Shrimp ‘n’ grits. Need I say more?November 27, 2006
For the uninitiated (are there any poor, deprived souls out there?), grits are good. And of course, shrimp is good. Therefore, shrimp and grits are really, really good. It makes perfect sense, and causes me to wonder why I didn’t do better on the damn logic portion of the GRE.
I had never had grits before I attended college in the South, and the school cafeteria didn’t really do them justice. It wasn’t until I ventured to order grits in a restaurant that I acquired a rabid taste for them. Now, I’m slowly eating my way through the (usually shrimp ‘n’) grits offerings at our favorite haunts.
But my husband here has just made it a little bit harder for those establishments: He has set the shrimp ‘n’ grits bar astonishingly high with his latest creation. His shrimp ‘n’ grits combines my favorite sauce for shrimp (spicy and Cajun) with creamy, delicious grits. And the two do play well together: The heat from the buttery cayenne-laced sauce infuses its goodness into the shrimp and veggies, and then mellows out when it hits the thick and creamy grits. If you have a crusty bread roll and a fork, you’ll be a happy camper.
Tuck in, folks. Tuck in.
This recipe poses two interesting culinary issues. The first is regarding grits. Some of you, if not most of you since you are sophisticated cooking folks, will know that what Americans in the South revere as the kitchen-staple grits is also known as polenta. While there are some distinctions like the color of the corn used to make them (grits tending to be white while polenta is yellow), both polenta and grits are just milled corn. So, if you want to call this shrimp and polenta, I think you should go right on and do it. We here at MHC try not to stand on ceremony too much.
The second is people’s familiarity with Lowcounty cuisine. This cuisine is associated with the costal areas of South Carolina and Georgia, and is bound to the rich culture and heritage of cities like Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC. Shrimp and Grits is one of those signature dishes that people who love Lowcounty cookin’ can tell you all about. They take their food in those two cities as serious as any New Yorker or Chicagoan might go on about pizza.
Yet, in recent years, Shrimp and Grits has emerged out of its home region to appear on menus and in cookbooks everywhere. Why? Because it’s simple to make, filled with flavor, and quick. These are things we like at MHC. This recipe takes little prep time and you can make a significant amount. You can also easily adapt this to be a starter with just portion control. You have to love a dish that is quick and flexible to fit your needs.
Finally, while this dish celebrates Lowcountry tradition, I’m also throwing a bit of it out the window. The shrimp I am making are spicy and have more of a New Orleans/Cajun influence. I like the shrimp’s kick against the smoothness of the grits. So, if you are looking for an accurate portrayal of this classic, I’m going to slightly disappoint you. But, I hope you still enjoy it as much as we do.
1. In a large pot, add the water/stock and the salt. Bring the water to a boil.
2. Turn down the heat to medium or medium low. Add the grits and whisky regularly. Cook for 5-10 min. You are look for a creamy consistency.
3. Turn down the heat to a simmer. Add the cheese and whisk until integrated. Cover until ready to serve.
1 lbs. shrimp
3 carrots (chopped)
3 cloves garlic (minced)
2 ribs celery (chopped)
1 shallot (diced)
1 jalapeño (sliced)
1 cup beer (light/wheat) or white wine
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. fresh cilantro (finely chopped)
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. red pepper flake
1 tsp. salt
1. In a medium-sized pot over high heat, add the olive oil. Once the olive oil is hot enough to shimmer (about 30 seconds), add the carrots, celery, shallots, and jalapeño. After about 3 min, turn down the heat to medium and add the garlic. Cook for another 2-3 min while stirring regularly.
2. Add the spice mix, and cook for another 2-3 min. You are trying to toast the spices. Be careful not to let them burn. By the end of this period, the shallot should be nearly transparent and the other vegetables should be soft.
3. Add the beer or wine. Turn up the heat to bring to a boil.
(NOTE: I’ve made shrimp with both beer and wine. My recommendation is that you choose a beer that is light in color and flavor. My preferences are towards a wheat beer like a hefeweizen or a pilsner—something light and refreshing. As for wine, my preference is towards a chardonnay on the dry side. Experiment or use what you have on hand. I also suspect if you don’t use alcohol, a chicken stock will serve the purpose of the dish as well.)
4. Add the cilantro, lime juice and shrimp. Stir until the shrimp are integrated. The shrimp should already begin to turn pink. Turn down the heat to medium low, cover the pot with a lid and let cook for 5 min or until the shrimp are done.
(NOTE: I peel my shrimp before cooking. I like this being a one bowl dish, and I can take care of the mess of the shells before cooking. However, I can see an argument that leaving the shells on the shrimp will likely protect the meat better and leave it more tender. I think this is a choice you can make.)
5. Turn off the heat. Serve the shrimp, including the liquid, over the cheese grits. Salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!