I made the most delicious culinary discovery on a recent trip to Texas.
Of course, it was a Mexican dish. When I am in Texas, I eat at least one Tex-Mex or Mexican meal each day. My late mom used to say she could eat Mexican food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have become my mom.
Thankfully, my daughter likes it, too, and my granddaughter loves Spanish rice, so we were set for this mini-vacation.
A group of friends from preschool days met us for lunch at a Tex-Mex restaurant that has been a favorite since high school days. That restaurant serves a “summer special” that is perfect for lunch: chili con queso, bean tostada, taco and a scoop of guacamole. This plate always tastes the same, which is a very good thing.
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Though this lunch was good, my surprise came in Kemah, Texas, at Cadillac Bar, another favorite that serves Mexican, not Tex-Mex dishes. Lilly loved watching the tortillas being hand made in the dining room. I have eaten there several times and loved it, but this night was the tops. The special featured a chile relleno stuffed with blue-corn grits and shrimp rolled in a blue-corn flour batter, topped with a shrimp-and-wine cream sauce. Need I say more? Shrimp and grits with a south-of-the-border flair.
I have been trying to re-create the dish. I have found good recipes for the batter and grits. To the grits, I add spicy boiled shrimp, a little cumin, garlic and chili powder.
The cream sauce is one I use for Shrimp Newburg, only I substitute a good white wine for the sherry and sauté the shrimp in this sauce. I am still tinkering with the sauce, so I will not share the recipe until I get it just right. I do have recipes for the blue-corn flour batter and the blue-corn grits.
Finding the blue-corn grits or even blue-corn flour can be tricky. I would try Rouses on the Coast, Whole Foods Market in New Orleans or Publix in Mobile. I brought some back with me from Texas. Anson Mills, available at www.ansonmills.com, sells native coarse blue-corn grits and blue-corn flour from the Cherokee Nation in North Carolina. Prices are $6.95 for 12 ounces of either the blue-corn grits or the blue-corn flour. The products also are available on www.amazon.com.
The chefs at Anson Mills say not to use dairy to cook the blue grits, but to whisk in butter at the end of cooking time. Also, the blue-corn grits need to be soaked overnight before cooking.
Sauces like Toucan’s
Two readers loved the now-closed Toucan’s Mostly Mexican Cafe as much as Debbie Randall did. A reader, Miz Liz, shared her family’s favorite sauce, and Dora Harrison sent one for a roux-based chili sauce she thinks is similar.
“Several weeks ago, you had a reader asking for the brown sauce recipe from Toucan’s,” Miz Liz said. “This was my family’s favorite sauce, and it was used on the cheese enchiladas and burrito Magnifico. I believe the sauce was called Favorita Sauce. I re-created it for my family after Toucan’s closed. So, I am passing it on to you for your reader.”
Harrison has not tried the recipe she shared, but plans to soon. It is a roux-based brown chili sauce.
Andrea Yeager can be reached at email@example.com and Cooks Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.
6 ounces (1 cup) Anson Mills Native Coarse Blue-Corn Grits
Spring or filtered water
Fine sea salt
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the grits in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and cover them with 2 1/2 cups water. Stir once. Allow the grits to settle a full minute, tilt the pan and skim off and discard the chaff and hulls with a fine tea strainer. Cover and let the grits soak overnight at room temperature.
The next day, set the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the first starch takes hold, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the pan. Meanwhile, heat 2 cups of water in a small saucepan and keep hot. Every 10 minutes or so, uncover the grits and stir them; each time you find them thick enough to hold the spoon upright, stir in a small amount of the hot water, adding about 1 1/2 cups water or more in 4 or 5 additions. Cook until the grits are creamy and tender throughout, but not mushy, and hold their shape on a spoon, about 50 minutes if the grits were soaked or about 90 minutes if they weren’t. Add 1 teaspoon of salt halfway through the cooking time. To finish, stir in the butter with vigorous strokes. Add more salt, if desired, and the pepper.
From Anson Mills
BLUE-CORN BUTTERMILK BATTER
1 cup blue-corn meal
3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups butter milk
Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Whisk together buttermilk and eggs in a small bowl, the add to dry ingredients. Mix to make a smooth batter, adding more buttermilk if necessary. Batter should be the consistency of pancake batter. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before using.
Chef Johnny Vee of New Mexico
4-6 New Mexico chiles or poblano peppers, cut slits in the pepper and remove seeds to decrease heat (I prefer poblanos)
Char the peppers on a griddle pan or over direct heat on gas stove. Place in bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 10 minutes or so, remove plastic wrap and remove char from peppers. Stuff peppers with either Monterrey Jack or a spoonful of the shrimp and blue-corn grits.
Dip in blue-corn batter and place on a parchment-lined or silicone baking liner on a sheet pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.
8 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon oregano
32 ounces beef broth
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup water
Sauté onions in olive oil until tender. Add all the spices and sauté until fragrant (less than 1 minute). Add beef broth and simmer for 10-15 minutes. In a small bowl, dissolve cornstarch in water. Add to broth mixture and bring to a boil and cook until mixture thickens. Taste and add salt if necessary.
This makes enough sauce for 6-8 large burritos.
Submitted by Miz Liz
CHILI GRAVY FOR BURRITOS
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups beef stock
For the sauce: The base of the chili gravy is a simple roux. You need a fair amount of it to get the right consistency so start with about 1/4 cup of fat (I used vegetable oil) and 1/4 cup flour. Whisk this together over medium heat for 4-5 minutes until it’s turning a light tan color.
When your roux is the right color, whisk in all those lovely spices. Your house will immediately smell like a taco shack. This is a good thing.
Let the spices cook and get happy for 30 seconds and then start whisking in the beef stock (you could use veggie stock). As it heats, the gravy will thicken. The finished gravy shouldn’t be super-thick, but it should coat a spoon lightly.
– Submitted by Dora Harrison