Sometimes I feel like Bubba Blue from “Forrest Gump” about shrimp. Fried shrimp, steamed shrimp, shrimp tacos, shrimp salad, shrimp scampi, shrimp enchiladas, shrimp alfredo, spicy shrimp – it’s so versatile, and yet sometimes I’m left feeling like I’ve tried it all. And, that’s just crazy talk!
But frankly, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d not made the southern classic shrimp and grits in my kitchen. I hadn’t even had it until I had the opportunity to visit Charleston a few months ago for the Wine + Food Festival. I mentioned something to the young woman who was managing the prep tents for tastings – just that I hoped to get a taste of some REAL grits while there in Charleston. 5 minutes later she returned to me with the perfect little portion of shrimp & grits that they were preparing for a tasting somewhere on the Festival grounds – and it was divine. She even brought me a tub of grits milled locally on nearby Edisto Island to take home. How sweet was that? I swear, it’s the most hospitable city in the world!
Matt & Ted Lee also released their new cookbook during the festival. I had the opportunity to attend a book signing that they did, and I completely embarrassed myself proclaiming my love for their Pork Tenderloin with Madiera Fig Gravy (it’s life changing). They were all that they seemed, completely down to Earth – and just plain cool.
And of course the cookbook is fabulous. Their recipes never let me down, and this one is no exception. I loved the addition of fresh pureed tomatoes in the sauce. It adds such a bright note to a dish that’s teeming with porky savoryness and shrimpy goodness. I did add a little bit of finely diced green pepper – just because I had a half of one in the fridge. And many other recipes I’d seen incorporated it as an ingredient. And the grits – the grits! In the name of all things Holy, they were delicious. While I always associated grits with the gruel like substance on breakfast buffets, these were a world away. Perfectly thick and creamy, and just the right bed for these delicious saucy shrimp.
So, needless to say – I’m completely sold on the shrimp and grits thing. This dish will definitely be on our menu rotation relatively often. Big thanks to the good people of Charleston for introducing me to this new favorite! Now to go mail-order some more Geechie Boy Mills grits – we’ll be out before we know it!
Shrimp and Grits
1 1/2 pounds headless large (21 to 25 count) shell-on shrimp
1 bay leaf
3/4 tsp. sugar
1 pinch of cayenne
1 lb. vine-ripened tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 tsp. red wine vinegar, plus more to taste
4 oz. slab bacon, cut into large dice
1 lemon, halved
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp green pepper, finely diced
Freshly ground black pepper
For the grits:
2 cups whole milk
1 cup stone-ground coarse grits
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel, devein, and butterfly the shrimp – reserving the shrimp in a bowl and the shells in a small saucepan. Add 2 cups of water, the bay leaf, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon of the sugar, and the cayenne to the saucepan with the shells. With a spoon, tamp the shells down beneath the surface of the water, cover, and bring to a simmer over high heat. Uncover, turn the heat to medium low, and let the shrimp stock simmer until reduced by half, about 10 minutes.
Get your grits started by placing the milk, 2 cups water, and the grits into a 2-quart saucepan. Cover, and turn the heat to medium high. When mixture comes to a simmer add butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and reduce the heat to medium. Stir every couple of minutes until the grits have become fragrant, and are the consistency of thick soup, about 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often and ever more frequently, for about 20 minutes, by which time the bubbles will emerge infrequently as the grits have stiffened and fall lazily from the end of a spoon. Add 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and cook for about 10 minutes more, stirring constantly to prevent the thickened grits from scorching on the bottom of the pan (appoint someone to the stirring task if you have to step away—a scorched pot of grits is bitter and a total loss). If your grits thicken too quickly, or if they are too gritty for your taste, add water by the half cup, stirring to incorporate, and continue cooking until tender. When the grits are stiff and stick well to the spoon, turn off the heat and stir. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Set aside and cover to keep warm.
Put the tomatoes in a blender or food processor and add the vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt, and the remaining ½ teaspoon sugar. Process to a smooth purée, then strain through a fine sieve, pressing the skin and seeds to extract as much juice as possible. Discard the skin and seeds. You should have 1 1/2 cups of tomato purée.
Scatter the bacon in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is alluringly browned and has rendered its fat, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a small paper-towel-lined plate and cook the shrimp in the bacon fat in batches, taking care not to crowd the pan, and stirring occasionally, just until they’ve curled and turned pink, about 3 minutes; reserve on a plate. Squeeze half the lemon over the shrimp and sprinkle with 2 pinches of salt.
Add the garlic and green pepper to the pan, and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Carefully strain the shrimp stock into the sauté pan, discarding the solids, and stir with a wooden spoon to pick up the tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the stock simmers, spoon off 2 tablespoons and then whisk them into the flour with a fork in a small bowl to make a paste. Add the tomato purée, and then whisk the flour paste into the sauce. Cook until the mixture thickly coats the back of a spoon.
Cut the heat, and fold the shrimp in just to warm through. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and red wine vinegar. Cut the remaining lemon half into 4 wedges. Serve the shrimp over warm grits, and garnish with the reserved bacon and the lemon wedges.
Source: adapted from The Charleston Kitchen by Matt and Ted Lee