Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shrimp and Grits

In my never-ending list of things I've either never tried or never liked, I have always placed grits somewhere firmly at the top. I'm not a mush kind of gal; I dislike mashed potatoes, do not care for oatmeal, etc. So it should come as no surprise that I never even attempted eating or making grits before in my life. But then, a funny thing happened. I asked my husband what meal he would like me to prepare for his birthday dinner, and I was fully expecting him to say Chicken and Dumplings. Well, he didn't. Instead, he asked me to make Shrimp and Grits. He's never actually had Shrimp and Grits as a meal before, but he loves shrimp and he loves grits separately. Turns out, he's always wanted to try it together. Determined to make him proud, I figured I would make this for him, and then make up my mind when I was serving it about whether I would give it a taste.

It's actually super simple to make. Now, admittedly, I did cheat a little bit, and I used quick-cooking grits rather than making my own from scratch, with cornmeal. Other than that, I was pretty faithful to the recipe. I found this recipe in my Bobby Flay's Throwdown cookbook, and although Bobby did not take home the crown in the Shrimp and Grits battle, I was still drawn to his version above the other one. The grits are simmered in shrimp stock, which you make from scratch using shrimp shells and tails and assorted vegetables. Then, they're finished with a heaping pile of white cheddar cheese and a touch of heavy cream. The shrimp is sauteed in bacon fat infused with garlic, then piled on top of the cheesy, creamy grits. The bacon (which of course is the source of that bacon fat) and some green onion is scattered over the top. Not including the time it took to make the homemade shrimp stock, this whole meal can be on the table in half an hour, so you can't beat it for its fast prep.

So, the verdict? Hubby was actually pretty underwhelmed by it, and I actually really liked it! Totally not the two reactions I was expecting, to be sure! It's not that my hubby hated it, but he kept saying it just was not what he thought it would be. I think because the recipe had Bobby Flay's name attached to it, he was anticipating some spice or heat to the shrimp. He also said it was his first time eating cheesy grits that were so creamy, and that it was just okay. I was a bit disappointed about his reaction, since it was his special dinner. He still ate two huge helpings, though, so it wasn't a complete loss!

I had a really small portion, since I didn't know how I would feel about it, but I could have eaten more. The shrimp was juicy and crisp, and of course bacon fat always makes things better. The grits were definitely creamy, but I didn't mind the texture nearly as much as I thought I would. The cheesiness and the shrimp stock really enhanced the grits for me; it gave it great flavor, as opposed to reducing the grits to a flavorless pile in the bowl. So, I survived my first helping of Shrimp and Grits, and I would even be so bold as to say I might even eat it again!

Bobby Flay's Gulf Shrimp and Grits
adapted from Bobby Flay's Throwdown
makes 4 servings

4 cups shrimp stock (recipe follows)
Kosher salt
1 cup stome-ground yellow cornmeal
8 oz. thick-cut, double-smoked bacon, cut into 1-inch-long matchsticks
20 large (21- to 24-count) shrimp, shelled and deveined
Freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) grated white cheddar cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 green onions, thinly sliced, for garnish

1. Bring the shrimp stock and 2 tsp. salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking every few minutes, until the grits are soft and have lost their gritty texture, 25 to 30 minutes. If the mixture becomes too thick, add a little more stock.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat until it is golden brown and crisp and the fat has rendered, about 8 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels.

3. Remove all but 3 Tbsp. of the bacon fat from the skillet, and return it to high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp, garlic, and thyme, in batches, if necessary, to the skillet and saute until the shrimp are light golden brown on both sides and just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Remove the shrimp to a plate. Reserve the garlic oil left in the skillet.

4. Stir the cheese and heavy cream into the cooked grits, and whisk until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Divide the grits among 4 bowls, and top each with 5 shrimp. Drizzle with some of the garlic oil from the skillet, and sprinkle with the green onions.

Shrimp Stock
from Bobby Flay's Throwdown
makes about 8 cups

2 Tbsp. canola oil
4 cups raw shrimp shells and tails
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 small carrot, coarsely chopped
1/2 medium celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 medium tomato, chopped, or 1/2 cup chopped canned plum tomatoes
1 bay leaf
8 black peppercorns

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat until almost smoking. Add the shrimp shells and tails, onion, carrot, and celery, and saute, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the wine and boil until reduced by half. Add 8 cups cold water, the tomato, bay leaf, and peppercorns.

2. Reduce the heat to medium, cover partially, and simmer for 40 minutes. Strain the stock through cheesecloth or a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl.

1 comment:

  1. Even though I have lived in the south for the majority of my life, I still do not consider myself a southerner, especially since I did not grow up eating these typical southern foods. I tried grits for the first time just a couple years ago because a friend had a grits bar at her wedding. I thought it sounded so weird - especially shrimp and grits - but once I tried them, I was hooked. There are actually lots of variations on shrimp and grits; some recipes have a bit of a "gravy" that is more like a cajun-spiced sauce. I think I prefer them that way, but I will eat just about any combination of cheesy grits with shrimp now! It's so random that your husband requested this meal, but I'm glad you had a chance to try it.