One great plate: Striped Bass on the Griddle

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:09

    GRITS, A TRADITIONAL Southern breakfast staple, has developed a taste for nightlife. Chef Tom Kearney at The Farm on Adderley, a local favorite in underserved Ditmas Park, has taken “Southern oatmeal” to new heights by moving it away from the morning meal and onto the dinner plate.

    Since early summer, Kearney has employed the corn-based victual as a creamy foundation for Striped Bass on the Griddle ($17), his Yankee take on Low Country comfort food. He isn’t alone in his affection for the side dish, gussied up grits are popping up on dinner menus all over the city.Why now? “I always have corn on the brain,” says Kearney, “so it seemed natural to use it. It’s all part of the vocabulary of American cooking.”

    Grits go as far back as 1607, when Native Americans, who called it “Rockahomine,” served a version made with softened corn, salt and animal fat to Sir Walter Raleigh and his men.The dish begins with ground dried corn kernels most often reconstituted with water, though some cooks favor broth, milk or cream. For breakfast it’s almost always topped with a big dollop of butter.

    Kearney favors a coarse, white, stoneground variety and cooks it the traditional way—with water, stirring until it’s silky but retains a touch of grainy texture. He finishes it with butter, a generous amount of salt and a touch of sugar.

    “Grits are a lighter alternative to potatoes, yet hearty. And it’s a great contrast to the fish,” the chef says. After tasting the dish recently, I have to agree. Slightly salty and creamy yet not cloying, the grits provide just enough contrast in taste and texture to the meaty, crisp-skinned bass filet that Kearney serves them beneath.

    That flavor combination isn’t the only thing going for the dish: It’s a beauty. Perched over the bass are wedges of gold and green pattypan squash, lightly sautéed until they’re just soft. A ring of curry oil circles the fish, turning the grits deep orange where they touch.

    The contrast of the soft, ivory-colored grits to the fish’s bronze crust and the bright notes of the vegetable are offset by the spice’s saturated hue. It’s a simple plate, in keeping with The Farm’s no fuss, ingredients-first style, yet its taste hits all the right flavor and texture notes.

    Try it with a glass of crisp, aromatic Gerwurztraminer from South Africa ($10 a glass). Kearney is a restless chef who won’t stay married to an entree for too long. In the next few weeks he plans to swap the bass for something else, “like skate,” he says, and maybe replace the curry oil with blood orange emulsion.

    One thing that won’t change is the grits. For this dish, anything else would be small potatoes.

    > The Farm on Adderly

    1108 Cortelyou Rd. (betw. Stratford & Westminster Rds.), Brooklyn,