Grits are riding a wave of popularity these days even though they’re not displayed proudly on the end-caps of your favorite grocery store. It’s a food that brings the diner plenty of soul satisfaction. Versatile, easy to prepare and delicious. I love them with butter, salt and pepper.
In part 1 I shared the basics in preparing grits. Don’t be alarmed by the title, grits are not tough to prepare and they’re not tough on the palate. They are tough by being resilient; they can stand up to heating and reheating. In short, they’re hard to mess up.
NEW NOTE: August 3, 2013 – I just finished watching this outstanding episode of ‘Good Eats’ called True Grits. – Enjoy yer piksher show! ~TH~
One of the popular dishes making it’s way ever northward is Shrimp And Grits. I’m uncertain as to the origin of the dish but I like to think it first showed up in or near New Orleans (I’ll leave you to research that). Regardless of it’s birthplace it’s getting some renewed attention on restaurant menus. It pops up as a breakfast, a side dish and an appetizer. I’ve made shrimp & grits before with good results, but I just knew I could do it better; and I did. Here was my thought process in improving my own recipe.
First of all, grits are bland by themselves. If you boil water and drop in your grits you’ll be bored beyond belief. Like potatoes they really cry out for two things – salt and fat. Salt boosts the subtle flavor of grits and they deliver other flavors evenly and consistently on the magic carpet that is fat. If the words salt and fat placed so closely together alarms you, I beseech you to shift your thinking. Good cooks use salt to lift food flavors, and there are a great many types of fat (oils) that you can use that are very healthy. When both elements are used sparingly they bring the dish together on the tongue. Have you ever had perfect mashed potatoes? Then you know what I’m talking about. Think ahead and you’re palate will reward you ten fold.
So yes, grits are bland. Well- shrimp are kind of bland too, and in thinking about my preparation I realized that boosting the delicate flavor of shrimp can be a tricky business. If you boil shrimp and eat the shrimp you get a very subtle, one-dimensional experience. If you boil shrimp in salted water, add lemon and serve them chilled with a hearty (homemade please) cocktail sauce- eureka! The shrimp flavor comes forward delightfully. “Ah-ha” I thought, “I need to remember that both foods- shrimp and grits- are bland, but both are great companions for other flavors. Now my second dilemma…
In my past incarnations of the dish I discovered that the shrimp tasted good and the grits tasted good, but they didn’t meld together. I needed to come up with a way to get these crazy kids together in a “PB&J” kind of way. Ideas rattled and re-rattled in my head for three weeks before I was bold enough to try the following recipe. I just couldn’t bear it if I made one more batch of Shrimp And Grits that were “OK”. I needed to cook two complimentary flavor sets that, when combined, create a dashing tuxedo.
- 1 cup of grits
- 3 1/2 cups water + 1 cup more
- 3 tbsp half & half
- 5 green onions
- 1 tbsp butter
- Olive oil
- 15 uncooked shrimp (peeled and deveined)
- 1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
- Kosher salt
- Garlic powder
- Old bay seasoning
- Black pepper
THE GRITS: Can be done ahead – Place a medium size pot over high heat and get that water going- three and a half cups. Stir in a dash of kosher salt as the water heats up. When the salt is dissolved add the grits- no need to wait until the water is boiling. Stir the grits well making sure they don’t stick to the bottom or sides. You’ll want to stir this pot every five minutes or so. As soon as the grits come to a boil lower the flame, stir well and put a lid on the pot. Don’t forget to stir and taste as you go! Here is a handy way to taste food without burning your lips. As the grits break down stir in additional water as necessary- you’re shooting for a creamy consistency. When you taste you’re checking for two things; texture and flavor. If the flavor is bland add another dash of kosher salt, stir and taste again. You want to taste grits, not salt. At this point you’ll want to grind in some black pepper and a dash of Old Bay seasoning. When the grits are a nice creamy texture with a subtle flavor turn off the heat *. Stir in 2-3 tbsp of half and half (add cold to hot) and mix well. Taste and season as necessary. Finally, stir in a little of the Gruyere cheese, again tasting as you go. Don’t overdo it on the cheese.
* NOTE: I did this work while I also cooked the shrimp. If you have never made grits you may want to do them first so you can give them your full attention. At this point you can just leave them in the pot- don’t worry, they’ll be just fine. If you’re doing the grits hours (or a day) in advance then skip the half & half. You can refrigerate the grits, then add the cream when you reheat the grits for the full recipe. Be sure to get the grits good and hot again (add a little water if they’re sticky) before adding the cream.
THE SHRIMP: Rinse the shrimp and pat dry with paper towels. If you bought frozen raw shrimp you can thaw them in a bowl of cool water 15 minutes beforehand. Wash and chop the green onions, discarding the roots. Set aside a few raw chopped onions for garnish.
In a medium size sauce pan put 1 tbsp butter over medium heat. When the butter sizzles (don’t let it brown) add the chopped onions, a dash of garlic powder and a pinch of kosher salt. Allow the onions to simmer in the butter until they begin to break down. Continue stirring the onions until soft and broken. Remove the onions to a small dish and set aside, leaving the remaining butter in the pan.
Now put a little olive oil into your pan. Over medium heat gently lay 7-8 dry shrimp into the oil in a single layer. Cook one side of the shrimp for 3-4 minutes (you can stir the shrimp, but don’t flip them. You’re cooking one side at a time). With small tongs or a fork flip the shrimp and cook the second side until done (they’ll be pink and tasty looking!). Remove the shrimp to a bowl and set aside. Discard the used oil and add a small amount of fresh oil to the pan. Cook the second batch of shrimp the same way and then set those aside. Turn off the heat but keep the used oil in the pan this time.
PUT IT TOGETHER: Remove the tail shells from the shrimp and discard the shells. Carefully cut all but 4 shrimp into small pieces.
Put half of the grits into the saucepan with the hot shrimp oil and stir over medium heat. As the grits get hot again slowly add the remaining grated cheese and cooked onions- continue stirring. We’re using this oil to bring the shrimp and grits flavors together! Now add the shrimp pieces and the rest of the grits to the pan. Stir until it’s all incorporated, then remove from heat. Garnish with whole shrimp, raw green onion and (if you like) additional cheese. Enjoy! ~TH~
DID YOU TRY THIS RECIPE? Shoot me a comment here and let me know how it turned out!
Good friend Judy found a sign that confirms my suspicions… S&G are on the rise!