Excuse me while I suck my boss.
Not long ago, my editor casually mentioned that her favorite thing to eat is shrimp and grits. Suddenly, and for reasons as mysterious as they are inexplicable, I was struck with a consuming desire to write about shrimp and grits.
Luckily, like almost anyone who has ever had it, I love shrimp and grits. I still remember the first time I tried it: It was in a small neighborhood bistro in Richmond, Virginia, maybe 30 years ago. Despite living only a few hours from South Carolina, where the dish originated and became popular, I hadn’t even heard of it back then.
I was immediately intrigued. Soft, creamy grits topped with highly seasoned, perfectly cooked shrimp? It sounded great. And it was. It was one of those dishes you know you’ll be ordering for the rest of your life.
I can’t remember ever trying to cook it. But for the sake of my editor (more sucking up!) I decided to make the best, richest, and creamiest shrimp and grits I could.
And then I backtracked on that idea. I originally planned to use heavy whipping cream in the grits, but no one needs that many calories in their life. Half and half will be fine, I thought.
It was more than fine. It was spectacular. Frankly, the heavy cream would have just gilded the lily and then drowned it in cream.
Making shrimp and grits is a two-part process. Part one is the grits. Part two, as you’ve already deduced, is the shrimp.
Usually grits are made by pouring hominy (treated cornmeal) into boiling water and cooking it until the corn has absorbed the liquid and has become soft and tasty.
But soft and tasty isn’t good enough for the shrimp and grits I wanted to make. I wish my grits had oomph, had oomph. I wanted them so much that it would be an insult to call them grits.
I started with stone-ground grits, which are to grits what whole-wheat flour is to all-purpose flour. It contains the outer part of the kernel, the part that gets stuck in your teeth when you eat popcorn. This process gives the grits more texture, but that’s less important than the fact that it also gives a richer corn flavor.
Most importantly, I didn’t boil them in water. Good cooks know that grains always taste better when cooked in a flavorful stock, so I used chicken stock for half of my cooking liquid. The other half was half and half.
That’s the part that could have been whipped cream, but let’s not be ridiculous. The half and half made the grits rich and creamy enough, especially when I stirred in some sharp cheddar cheese.
The grits were remarkable in their own right, but they are only half a dish. I wanted the other half, the shrimp half, to be just as good as the grits.
I started with bacon, of course.
I made a few slices of thick-cut bacon and used the bacon fat to cook chopped onion, celery, and green bell pepper. Yes, that’s a combination of ingredients from New Orleans, not South Carolina, but they also know how to cook shrimp in New Orleans.
Then I tossed some shrimp in my own mixture of celery salt, paprika, cayenne, and black pepper, and sautéed them with the bacon-scented veggies.
I dusted everything with a few tablespoons of flour and stirred it to make a quick roux. All it took was more chicken stock to make a thick and ridiculously tasty sauce.
But don’t just take my word for it. I gave some to my shrimp-and-groats-loving editor. She tasted it and said with a big smile on her face, “It’s perfect.”
SHRIMP AND GRITS
Yield: 4 servings
- 2 1/2 cups plus 3/4 cup chicken stock, divided
- 2 1/2 cups half-and-half
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/8 teaspoons black pepper, divided
- 1 cup grits, preferably stone ground
- 3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 2 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
- 1/3 cup green bell pepper, cut into small cubes
- 1/3 cup onion, diced small
- 1/2 cup celery, cut into small cubes
- 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1. In a large saucepan over high heat, combine 2 1/2 cups chicken stock and half and half. Add butter, salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Stir in the kernels and bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 40 to 50 minutes until tender, stirring frequently. Scrape the bottom of the pan while stirring to prevent the grains from sticking. Grits are done when bubbles grow large, such as volcanic magma or hot mud pools, or when they have the texture of wet mashed potatoes. Remove from fire. Add cheese and stir until well blended. Cover to keep warm.
2. Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a large frying pan over medium heat. Remove bacon cubes with a spoon and reserve, leaving the bacon fat in the pan. Add green bell pepper, onion, and celery to pan and cook until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes.
3. Combine celery salt, paprika, cayenne pepper, and remaining 1/8 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl and sprinkle over shrimp; toss until evenly coated. Add shrimp and vegetable oil to the pan and cook until shrimp are almost pink and curled. Sprinkle with flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add the remaining 3/4 cup chicken stock and cook, stirring, until the liquid thickens.
4. To serve, spoon shrimp and sauce over grits, and top with reserved crispy bacon.
Per serving: 774 calories; 42 grams of fat; 24 g saturated fat; 290 grams of cholesterol; 44 g protein; 55 grams of carbohydrates; 11 grams of sugar; 3 grams of fiber; 1,355 mg sodium; 433mg calcium
— Recipe by Daniel Neman