I told myself that I was going to take this week off from blogging. I’m in the throes of turning in my final dissertation chapter, which means lots of heart palpitations, sleepless nights, and a handful of near breakdowns. It also means far fewer minutes spent cleaning up around the house. (That last bit I can’t really complain about, though my partner likely feels differently. ;)) I’ve also been seriously contemplating a major career change, which, after nearly six years in graduate school and working in academia, is completely terrifying to me.
So, a week off from blogging. It was decided last Friday afternoon. I’d spend my extra time working on my dissertation, catching up on laundry, and meditating, all in an effort to rebalance my mind and my life. And to get rid of those pesky heart palpitations because those don’t do good for anybody.
But then I ate at Nodoguro, a Japanese weekend-only tasting-menu restaurant in the back room of Portland’s Pastaworks that’s run by the inventive and crazy talented Chef Ryan Roadhouse. The remnants of sake, dashi, uni, and sesame lingered on my palate and danced through my mind as we drove home from the playful ten-course dinner that evening. And I found myself feeling completely inspired. I was overwhelmed by the inspiration, actually, just itching to find a way to incorporate these Japanese ingredients into all of my favorite things in life. Into anything and everything. I literally couldn’t stop chattering to my husband about all of the dishes I wanted to develop for the blog, mere hours after I’d proudly declared to him that I’d be “taking the week off” from the blogosphere.
So today I’m breaking my promise, mostly because I couldn’t stand the idea of not sharing with you this particular Japanese-inspired dish that also is a nod to my southern roots: Bonito-Infused Uni Grits served with Crispy Prosciutto and Chopped Chives. It’s play on shrimp and grits with an in-your-face Japanese-twist.
To start, I cook the grits in bonito-infused water, the large flakes of the fish lending a mild smoky and salty taste to the grits. Before serving, the grits are mixed with uni butter, butter that’s been whisked into puréed sea urchin, creating a sweet, briny sauce with a silky texture. I finished each bowl off with a piece of uni, a sprinkle of finely-chopped chives, and a small handful of prosciutto bits, because to me, no grits dish is complete without just a little bit of salty pig meat. Plus the crispy prosciutto adds a nice texture contrast to the creamy grits.
So I didn’t take my week off as I’d planned. I used the time that I’d selfishly designated to meditating and cleaning instead on recipe testing, photographing, and writing. But, as far as I’m concerned, this was the better outcome.
I was reminded of how much creativity surrounds me every day. Even on weeks when I think I can’t squeeze another ounce of anything into my brain and into my heart. And I found myself, again, just happy. Content. The creative experience enough to keep my dissertation-induced heart palpitations at bay. My career-related near breakdowns staved off for another day.
- ⅛ pound of prosciutto, chopped or torn into roughly 1-inch square pieces (optional*)
- 1-2 tablespoons of canola or vegetable oil
- ¾ cups of white grits, preferably not quick or instant
- 3 ½ cups of water*
- 2 tablespoons of large bonito flakes
- ½ teaspoon of salt, plus more to taste
- 3-4 tablespoons of Butter, melted
- 10-12 ounces of uni (sea urchin), about 6-8 pieces, divided
- Fresh chives, chopped finely, for garnish
- Begin by preparing the crispy prosciutto. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add as many prosciutto pieces as will fit without touching (they need to have enough space to crisp.) Once they begin to shrink and turn a reddish bacon-y color, flip them over and add more pieces to the pan if you have room. Remove from the skillet once fully crisp, about 5-8 minutes, and set on a paper towel to drain. Repeat until all prosciutto is crisped.
- Boil 3½ cups of water. Once boiling, add bonito flakes and stir, continuing to cook over high heat for 1 minute. Remove water from heat and strain bonito flakes from it, reserving 3 cups of the water and discarding any extra. Bring the bonito-infused water back to a boil. Once boiling again, add salt and grits. Cook grits according to package directions, stirring frequently and adding more water as necessary.
- While grits are cooking, prepare the sea urchin sauce. Begin by setting aside 2 uni pieces, which will be used for topping the grits. Store these in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve. Purée the rest of the uni until smooth. Whisk together the uni liquid with the melted butter. Set uni butter aside.
- To assemble the grits, mix the uni butter into the grits. Taste the grits. Add more salt, as needed, if necessary. Spoon the grits into 2 bowls, top each with 1 piece of fresh uni, and then garnish with crispy prosciutto (optional) and finely chopped chives. Serve immediately.
The amount of water you need for ¾ cups of grits may vary depending on your grits. Read the package instructions and if it calls for more/less than 3 cups of water, follow the package for the grit:water ratio.
Uni (sea urchin) likely won't be available at your regular grocery. Instead, try your local fish monger or asian grocery or ask your favorite sushi restaurant. I've found that restaurants have higher quality uni than asian groceries (where I am, it maybe different for you), so I buy from there. Most of the time, if you let the sushi chef know that it's for a recipe, they'll hook you up and/or give you a discount since uni is a rather pricey ingredient to work with.