Shrimp. Grits. Shrimp ‘n grits was perhaps the best discovery of my jaunt to the American South. (Aside from the po’ boys, the
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gumbo, the sweet tea – oh, the sweet tea!, beignets, … and the BBQ – oh, the BBQ!). Alright, so shrimp ‘n grits was the best breakfast discovery. As the story goes, shrimping boats would have bags of grits on deck, and after shrimping all night would boil some up fresh shrimp and a pot of grits for breakfast after they pulled back into the dock. Regardless of history, I say breakfast, lunch or dinner, it’s all scrumptious.
Off the shrimping docks, the dish gets perked up a bit – toppings of cheddar and bacon were what we saw most on the dozen or so places where we ordered this dish. Never say no to cheese and bacon. A sprinkle of green onion adds just a touch of veg to round this out in a food pyramid sanctioned way (that’s a joke). The real difference between versions of this simple dish lies in the broth – some recipes just used chicken stock, but in order to give it the briny, authentic taste of shrimp, you must make a shrimp broth. This involves boiling all the shells and heads together with some aromatics, and this amazing deep orange-red broth bubbles forth with a fragrance wonderfully (and oddly) like Cantonese wonton soup broth also rich with shrimp shells and smells.
I scoured the web for recipes, and the Anson Mills (famed for their stone ground grits) recipe was the winner. Here it is in it’s original form.
Recipe (serves 4)
- 1 pound fresh shrimp (shells and heads on)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 rib celery, diced
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large garlic cloves, sliced
- 4 cups water
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 lemon zested
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 3 strips of thick-cut bacon, chopped
- 2 medium shallots, minced (¼ cup)
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar
- 1 scallion thinly sliced
- 4 servings of grits (follow the recipe on the bag, but always say yes to milk instead of water, and it never hurts to toss in some shredded cheddar)
- To make stock: Peel devein the shrimp, reserving the shells and heads. Heat a little oil over medium heat and saute the shrimp shells, onion, celery, and garlic until the vegetables have softened and shrimp shells are bright red, about 10 minutes. Add the water, tomato paste, thyme, bay, peppercorns, and lemon peel. Cover and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the stock is flavorful and reduced, about 1 hour. Pour the stock through a fine-mesh strainer set over a small saucepan (you should have about 1½ cups strained stock).
- Make roux: In a small bowl, squish the butter and flour together to make a ball of roux/paste to use in thickening the sauce. This method is great for allowing a slow melt of flour into the sauce, to avoid clumping.
- Make grits: Make per instructions on package, set aside.
- Make shrimp: Sauté bacon and shallots until crispy, set aside.
Use bacon grease to saute shrimp along with some salt and pepper on medium heat until pink – which should only take a minute or so each side. Cook one layer at a time to get a nice sear on the shrimp, shrimp should be done once they turn opaque white. Remove shrimp from heat. Add the shrimp stock to the skillet, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Drop in the roux ball, and stir until the sauce is thickened about a minute or so. Return the shrimp to the skillet to combine with sauce.
- Make shrimp n’ grits: Spoon a cup of grits onto a plate, top with a whooping spoon of shrimp and sauce, sprinkle bacon and
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scallions and cheddar on top. EAT!