published Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Shrimp and Grits a Thanksgiving delicacy

  • photo
    Joyce Ballard, executive chef on the Delta Queen, holds the finished plate after demonstrating how to make her recipe for shrimp and grits. The dish is one of the items that will be on the menu for Thanksgiving at the restaurant, located onboard the historic paddlewheel docked on the Tennessee River at Coolidge Park in downtown Chattanooga.
    Photo by John Rawlston.
    enlarge photo

ABOUT THE DISH

What: N'awlins Style Shrimp and Grits.

Includes: Shrimp sautéed with wine and garlic butter served over Southern-style grits.

Cost: $15.95.

MAKE IT AT HOME

Cooking time: 5 minutes.

* Begin by melting 1/2 teaspoon of butter in a pan.

* Add 1 tablespoon of green onions and 1/2 teaspoon of chopped garlic.

* Saute this mixture until it sizzles. (Do not allow the garlic to brown.)

* Add shrimp to the pan and top with 1/2 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning mix.

* Toss this mixture, and before the shrimp turn pink, add 11/2 tablespoons of white wine.

* Bring the mix to a boil.

* Add 2 tablespoons of diced tomatoes and 1 tablespoon of chicken broth.

* Allow mixture to continue cooking for about a minute.

* Plate shrimp on a bed comprised of a cup of grits and top with sauce from the pan.

* Garnish with paprika, parsley and diced tomatoes.

When it comes to the presentation of the dishes in the Delta Queen's Paddlewheel Restaurant, Joyce Ballard is a stickler.

In the galley of the permanently docked riverboat, Ballard removes a pan laden with shrimp scampi simmering in a buttery garlic sauce from an electric stove. She then plucks the shrimp out, one by one, to be placed in an artful ring atop a bed of grits.

After she drizzles the remaining sauce atop the finished product, the resulting smell hints at the intoxicating richness of the Cajun staple. In her native New Orleans, Ballard said, shrimp and grits occupies a position beside turkey and stuffing on many Thanksgiving menus.

The dish will be served Thursday during a Thanksgiving buffet aboard the Delta Queen. Based on its reception since The Paddlewheel opened in September, it may convince some Chattanoogans to change their holiday tradition, Ballard said.

"I love the presentation of my food when it goes out, and I like to see what it looks like when it comes back," Ballard explained. "When that [the shrimp and grits] comes back, everything is gone.

"A lot of people here in Chattanooga don't have shrimp and grits, ... so when people get it, it's something different."

Spreading the gospel of Big Easy cuisine is old hat for Ballard, who began been cooking in the galley of the Delta Queen in 1997 when it was still running cruises from Galveston, Texas, to St. Paul, Minn.

When she came aboard, Ballard was a second chef, but she rose up the ranks to sous-chef and, eventually, head chef, a position she occupied until the Queen was permanently docked beside Coolidge Park in 2008.

Ballard retired when the Delta Queen's reign of the waterways came to a close, but she returned in June when the management decided to open The Paddlewheel Restaurant.

"They wheeled me back in," she said, laughing.

At first, Ballard said she wasn't sure she wanted to return. After taking an exploratory look at the galley, however, she agreed to take up her tasting spoons again.

"When you've been on here so long, it's almost like home," she explained, adding that she now is a full-time resident of the Delta Queen.

Cooking aboard a moving vessel forced her to rethink approaches to dishes some techniques land-based chefs take for granted.

"It is challenging," she said. "There's nothing with fire. It's all steam and electric heat, so ... you have to be more creative."

Ballard's father first taught her to cook at age 9. She later enrolled in culinary school in New Orleans but never completed her studies because she was eager to leave the classroom and start cooking.

The menu she helped shape for The Paddlewheel reflects her combination of high culinary study with an instinctive feel for Cajun food.

During the dinner rush, Ballard said she can finish an order of shrimp and grits in about five minutes. Although the dish is a soul food staple for many Louisanians, she said she has always sought to elevate her food, even the simplest dishes, to a level of elegance.

"I get crazy when something is not right," she said, laughing. "It's got to be right, presentation wise. It's just something that I love."

ABOUT THE RESTAURANT

Where: The Paddlewheel Restaurant, Delta Queen, 100 River St.

Website: www.deltaqueenhotel.net/thepaddlewheelrestaurant.

Hours: 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

Phone: 468-4500.


THANKSGIVING

The Delta Queen's Thanksgiving buffet will include main stations serving shrimp and grits and carved ham, turkey and beef. Buffet seatings will be at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Prices are $27.95 for adults, $24.95 for seniors 55 and older and $18.95 for children 18 and under.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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