The Chef in Charlotte: Salmon and grits
Now that I am back in the south, some of my memories of the south come back from time to time, and my discovery of the wonders of grits is one such memory.
Paired with my memory of grits is my memory of one of my favorite restaurants in Athens, GA, the city where I earned my masters degree––the Last Resort Grill. Tucked into a compact storefront in downtown Athens, Last Resort is the location of many of my best meals and memories of those two years.
I revisited Last Resort last time I was in Athens and wrote a blog about it, but didn't spring for my perennial favorite, the salmon and grits. Now that I am just under three hours from Athens, once the pandemic abates, I will have to take another trip to this old haunt and order a plate. In the meantime, I can approximate it from home!
I found a recipe written by a fellow enthusiast of the place (and also a former UGA student!) on Epicurious. I've made the recipe a handful of times, but am happy to report that this iteration was the best! Creamy grits and just-flaky cooked salmon, finished off with a tangy, garlicky sauce––only thing I missed was a helping of their house salad with vidalia onion dressing!
I have at long last perfected the cooking of grits, after trying countless recipes. The key is to buy at least reasonable quality grits (NOT instant grits) and cook in a mix of 2:1:1 whole milk to water to heavy cream and a tablespoon or so of butter. Heat over a medium flame until the mixture just starts to bubble, then 1 portion of grits, stirring frequently until the liquid is absorbed (about 20+ mins). Add salt (and cheese!) at the end.
I pan-seared the salmon in a bit of olive oil tonight. I like to leave the skin on when pan-searing, because it insulates the flesh a bit from direct heat and helps prevent overcooking, and the skin itself becomes a crispy treat in the hot oil! I am finding it is important when pan-searing fish to cook it on the sides of the filet as well as the top and bottom, to the extent possible, for the most even cook.
The caper sauce is the most work––mince or press a couple of cloves of garlic and melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic and spoon some capers (but not the liquid in the jar) to the melted butter. The more capers you add, the tangier the sauce will be, so judge to taste! I added just under a tablespoon for my one-serving dish tonight.
Once the garlic just starts to brown, add enough white wine to cool off the heated butter, and let the wine reduce a bit before reducing the heat and adding some heavy cream. You have to be very careful with the heat here, lest your sauce break! Stir frequently and keep the heat low until the reduction is thick and creamy––the more you reduce, the more flavorful the sauce.
I plated with the salmon atop a bed of the creamy grits, over which I poured the tangy, delicious caper sauce. I still had some green beans from the bison dish earlier in the week, and definitely needed to use them, so forgive the repeat veggies! Again, I used the air fryer for crispy, tender green beans.
Wine to cook by: Gruet Blanc de Noirs, a bubbly from New Mexico (yes, New Mexico!). Gruet is an old school wine producing family who made wine in Champagne for generations, before one of the family found themselves on a trip to New Mexico and met with some French migrant winemakers in the high deserts, who turned them on to the secrets of viticulture in the region. The rest is history––one of the best, most traditional producers of bubbly in the style of Champagne in the U.S. is in the remote reaches of New Mexico, and their wines are exceptionally affordable and absolutely delicious. This Blanc de Noirs is one of my favorite offerings from them––made only with the traditional red grapes from Champagne production (pinot noir and pinot meunier), it has more heft and creaminess, which I thought would be perfect with the creamy grits and sauce. It was an ideal pairing!
Add to it the fact that my local grocery store, just across the street, has INSANELY great wine deals, such as this one bottle $12 off, and you've got a recipe for a stellar bottle on a Sunday night!