern gal helping our favorite Crumb navigate the often mystifying realm of true southern food. Though I find it highly unlikely there will by any of our more frightening delicacies like 'possum, alligator, or good ol' venison recipes on the blog anytime soon!
CookieCrumb: Thanks for letting me into your world. I like this place! Like Namaste, I live almost on the state lines of LA & MS, about 30 miles NE of New Orleans. But thank god, I do get out of the asylum long enough to see other countries. And I love food, more and more as I get older and wider. Can't wait to hear about your next foray into the kitchen.
P.S.- I LOVE you have a "Cranky" in your life! Mine has for years been affectionately (though HE doesn't think so) known as "Bufatsa" (Boo-Fat-sah).

cookiecrumb said...

Southern Cookie: So nice to be friends. Thanks for all your gentle jostling.
Howdy to Bufatsa. (Does the name have a meaning?)
~ the other Cookie

Southern Cookie said...

Bufatsa? No true meaning I know of... just because he is one! Actually got the name from a lady I used to work with. She would say that when her hubby was acting like a typical man (being grumpy and demanding), she'd say (behind his back) that he was being a Bufatsa. However, I accidentally slipped and said this in front of mine one day and he was perplexed. So I kept it up because I saw it kinda got to him. Been doing it so long that he's used to it by now and that's how I have him programmed in my phone. My most-self-centered, still-a-momma's-boy, bear-ish, and often grumpy Bufatsa. He's lucky I love him... and that he's a pretty large man... 'cause I'd have trouble hiding the body if I ever decided to kill him. ;)

cookiecrumb said...

S. Cookie: Aw, what a love story! ;)