ROBERT ST JOHN: There’s a lot of gratitude surrounding comfort foods

By Robert St. John

Quick, name you favorite comfort food.

Most of the world sees comfort food as a rare treat or guilty pleasure. To many, it’s an every-once-in-a-while food item that can satisfy our hunger, make us feel good, and take us back to our mother and grandmother’s kitchens, all at once.

The beauty of Southern cuisine is that most of what we eat on a regular basis is considered by the rest of the country to be comfort food.

I found a list of “comfort foods” on the Internet. It listed items such as: Chicken pot pie, chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, apple pie, and banana pudding. Down here we just call that “dinner.” Those are food items many of us— the lucky ones— eat in a typical week.

To me, a comfort food is something that is not in a weekly— or even monthly— rotation. It should be a treat. It’s the food that gets me excited before a meal, makes me happy during a meal, and makes me grateful after the meal.

Based on those criteria, boiled fresh-Gulf shrimp would qualify as my number one comfort food.

Boiled shrimp are seasonal, so the “not in a weekly— or even monthly— rotation” criteria holds true. It is definitely a food that gets me excited before I eat it. It most certainly makes me happy while I eat it. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that there has ever been a time that I sat down to a plate of freshly boiled shrimp and haven’t been extremely grateful that I just ate a plate of freshly boiled shrimp.

Boiled shrimp are the ultimate coastal comfort food. Boiled crawfish are fine. They are popular in this part of the world. If I am at a crawfish boil, I will eat boiled crawfish and be content. But I’m mostly eating them because they are there and that is why I came. Though if I am at a shrimp boil, I will eat. I will smile. And I will be grateful.

Boiled shrimp also take me back to my childhood, to summers on the Gulf Coast, and in the kitchen of my childhood home. My mother boiled shrimp well and she boiled them often. She is responsible for my love of comfort food growing from a fondness to a passion.

Her meatloaf left a little to be desired, but she more than made up for it when she cooked gumbo or boiled shrimp.

Comfort food is gratitude.

These days I am “all about” comfort food. Since returning from an extended trip overseas, I have eaten chicken pot pie at least once a week for the last eight weeks. I never sit down to a plate of chicken pot pie that I don’t feel grateful. Seriously, it’s one of my favorite comfort foods and I am grateful to be eating it every time I eat it.

Yesterday I ate boiled shrimp and I was grateful before, during, and after.

Life is too short to be eating foods that don’t make me grateful— grateful to have a wonderful family to share a meal with, grateful to live in a country that has such a bountiful amount of food, and grateful to live in the South, where the food just tastes better.

Boiled Shrimp

3 qts Water
3 Tbl Crab boil, powdered (or 2 Tbl liquid)
2 Tbl Creole Seasoning
2 Bay leaves
2 Lemons, quartered
4 Tbl Salt
1 Tbl Black peppercorns, whole
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
2 lbs Fresh Gulf Shrimp, large, head on, and unpeeled

Place all ingredients except the shrimp in a large saucepot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down so the mixture comes to a fast simmer. Continue to boil for 20 minutes. Place the shrimp in the simmering liquid. Stir well, cover, then remove the saucepot from the heat and let the shrimp steep in the hot liquid for 8-10 minutes (or until just cooked through). Remove and drain shrimp. Spread on a cookie sheet and place in refrigerator to cool. Or eat right away. Yield: six to eight servings

Cocktail Sauce

1 1 /2 cups Ketchup
1/4 cup Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 /4 cup Horseradish, prepared
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 /2 tsp Black pepper, fresh ground
1 1 /2 tsp Salt
Hot sauce to taste

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate two hours before serving. Yield: two cups.