|Chef Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta.|
Make no mistake about it, Chef Linton Hopkins is a natural and unflappable teacher. Put him in a room of culinary students and fellow chefs, and Chef will talk continually and calmly throughout a detailed demonstration, keeping his cool through equipment failures and missing ingredients, and remaining for three quarters of an hour after the seminar to encourage the students and talk shop with the pros.
The chef/owner of Atlanta’s Restaurant Eugene and Holeman and Finch Public House brought his unique approach to Southern cuisine to the American Culinary Federation’s Southeastern conference at the Hilton Atlanta last month. This unique approach involved a Dewar of liquid nitrogen and a classic Southeastern coast favorite: shrimp and grits. “You know, I resisted using the liquid nitrogen for many years, until I discovered ways that it improves the flavor of the food,” Hopkins told the audience. Hopkins, by the way, is a James Beard nominee for Best Chef in the Southeast. The winner will be announced in May.
Hopkins encouraged the chefs to remain open to new ideas, with the goal of improving the final dish. “I’m not a big proponent of any one kind of cooking,” he said, hoisting the Dewar flask and pouring liquid nitrogen over dried hominy in the Vitaprep. “Rustic, one-pot, or molecular gastronomy, it’s all cooking.” Regarding the liquid nitrogen, he had a few pointers for newbies to the favored device of Boys with Toys cuisine: be sure to use food grade liquid nitrogen, choose a well-ventilated area, and don’t worry about burns. The veteran of New Orleans’ Mr. B's Bistro assured the students that “a roux burn is worse.”
Hopkins' take on shrimp and grits involved dried hominy, made from heirloom corn grown in North Georgia, pulverized with liquid nitrogen to create a fresh corn flour, cooked with water and finished with cream and a swirl of shrimp butter (inspired by an Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock recipe from "Gift of Southern Cooking"). The liquid nitrogen was also employed to puree frozen Benton's bacon, creating a "bacon salt" garnish. The shrimp and grits were served with a Sea Island Red Pea fritter. Using liquid nitrogen "allows me to stay true to the ingredients that define Southern cooking, but at the same time lets me play with the textures,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins told the audience that a significant amount of his time is devoted to sourcing ingredients to serve at his restaurants. Quoting famed chef Joel Robuchon, Hopkins said that timing is more than getting perfectly prepared food to the customer, it's also getting the freshest taste from the field to the customer. "Using fresh, local ingredients is about making sure this money is staying in Georgia and supporting people I know. It’s about the memory of sitting with your family on the seashore and eating shrimp."
On my next visit to Restaurant Eugene, I'll order the super-dee-duper shrimp and grits. When I want to fulfill that craving at home, I make my version, breakfast-style. This is just like coastal shrimpers would make it, with the little guys caught the day before, served over creamy grits. I used a new technique for creamy grits, which is to cook the grits in water and stock, then stir in butter and cream before serving (a tip from Chef Hopkins). The taste is rich and the texture is velvet.
|Shrimp and grits by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books|
Shrimp and Grits, Breakfast Style
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup stone-ground or quick (not instant) grits
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup cream
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 stick butter
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (save the peels for future shrimp broths)
Juice of one lemon (you won’t use it all)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. In a nonstick saucepan, pour in chicken broth and water and heat over a medium flame until bubbles appear at perimeter. Add grits in a slow, steady stream, stirring with a whisk all the while. Stone-ground grits take about 30 minutes of patient and frequent stirring, quick grits take between 5 and 10 minutes of steady whisking action. When grits are just shy of done (depends on your personal taste - loose or leaden), stir in Parmesan and butter and cream and season to taste.
2. For the shrimp, pull out your favorite skillet and melt the butter over medium heat. When butter is foamy, add the shrimp and let cook until pink, just a couple of minutes. Stir to ensure even pinkiness. Freshen with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
3. Serve bowls of creamy grits garnished with shrimp.
|Creamy grits by Lucy Mercer/A Cook and Her Books|
Text and images copyright 2011, Lucy Mercer, with the exception of the photo of Linton Hopkins from the Restaurant Eugene website.