GRILLED POLENTA WITH SHRIMP, LARDONS AND MUSHROOM BROTH
My lunch date was enviably pretty – and slim despite her successful career as a food writer and cook, so you may think I wouldn’t be predisposed to affection. However, on looking at the concise menu at The Lockhart – London’s latest paean to Southern cuisine – she posed a question that utterly bewitched me.
“We should just order the whole menu, don’t you think?”
Yes, I thought. I think I’m going to like you.
And so we did order everything. Even the specials. All was excellent, as I knew it would be. But for me, the dish for which I’ve been yearning, and for which I will return at the first available opportunity, was the Shrimp and Grits. Punchy savoury broth washed over the comforting, cheesy and corny gruel. Sweet, barely cooked prawns, nutty mushrooms, salty lardons and a bitter but fresh bite from a speckling of spring onions, all made it my favourite dish in London by the second mouthful.
Grits as most will know, are merely Americanist for polenta. Now I adore polenta but I hate the 40 minutes it takes to make the proper stone ground stuff. I do knock up the instant from time to time, but you can’t really compare. So imagine my joy when the metaphorical light bulb went on and I thought, “Polenta! No standing, stirring and getting blatted in the eye by a volcanic bubbling pot of boiling cornmeal. I now have Thermomix! Hurrah for exquisite German engineering.”
And so it was that I decided to make Osso Buco the other night for my exquisite German friend. Braised veal shin in a rich tomato sauce, served over a cheesy slick of wet polenta, topped off with gremolata. The polenta was a breeze and I made loads and loads which is where we come back to Lockhart. I had put the leftover polenta into a baking dish to set. It’s impossible to make it wet again, but half way through the dining scene of August: Osage County at the cinema this afternoon, I wondered if I could make the broth with all its bits and serve it over grilled polenta? So I had a go and here it is; my homage to The Lockhart…and you know what? I think it works…
Note: I used chicken stock to add an extra layer of flavor to the polenta. You can just use water. Just make sure you use a ratio of 4:1 liquid to polenta. So for 100g of polenta, use 400g or mls of liquid.
GRILLED POLENTA WITH PRAWNS, BACON AND MUSHROOMS
For the Polenta
- 1 quantity good quality, stoneground polenta
- 4 quantities of chicken stock
- a lump of butter
- As much parmesan as you like
- Salt and pepper
- Butter and olive oil for frying
For the broth
- 150ml chicken stock
- 75g raw prawns
- 25g lardons
- 5 chestnut mushrooms, quartered
- 1 spring onion, chopped
- Squeeze of lemon juice
- Add a lump of parmesan to the Thermomix, set the timer to 10 seconds at speed 10. Set aside.
- Add the stock to the jug and heat at 100C for 6 minutes, stir setting.
- Set the timer to 40 minutes, keep the heat at 100 and Increase the speed to 4, pouring in the polenta through the lid.
- A couple of minutes before the end, drop in the butter and the parmesan.
- Pour the mix into a serving dish and set for 30 minutes or overnight. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of days.
- Bring the stock to boil, reduce to a simmer and pour in the polenta stirring constantly. Stir for 5-6 minutes, then cover and leave for 30 minutes, stirring every 4-5 minutes.
- At the last minute, stir in the butter and parmesan.
- Pour into an oven dish and set for 30 minutes or over night.
To finish the dish:
- Heat a little butter and olive oil In a heavy based frying pan,
- Fry the lardons and mushrooms until brown. Drain off a little of the rendered fat and set the lardons and mushrooms to one side.
- Using a pastry cutter, cut out 3 circles of polenta about 1.5cm thick.
- Place the polenta in the frying pan and leave to build up a crust. Do not be tempted to move it or it will stick. This will take 3 minutes or so. Turn and repeat on the other side.
- Meanwhile, heat the stock to a simmer and add half the cooked mushrooms and lardons. Taste and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Drop in the prawns and poach for 1-2 minutes until pink.
- Place the three discs of crispy polenta in a bowl, top with the reserved lardons and mushrooms.
- Pour over the stock and prawns and garnish with the spring onions.