Everyone’s got an opinion on brunch, the love-it-or-hate-it weekend meal: “Why wouldn’t I just eat lunch instead?”, “Who wants to wait until noon to eat pancakes?”, “Is my server pissed off, hung over, or both?” Anthony Bourdain laments that brunch “is punishment block for the B Team cooks… Most chefs are off Sundays too, so supervision is at a minimum. Consider that before ordering the seafood frittata.” Eww.
The brunch protocol goes something like this: Drunkenly agree to meet your friends for brunch. Wake up late and disoriented with a huge Katzenjammer. Sheepishly text your friends (who are also hung over and impatiently waiting at the restaurant) to say that your lack of motivation, hydration and Advil are preventing you from peeling your sorry ass out of bed and hauling it over to said restaurant. Drink a glass of water. Dry heave. Cry. Go back to bed.
The last time Hubs and I ate at Café Rue Orleans, it was for brunch. In fact, we ended up there because of someone’s late-night, alcohol-fueled idea, only to be one of two couples to actually show up. Irritation aside, we all had a wonderful meal, complete with grit fritters, Eggs Pontchartrain and some of the most delicious Creole shrimp I’ve ever shoved in my face. If you haven’t been to Café Rue for brunch, you really should go. It’s not to be missed.
The Creole shrimp left such an impression on me that I was determined to replicate the recipe at home. After my usual grocery run on Saturday morning, I went to Richard’s Meat Market to check out their shrimp. They had some really nice wild-caught Gulf shrimp that caught my eye (no worries, BP didn’t get its oily hands on these babies). I got a pound, along with a couple of house-made spicy Louisiana sausages.
Later that night, I began to piece together the ingredients for my version of Café Rue’s masterpiece. I started by making a batch of polenta, which is the same polenta used in the popular Polenta Pie from March. I know grits are the norm here, but I find polenta creamier and tastier than plain ol’ grits.
I also decided to add the sausages to the shrimp, to heighten the flavor (and ultimately the color) of the dish. Along with the sausage and shrimp, escarole, tomatoes and plenty of garlic rounded out the list of ingredients. I opted to make the sauce brothy rather than creamy like Café Rue’s; I thought I’d save my conscience – and my thighs – the anguish. The steps here are pretty simple; all the ingredients cook together quickly and without much ado, making this a great choice for a fuss-free weeknight meal.
The flavors in the dish are rich and spicy, and the brothy sauce over the creamy polenta makes for a mouth-watering combination. For those who want a little more kick, feel free to add a few liberal dashes of cayenne pepper. In about half an hour, you’ll feel like you just stepped out of your kitchen and into the French Quarter, minus the epic hangover. Enjoy!
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Spicy Sausage & Shrimp with Polenta
1 recipe for basic polenta (see below)
1 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 head escarole, roughly chopped
2 hot Louisiana or Italian sausages, casings removed
1 c. chopped tomatoes
3/4 c. white wine
1 lb. shrimp, peeled & deveined
salt & pepper to taste
3 c. milk
1 Tbs. butter
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. yellow cornmeal
For the polenta: combine the milk, butter, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat just to a simmer. Slowly add the cornmeal in a thin stream, whisking constantly. Lower the heat to low and continue stirring with a spoon until the mixture has thickened and begins to leave the sides of the pan, about 7 minutes.
For the sausage and shrimp: heat the butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and escarole, season with salt and pepper and cook until the escarole is tender and wilted, about 3 minutes. Transfer the escarole and garlic to a plate. Add the sausage to the pan, breaking it up with a spoon. Cook the sausage until it’s browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the wine, bring the pan to a boil and cook for 3 minutes.
Add the shrimp. Cover the pan and cook over medium high heat until the shrimp are cooked through, about 4 minutes. Return the escarole and garlic to the pan, and season with salt and pepper.
Divide the polenta among bowls, and top with the sausage and shrimp mixture, along with some of the cooking liquid. Serve immediately.
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