(THE NEW YORK TIMES) - Creamed corn does not need any help.
A perfectly simple dish of just two ingredients — corn and cream — simmered down into something rich, complex and just sweet enough, creamed corn asks for nothing else - not even salt and pepper.
That said, as much as I adore its inherent minimalism, there are times when I cannot resist throwing something else into the pan.
Once, I tried Gorgonzola and liked what I got. Ever since, a handful of crumbled or grated cheese has become a regular addition when I want something tangy to offset the sweetness of the kernels. Feta, with its briny snap, works especially well as it is creamy and bracing; A little goes a long way.
This summer, I took my cheesy creamed corn even further and turned that side dish into a meal by using it as a base for sauteed shrimp.
The combination is an inauthentic take on shrimp and grits. Instead of dried, ground corn, I substituted creamed corn with feta. The fresh corn is lighter than its porridge-like counterpart and sweeter too. And the feta vaguely recalls the grated cheddar that is often added to the grits pot.
As I was playing fast and loose with the grits part of the equation, I kept the shrimp bit fairly straightforward. I started with a base of onions and peppers cooked down with ripe August tomatoes. Then, I added the shrimp, seasoning it all with hot sauce, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Classic flavors, simply wrought.
As always, when cooking shrimp, it is worth the effort to seek out excellent quality, preferably wild-caught crustaceans. You want extra-large shrimp - 12 to 16 to a pound (454g) is about right. Then, take care not to overcook them. Just after they start turning pink all over, pull the pan off the stove and let the residual heat finish the cooking process. They should be succulent and not at all shrivelled.
As soon as the shrimp are done, spoon them onto the creamy corn.
You could certainly stop there. But I did not. First, I sprinkled on a handful of crumbled feta, which acts almost like creamy salt, bringing together the flavours. Then, I added a heap of fresh basil and cilantro. If either garnish offends you, just leave it off.
Or, try it once my way and then do it your way next time. There is plenty of corn season left this year to make this dish your own.
Shrimp With Creamed Corn and Feta
1 ½ pounds extra-large peeled shrimp (12-16 for 454g)
¾ tsp kosher salt, more to taste
3 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
5 Tbs unsalted butter
¼ cup heavy cream
4 cups corn kernels (from 6 to 7 ears corn)
½ cup crumbled feta cheese, more for serving
Black pepper, to taste
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
2 small red onions, diced
1 large poblano chilli or green bell pepper, diced
2 large ripe tomatoes, diced
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Large dash of Worcestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce, preferably Tabasco
Cilantro leaves, for serving
Basil leaves, for serving
1. In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with salt and garlic and let rest in the refrigerator until needed (up to two hours).
2. In a medium saucepan, melt one tablespoon of butter with the cream over medium heat. Add the corn, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring once or twice, until the corn is very soft, for 10 to 15 minutes. If all the moisture evaporates before the corn is soft, add a few teaspoons of water to the pan.
3. Using an immersion blender or regular blender, blend the corn mixture until you get a chunky puree. Mix in the feta, black pepper and salt to taste. Cover and keep warm until needed.
4. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and pepper and saute until pale golden and soft, for seven minutes. Add the tomatoes, a large pinch of salt and a tablespoon or two of water if the pan looks dry. Saute until the tomatoes break down and turn saucelike, for about eight minutes.
5. Add the shrimp and lemon juice as well as the Worcestershire and hot sauces. Saute until the shrimp are pink and cooked through, for two to four minutes. Stir remaining butter into the pan and add more salt, if needed.
6. Serve the corn topped with shrimp and plenty of crumbled feta. Garnish with cilantro and basil.