The Spenard Starter: A Decadent Brunch Experiment

Some time ago, my lady friend and I were at The Bear Tooth for brunch, where a menu item called The Spenard Starter caught my eye. I love polenta dishes, especially at good restaurants, so I ordered it without hesitation. When it arrived, we were blown away by the decadence: A thick slab of polenta, covered with and surrounded by shrimps, chorizo, and grilled tomatoes. All topped off with a spicy Béchamel and two fried eggs. Savory and delicious, it now ranks as my favorite breakfast in Anchorage (supplanting the German Apple Cake at Cafe Amsterdam).

I was immediately taken with a desire to recreate this meal at home. My first attempt ended up tasty, if not quite as good as they do at the restaurant. What follows is my first pass at the recipe (a work in progress):

Spenard Starter
Serves: 3
Time: About 1 hour

Ingredients
3 cups water
1 cup corn grits
5 Tbsp butter (divided)
Salt
Fresh ground black pepper
2 tomatoes
Olive oil
3 green onions (thinly sliced)
2 Tbsp flour
1 ¼ cup whole milk
Hot sauce to taste
½ pound ground chorizo sausage
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
½ tsp crushed red pepper
1 pound large shrimp, peeled
2 Tbsp white wine
2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
6 eggs

Procedure
(1) Preheat oven to 400 F

(2) Make the polenta: Bring water to boil, reduce to simmer. Gradually add corn meal, stirring constantly. Continue to cook until polenta is thick enough to support a spoon (20 to 50 minutes), stirring occasionally to prevent lumping. Remove from heat and add 3 Tbsp butter and salt and pepper to taste. Pour polenta into cake pan lined with parchment paper and place in fridge to set.

(3) Roast the tomatoes: Cut each tomato into 8 wedges, place on baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 400 F until lightly browned (about 20-30 minutes). Set aside.

(4) Make the cream sauce: Melt 2 Tbsp butter in heavy saucepan. Add green onions and saute for one minute. Add flour gradually stirring. Add milk gradually, stirring. Cook until thickened (several minutes). Add hot sauce and salt to taste. Set aside.

(5) Make the shrimp and chorizo: In large skillet, cook chorizo until lightly browned, set aside to paper towel-lined plate. Retain or add (as needed) about 2 Tbsp oil. Add garlic and red pepper, cook until garlic is lightly golden. Increase heat to high and add shrimp, stir to coat. Add white wine and cook (stirring) until pan is nearly dry (2-3 minutes). Return chorizo to pan, season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle with cilantro. Cook until shrimp is opaque. Set aside.

(6) Take the polenta out of the fridge, cut into slabs. Brush each side with olive oil and saute on non-stick pan until lightly browned. Transfer each slab of polenta to a plate. Re-oil pan and crack eggs onto pan. Layer the sauteed shrimp and chorizo onto polenta. Layer on the roasted tomatoes. Spoon on spicy cream sauce. Finish with fried eggs.

Homemade Spenard Starter

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