In psychology, there’s a concept called the Proustian Phenomenon, named after Francophone and novelist, Marcel Proust. The idea behind it is that what we consume with our noses, what we smell, can trigger intense memories. Memories that we may have buried deep within us. Memories we may not even realize we still have. It’s a pretty powerful concept if you think about it. It’s almost as if our noses, and their associated taste buds, have a mind of their own.
Well just the other day I was brunching with some friends (we Portlanders take weekend brunch—and the accompanying mimosas—very seriously!) and got a whiff of a bowl of grits passing by as it was being delivered to another table. I looked on for a moment as the grainy-white ground up kernels sat in their matching white-rimmed bowl, simple and lifeless.
But, as any southerner knows, the smells that come from a bowl of well-cooked grits are anything but bland and lifeless, as was the case with the batch that so sneakily passed under my nose that morning. Their buttery earthiness swirled through the air in pillowy clouds of steam that lingered on my nose long after they’d passed. Just a few whiffs and I felt like I had been put in a time machine and thrust back into my childhood, when my grandmother would kindly feed me creamy and buttery grits with flecks of crispy bacon scattered throughout them on mornings that I’d spent the night at her house. This happened regularly for the first 6 years of my life, when my family lived just next door to my grandparents, and sleepovers were frequent. That smell will always remind me of her and the mornings I’d devour my pork-fat packed grits as her husband, my grandfather, would meticulously count how many tablespoons of grapefruit juice he could squeeze out of a single grapefruit half.
A simple memory of pure childhood bliss, all brought back into mind with a little bowl of grits that casually passed over my shoulder during brunch. What I wouldn’t give to go back to those simpler times for even just a minute.
Today I’m cooking up a creamy grit-based dish for you here to get my nostalgia fix. I’ve incorporated ground fresh corn (get it while it’s still in season!) and a smoky gouda cheese. You know, because buttery grits are cool, but buttery cheesy corn grits are amazeballs. And, yes, I did just use the word amazeballs.
I’ve topped them with some slightly spicy sautéed shrimp and crisp cut chives. It might be a far cry from the sweet simple grits my grandmother used to make for me way back when, but who knows, maybe this dish will have it’s very own Proustian effect one day, reminding me of this exact moment in my life.
Shrimp and Smoked Gouda Corn Grits
- 3 ears of corn, husked and divided into 2 ears (grated) and 1 ear (leave whole)
- 2 cups of chicken (or vegetable) broth
- 1 cup of milk, preferably 2% or higher fat content
- 1.5 cups of water
- 3/4 cup of grits (do not use instant or quick grits here!)
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1/2 cup of grated smoked gouda (about 6-8 ounces)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped finely
- 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- 1 lbs of shrimp, peeled and deveined but with tails still on
- 1 bunch of fresh chives, chopped (for garnish)
Using a micrograter, grate 2 ears of the corn over a medium bowl. Scoop up any corn gratings/juice that missed the bowl and return to the bowl. Keeping the juice in the bowl is key here. Cut the kernels from the 3rd ear of corn and set in a separate bowl.
Bring broth, milk and 1.5 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to a simmer and whisk in the grits, slowly, continuing to whisk as you add. Continue to simmer, whisking every now and then, for 20-25 minutes until you notice the grits soften. Add butter, grated corn, and smoked gouda; stir until creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Once grits are simmering, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, oregano, smoked paprika, and cayenne and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Add whole kernels and cook until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Add shrimp and cook for 4 minutes, turning halfway through. If the contents in the pan start to dry up, add a bit more olive oil.
Serve shrimp over corn grits and top with chives.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit’s July 2014 issue.