We welcome to the land of Shrimp, Collards, and Grits – delicious things like Rice Fritters and Soulful Shrimp from the land of gracious plenty, where strangers say hello and someone’s heart is always bein’ blessed. Pull up a front porch rocker and pour yourself a tall glass of sweet tea as we discover some down-home simple, soulful Southern cooking and open the rusty gates of our storied past.
Painting by Kevin Chadwick depicts a Gullah woman with her child and the beautiful quilt she has made. Gullah women are
famous for their ability to create gorgeous quilts and clothing.
My website reflects my series of books, Shrimp, Collards, and Grits. The Gullah people, descendants of slaves, brought with them the seeds for many of our favorite Southern foods; okra, watermelon, sorghum, collards, peanuts, and many varieties of rice. They cooked in the plantation kitchens and taught the landowners how to put together the unique dishes of their homeland. Their skill for growing rice made Charleston the wealthiest city in our country prior to the Civil War. It was Carolina Gold Rice that built this enormous wealth.
I’d like to thank Executive Chef Travis Grimes of Charleston’s Husk restaurant for the inspiration behind this wonderfully delicious recipe for rice fritters. He uses the Carolina Gold Rice to honor our Gullah heritage, but Arborio will also work for this recipe. Husk is famous for its use of the very best fresh, local, heirloom ingredients. As the former chef, Sean Brock, used to say, “if it ain’t Southern, it ain’t comin’ in the door.” It’s Southern cooking at its finest!
A favorite Lowcountry scene by Murray Sease of Bluffton. www.shineonart.com
This is a fun recipe you will want to make many times for its flavor and Southern inspiration. It pairs beautifully with all kinds of fish and shrimp, crab, oysters – you name it! It’s also good with fried chicken. The recipe is one of the most popular items on the menu at Husk and I’m sure it will be at your house as well. Travis served this fritter to us the day my son Andrew and I were there. We had lunch that day at the main restaurant then went upstairs to photograph some of their special dishes. I can testify these fritters are totally worth the effort! Delicious!!!
RICE FRITTERS WITH MUSHROOMS AND PARMESAN
about 2 quarts oil for frying
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, cleaned
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
bunch of fresh thyme
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup finely diced sweet onion
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
10 ounces Arborio rice or Carolina Gold Rice
4 ounces dry white wine
5 cups vegetable broth
6 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 1/2 ounces fresh lemon juice
2 ounces fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons chopped basil leaves
1 tablespoon finely sliced chives
4 cups all-purpose flour
8 large eggs, lightly whisked
4 cups plain bread crumbs
Cook mushrooms in vegetable oil in a medium saucepan on medium-high heat. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add several sprigs of thyme and saute for 5 minutes.
Cool mushrooms to room temperature for 20 minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs and discard. Once cooled chop them into small pieces.
For the rice: Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan on low heat. Add the onions and cook for four minutes while stirring. Add the garlic and rice and cook, stirring for eight minutes as much as possible. Add the white wine and reduce by half, about 5 minutes. Add chopped thyme. Reduce heat to medium-low and begin adding vegetable broth slowly about 8 ounces at a time.
Allow broth to be totally absorbed before adding more. Add the rest until all the broth is completely incorporated.
Stir in the Parmesan cheese. Fold in the mushrooms, lemon juice, orange juice, basil, and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread the rice out on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate until cooled.
To finish: Heat oil in a deep skillet to 350 degrees. While it is heating, measure the rice into portions with a scoop or a 2 tablespoon measuring spoon. Now form the rice into balls.
Place flour, eggs, and bread crumbs into separate shallow pans. Dredge each ball in flour, then coat it in egg, and finally a nice coating of bread crumbs. Fry them about 4 minutes until golden.
Drain on paper towels and season with salt.
Uncooked ones may be placed in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or stored in the freezer for 3 months.
Serve these fritters with a plate of raw oysters gathered on our shores by oystermen who are part of a world-wide organization of
whiteboot heroes. Or follow the recipe for BJ Dennis’ Soulful Shrimp and Okra.
Gullah Oysterman by Michael Harrell
Sandra Roper depicts an oysterman steaming oysters as they’ve done for generations. This image is from my new Shrimp, Collards and Grits book on Southern Roots, preserving the Gullah heritage through art, recipes, and stories. Southern food grew from our Gullah roots and has been passed down through the generations.
CHEF B.J. DENNIS – Another CHARLESTON CHEF WHO HONORS THE PAST AND INSPIRES THE FUTURE
Chef BJ Dennis of Charleston is bringing back his people’s Gullah Geechee past to inspire his future. “I want to bring it back,” he says. “Kids now don’t understand the culture here at all. Culture is progressing, and I love it, but you can’t forget where you come from.” Dennis grew up eating the food of the Lowcountry without thinking too much about it. “Grandma always fried up shark steak because she liked it so much. Lowcountry cuisine is not only the rice, but also the seafood. Local conch, mullet – (“it’s not trash, it’s eatin’”) crabs, eels, shark, oysters, and shrimp, particularly the little shrimp you can catch by net up in the creeks,” says Dennis.
In his neighborhood, soft-shell crab are plentiful and cheap, not a $30.00 a plate delicacy like at a fine dining restaurant. Ultimately, BJ thinks his future is turning diners on to the true Lowcountry cuisine that people, especially the Gullah Geechee eat at home. “that’s my biggest challenge,” he says, “bringing it back.”
There’s something about Lowcountry cooking that is difficult to put into words. Best to experience it firsthand, piping hot.
Some of the best-fried shrimp ever is sold out of a Styrofoam clamshell on the street corner, especially when cooked by BJ!
Below is one of his favorite recipes combining shrimp and okra with tomatoes – very Gullah.
When BJ”S mama said,” let’s go get lunch, “she meant let’s go out on the river and catch it!
Soulful Shrimp and Okra
B.J. Dennis combines two staples of Gullah-Geechee cuisine to create a classic Lowcountry dish. This pairs well with the rice fritters for a delicious Southern meal.
1 pound peeled shrimp
1 1/2 cups okra
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chile pepper
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1/2 cup diced onion
kosher salt and black pepper
minced parsley and thyme to taste
1 cup tomato, diced
Place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add just enough oil to coat the bottom. Add okra
and cook until it begins to brown. Then add the next 5 ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. Add herbs and tomato to the skillet. Cook until the shrimp is ready, 2 to 3 more minutes. Season to taste.