#RecipeUpTop (details below):
For the grits:
- 1 pint Maine lobster stock (or shellfish stock, or chicken stock, or water if you’re boring);
- 1 cup coarse yellow grits;
- 1 bay leaf;
- 1/4 cup whole milk;
- 1/4 cup shredded jack/colby cheese blend;
- Salt (to taste)
For the shrimp:
- 1lb of U.S. wild-caught shrimp, preferably shell and head on;
- 4 rashers of bacon;
- 3 cloves of garlic;
- 2 tomatoes;
- 1 red bell pepper;
- 1 cup chopped green onions;
- Salt (to taste);
- Cayenne (to taste);
Method: In a medium pot, start cold stock with grits over medium heat, and salt by feel as if salting to eat a final product, and add the bay leaf. Whisk continuously until thickened and bubbling, then add milk, remove from heat, and let stand for fifteen (15) minutes. Add cheese, stir to melt, and taste for seasoning. Let stand, covered, until service, but not more than thirty (30) more minutes.
Render the bacon in a skillet until well-cooked, then remove. Dice veg and add tomatoes and red bell pepper to rendered bacon fat, over low heat until softened. Add garlic and half the chopped green onion, and cook over low heat for three (3) minutes. Chop bacon and return to pan, along with shrimp. Bump heat to med-high, and sauté until shrimp are cooked through. Taste for salt and cayenne, and add to preference.
Serve shrimp and sauce over grits, and garnish with remaining green onion.
So, it’s finally come to this.
I’ve avoided posting about this dish for more than a year now, because, like misquoting a line from Doctor Who, this concoction has the ability to summon an army of naysayers and traditionalists all too eager to shout down any perceived slights to this classic.
Emotions run high with shrimp and grits, is my point. And rightfully so. It’s a South Carolina point of pride, and one too often ruined by cheap ingredients, poor methods, or bizarre flights of fancy (spoiler: there’s one big one in my version, but I’m prepared to defend it).
Done right, the end result should be a creamy, slightly brine-driven, toothy bowl of grits with snappy-sweet shrimp in a sauce that’s equal parts savory, spicy, and rich. The sort of thing that stops all conversation and civilized interaction until it’s done.
The good news? It’s easy, it’s beyond delicious, and it’s the sort of thing that dinner guests will start asking for ahead of time. But, as always, there are a few tricks that do some serious heavy-lifting here. Let’s ride.
Step one: the grits. Get your COLD stock (or water) in a pot with your bay leaf, add your grits, and salt lightly:
I’m using lobster stock here because I live on the coast of Maine, and I’m privileged to be swimming in the stuff. But, other shellfish stock would work, as would chicken. You can use water if you must, but be warned the final product will be missing something. Really, even veg stock would be alright.
So, this is the first hill I’ll need to defend from the traditionalists: starting the grits in cold liquid. I’ve been cooking grits a long time, and here’s the thing: it’s more about the TIME in the stock than it is about the TEMPERATURE of the stock. Our goal here is a well-cooked grit, fully saturated with our delicious ambrosia. Boiling the living hell out of it won’t make that happen any faster, but it will amplify the inconsistency of different sizes of grit.
In other words, you have coarse-ground grits that are all different shapes and sizes. If you go pedal-to-the-metal on this, the little ones will be mush and the big ones won’t be done. If you go lower and slower, everything gets there at the same time. Got it?
So, put the spurs to it over medium heat, and whisk constantly until thickened:
This is one of those things like risotto where you really do need to be there the whole time, keeping things moving. If you aren’t, this will clump and burn on the bottom. Good news is it only takes a bout ten (10) minutes. When it’s thickened like the above photo, whisk in your milk, cover and get it off the heat, and let stand for fifteen (15) minutes.
Again, bring your pitchforks and torches about this. I don’t care.
After the fifteen (15) minutes, add your cheese, stir until melted, get that damn bay leaf out of there, and taste for salt. If it needs some, add some. NOTE: at this point, it’s still going to look a little loose, which is good.
It will set up further while we make the shrimp. Speaking of:
Step two: the shrimp. Really, this dish should be called grits and shrimp, but that’s just me. Anyway, the “shrimp” part of the equation starts with… bacon, oddly enough. Get four (4) rashers rendering in a skillet over medium-low heat.
Yes, cooking the bacon is important, but what we’re REALLY after here is the rendered fat, so go SLOW:
That is the foundation of ecstasy. Keep it warm while you dice the veg:
Aaaaaaaand here’s that “flight of fancy” I mentioned earlier. Tomatoes.
Almost nobody does this, and I don’t get it. Tomatoes and bacon are a natural paring, and have an acidity that cuts the high fat-load of this meal. Further, I pull the seeds and gelatin out of them to cut down on excess moisture. Trust me on this one, you want these in the dish.
Oh, tomatoes can’t go in cast iron you say? Well, typically yes, but this skillet has been cured into oblivion, and we’re talking short timeframes here. Relax. RELAX.
Anyway, tomatoes and red bell pepper into the pan. DO NOT ADD SALT YET (bacon is already pretty salty):
Stir this around over medium heat until the tomatoes give up some of their liquid, then add half the onions and the garlic:
Keep this moving around for another three (3) minutes, and get ready to throw elbows on the people in your household who will show up to look over your shoulder.
Chop the cooked bacon, and get it in here along with the shrimp, and boost the heat to medium-high:
My Evergreen Note About Shrimp: BUY AMERICAN WILD CAUGHT. Look, I’m a huge proponent of aquaculture, but foreign farmed shrimp are… concerning, and there’s no domestic shrimp aquaculture to speak of. So, wild caught it is. Oh, and frozen is great. Yay shrimp.
Lastly, I heavily, HEAVILY prefer shell-on for this. There’s a ton of flavor in them thar shells, and yeah, it’s a little messier, but it’s worth it. That said, if you can only get peeled, that’ll work just fine.
Move these around until they’re pink ‘n’ pretty:
Now, for the first time, taste it for salt. Add cayenne if you want (you should), and more salt if need be. Why cayenne at the very end? Well, these are supposed to punch you a bit, and I find adding it late helps sharpen the point on that spear, so to speak. It’s a quick hit of heat that is cooled by the rest of the sauce, versus the whole thing being lava, if that makes sense. Think of it like adding black pepper at the end and stop harassing me about it.
Plate up your grits, add a hearty helping of shrimp and sauce, and garnish with the remaining green onion:
If you’ve done this right, it won’t need hot sauce, but it’s polite to have some (Tabasco) around just in case.
And there it is, a southern classic in about half an hour. Feed this to company and be smug.