The Chefs: Ryan Holbird

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From Staff Reports

The Chefs column highlights our local culinary masters. They share a recipe that has a lot of meaning to them and thankfully, how to make it. (Well at least most of it, sometimes secrets must remain that.) This month’s chef is Ryan Holbird.

Ryan Holbird

I was born in Charleston, S.C. and grew up in a family that adhered to a tradition of large family reunions throughout the year. Big gatherings meant plenty of food, and I grew up on a diet of country cooking, soul food, and Gullah-Geechee cuisine.

Shortly after my wife and I married, I took a job that gave me the opportunity to travel (and eat!) among different cultures around the world. I returned from each trip with new ideas for things to cook and my fondness for cooking grew as I tried to duplicate those experiences for the ones I loved back home.

The Great Lockdown of 2020 changed me from road-warrior to work-from-home status literally overnight, and I had the opportunity to cook more often than ever before.  With restaurant options limited, we began hosting dinner with our best friends throughout the week, and with each meal we tried to top the previous with something fun and new so as to never get bored.  Preparing good food for those I love is one of the most fulfilling hobbies I have.

Mama’s Shrimp Angel Hair Alfredo

Mama’s Shrimp Angel Hair Alfredo

My grandmother knew this simple – yet rich – dish was my favorite and would make it for me whenever my family returned home to visit her in Charleston. We had a family place on a river where we could cast a net for shrimp right off our dock, and we always had a good supply of wild-caught seafood.

This dish was so special to me that it was the first dish I made for my wife when we were dating.  My grandmother did a great job teaching me how to make the sauce and I wanted to impress this girl I was beginning to like.  Unfortunately, as good as I was at the sauce I knew nothing about how to make pasta.  What I served her was an amazing shrimp and sauce mixture served over mushy noodles that made for a very disappointing first impression, cooking-wise.  She married me anyway, so maybe it really is the thought that counts.

Over the years I’ve tweaked the recipe and added some things – if you want it “like Mama used to make,” skip the (optional) steps.  This recipe will make 3-4 servings.

Begin heating a pot of water – you’ll want it boiling so you can add the pasta when the sauce and shrimp are complete so the meal comes together in time.

Prepare the sauce by heating the following in a double boiler and stirring frequently:

• 16 oz half and half

• 6 tbsp butter (I prefer a rich European or Irish butter)

• ½ cup white wine or chardonnay (the alcohol will boil off, leaving a wonderful flavor undertone)

• 4 tbsp chopped fresh dill (leaves only, do not include the stems)

• 1-2 tbsp kosher salt

• A slurry of 3 tsp corn starch mixed well in 5 tbsp cold water to thicken sauce (wait until above mixture is hot to add the slurry)

• ½ cup frozen peas, added gradually as the mixture heats so as not to quench it (optional)

• ¼ cup freshly-grated parmesan cheese (not bagged), grated with a micro-planer for a smoother melt (optional)

• 3 tbsp red pepper flakes (optional)

The sauce can remain in the double boiler without the risk of scalding as you prepare the next steps.

In a separate pan, prepare the shrimp in the following order:

• 1 tbsp butter, hot in pan

• ½ cup finely diced sweet onion (added to hot butter to soften)

• 4 cloves garlic, minced (added after onion is softened)

• ¾ lb peeled shrimp (I prefer small shrimp, 50-60 ct. per lb) (added after garlic has been mixed in)

• 2 cups chopped fresh spinach (it will cook down) (optional)

• Blackening or cajun seasoning (optional)

Once sauce and shrimp are prepared, make the angel hair according to directions.

Serve by spooning sauce over a bed of pasta, add shrimp, top with diced chives and freshly grated parmesan (optional).  Cracked peppercorn to taste.

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