Monday, April 21, 2014

One Great . . . soy and butter sauce

When Ruth Reichl (former Gourmet editor/New York Times restaurant reviewer/cooking memoir writer) was in Charlotte a few weeks ago to speak to the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, someone asked her favorite recipe. Her reply:

 "Butter and soy sauce is the fastest, best sauce for almost anything."

Butter and soy sauce are definitely having a moment. Call it the ultimate experience in umami-ness, that hard-to-define sensation that's sometimes called meatiness or savoriness.

You can keep the butter/soy sauce really easy. Just saute something, and finish the pan at the last minute with a pat of butter and a splash of soy sauce. Or you can get a little more involved with it. In a recent piece in The New York Times, Sam Sifton adapted the idea by pan-frying wild mushrooms, finishing with a riff on soy/butter and spooning it over soft polenta.

Faced with a recent rainy Friday night, a bag of mushrooms from the farmer's market and some shrimp in the freezer, I used Reichl's inspiration and Sifton's idea to come up with my own umami-loaded version of shrimp and grits.

Rock on, Ruth and Sam.

Soy/Butter Shrimp and Grits

1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup stone-ground grits
6 tablespoons butter, cut in tablespoons
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more if needed
1 1/2 to 2 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined, thawed if frozen
1/2 pound (about 2 cups) fresh mushrooms, such as shiitake or trumpet, sliced
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 or 3 green onions, trimmed and diced, white parts separated from green tops
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon cream

BRING the water, milk and salt just to boiling in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan. Slowly whisk in the grits, cook about 1 minute, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring every 10 minutes, for about 45 minutes. Add a little more water or milk if grits are starting to stick. Stir in 1 tablespoon butter, then set aside, covered to keep warm.

HEAT 1 tablespoon butter and olive oil in a nonstick skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and the white parts of the onions and cook 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring often, until just pink and starting to firm up. Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the onions and garlic in the pan.

ADD a little more oil to the pan if it's getting dry, then add mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they give up their juices and start to cook dry again. Be patient; that might take 5 or 6 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil and cook, stirring, until it's reduced by half.

REDUCE heat to medium-low and stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, a piece at a time, until it melts. Stir in the soy sauce and cream. Return the shrimp to the sauce and cook until warmed through.

SERVE the grits in bowls, topped with the shrimp, mushrooms and sauce. Sprinkle with the green onion tops.

YIELD: 4 servings. 

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Cameron said...

This has a similar flavor profile to a compound butter I usually have on hand.
Whenever I have scallions and/or ginger and/or lemon grass leftover from a recipe, I chop them up and mash them with softened butter and a bit of miso paste. (It's like soy sauce with more of the solids left in.)
A quarter cup scallions would get a half stick of butter and a tablespoon of white miso. The resulting butter has a great, complex depth from the miso and brightness from the aromatics.
My kids love it either slathered onto roasted sweet potatoes. I also use it to punch up a quick steamed vegetable (broccoli, green beans) or toss with noodles as a side dish.

Stephen said...

In Japan you can find bags of popcorn flavored with butter and soy sauce. It is awesome and is now the way I flavor my popcorn at home. After buttering add some soy sauce from a small spray bottle.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great ideas, Stephen and Cameron. I need to try both of those. Thank you for taking the time to share.