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Creamed corn, grits, and mango rice. July 9, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I just got home from a weekend in scenic Annapolis, Maryland, where we went out into the Chesapeake Bay in a sailing schooner, saw lots of happy dogs (many sailing with their owners), learned a great deal about oysters, and sat on the dock every sunset watching the yachts, sailing ships, and pretty much every other kind of craft you could imagine as the waves lapped the dock and every imaginable kind of seabird, from seagulls, cormorants and ospreys to ducks and swallows, patrolled the ocean for food.

That two-hour cruise aboard the schooner Woodwind, with a high wind and high waves (not to mention a lot of spray) thanks to Hurricane Arthur, was an exciting and delightful adventure. The only thing I wasn’t expecting was that the winds and waves would tilt the sailboat so that our side was practically pitching us into the Bay for the first hour. I’m a strong swimmer, but flying overboard in front of a boatload of spectators wasn’t my idea of entertainment.

Fortunately, OFB kept a grip on me until the ship turned and I could enjoy the crashing waves and rocking of the ship, plus the occasional refreshing blast of spray, without having to worry if I’d be washed overboard. The trip as a whole was simply great—I love the water—and I’d recommend it to anyone. (And to note, neither OFB nor anyone else on board, from elders to the numerous children of all ages, seemed the least bit concerned about washing overboard, so it must have just been me.)

This was fun, as was sitting on the dock watching all the ships zip around or majestically sail in or waddle in, blasting their horns, as the golden light turned to darkness and the wind off the Bay cooled us beautifully, supplied as we were with delicious drinks—rum punch for me and Pusser’s Painkiller (medium strength) for OFB—from Pusser’s Caribbean Grill on the dock. I could have sat there all night, but OFB was getting hungry (shock surprise) and finally suggested that we get a move on and find somewhere to eat.

The first night, we decided to simply settle down where we’d started and eat at Pusser’s Caribbean Grill. Named, in case you’re wondering, for the only rum still manufactured to Royal Navy standards. Say Puss-er’s, puss as in pus, not puss. Eeewww. But the rum punch is outstanding, and OFB, who enjoys pina coladas, loved the Painkiller. (The name Pusser comes from “purser,” the guy who made sure a sailing ship in His or Her Majesty’s fleet was well supplied.)

I immediately discovered two dishes I need to recreate in the worst way, Pusser’s amazing mango rice and its even more amazing grits with goat cheese. OFB shared a taste of his mango rice, and it was SO delicious—not sweet, as you might think, but distinctively spicy—that if we’d eaten there again, I might have just gotten a plateful and forgotten about everything else (except unsweetened iced tea and rum punch).

As a Southerner, I love grits, and almost never get to eat them, since good grits are thick and luscious, but making them involves pain, since they love to spit on you as they reach that thick perfection, and being splattered by hot, sticky grits is torture. Here in the North, there are no grits to be found. And in far too many restaurants in the South, grits have become a gross, pasty, tasteless, runny side. Yecchh!!! So to find a restaurant that actually offered grits, and goat cheese grits at that, made me start drooling. But the grits were served as part of the famous coastal shrimp and grits dish. Would Pusser’s be willing to just serve me a side of goat-cheese grits sans shrimp? Indeed they would, and boy, were they delicious! I’m a grits-and-butter fanatic, but no butter was needed to supplement the goat cheese in this thick and luscious grits concoction.

Alas, OFB understandably wanted to try as many of Annapolis’s restaurants as we could manage for lunch and supper while we were there, so we didn’t return to Pusser’s and I never got my fill of goat cheese grits or mango rice. Nor could I find recipes for either online. Nor can I honestly say that I’m willing to endure the hissing, spitting grits agony to even try to make my own, or that I have a clue as to what went into the mango rice. I may just have to resign myself to waiting until our next trip to Annapolis to get the good stuff, and this time, plenty of it.

Which is not to say that Southern nostalgia didn’t play a big role in the rest of my restaurant menu choices. The last meal OFB and I ate in Annapolis, a late lunch after a tour of the Naval Academy’s amazing model ship museum, was at Factors Row Restaurant & Bar. (Like pursers, factors were also Colonial-era professionals, also responsible for goods coming in and going out. IRS, anyone? They eventually gave their name to factories, the places where goods were produced.) I was excited to eat there, since the restaurant prided itself on local sourcing, buying everything from its oysters to its beverages from folks who lived and made their living in the immediate vicinity.

But I was stunned by the artisanal drinks on offer. I had the best drink of my entire life at Factors Row, and only wish I could have tried the entire handmade, locally sourced drinks list. (Er, no. More unsweetened iced tea, please.) Factors’ bartender is a genius. Then there was the food.

I saw that the menu offered another classic Southern side dish, creamed corn. Yum! It had been SO long since I’d had creamed corn. After asking our server if it contained meat and receiving a negative, I ordered it.

If you don’t know creamed corn, here’s a little primer. First, forget the “creamed” part. There’s no cream, or even milk, in most creamed corn. Instead, it’s fresh white corn cut off the cob, then the cobs are scraped down to add the “corn milk” to the corn, then the kernels are mashed or chopped to release even more of their “cream.” To serve, the creamed corn is heated and served with butter, salt and pepper to taste.

To see this simple goodness offered on the Factors Row menu was just too much to resist. And oh my, when the creamed corn arrived, was it rich, creamy and good! Not buttery per se, just rich, mild, and delectably creamy. But it was a rather startling color, sort of a chrome yellow rather than a creamy white-yellow. What the bleep? I asked our server, who asked the chef, who revealed that the secret ingredient was avocado puree. Thank you, Factors Row chef! I would never have thought that avocado would have simply intensified the yellow color of creamed corn rather than turning it olive green or some other unfortunate color like khaki. Now it’s just a matter of perfecting that buttery, delicious creamed corn at home.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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