Friday, December 26, 2014

Shrimp and Grits

"No!" I said to my new French friend across the table. "That is not shrimp and grits." Protecting a dish I consider an American icon. We were seated together at lunch being served this caterer's version of the beloved Southern dish.
Now I realize shrimp and grits is one of those Southern dishes that has as many versions as their are Southern cooks but . . . their shrimp was pan fried with no bacon or ham gravy, their grits were hard and formed into a cake and worse yet . . . yellow! Some things cannot be tolerated. I decided right then and there to make a plate of the low country comfort food for James. A first I think.
I started with the grits, stone ground white corn grits I hand carried home from a job in South Carolina. Those boxed instant grits some areas of the country pass off as a breakfast dish are a non-starter. I'd rather eat the box. I set 3 cups of chicken broth and salt to a boil (if I'd had it I might have used 1 1/2 cups of whole milk) and stirred in 1 cup of grits. I covered the pan and lowered the heat to let the grits cook slowly while I tended to the shrimp.
First I cooked 6 slices of bacon (diced) over medium heat to crisp the meat and render as much fat as possible. I set the bacon aside and tossed in one diced onion, one chopped stalk of celery, and a couple preserved Padrone peppers I had canned from our garden over the summer. Now most cooks would use green pepper and of course you can but I don't really favor the taste and the slightly hot Padrones add a little kick the dish needs. When the onion was translucent I added in 2 cloves of chopped garlic, 10 large peeled shrimp, and the bacon back into the pan. After a minute I added in 1/4 cup of sherry and 1 cup of chicken broth, brought everything to a boil and let the shrimp simmer for 1 minute. To finish the sauce I removed the shrimp, turned of the heat, and added 1 TB of cold butter and a dash of hot sauce that I swirled into the sauce.
To finish the grits -- when they were soft and still creamy (about 25 minutes) I stirred in 3 TB of butter and a handful of shredded parmesan cheese. Stir in extra water as needed to make sure they are smooth and soft. The grits went down on the plate first covered by the tender shrimp just mixed into the savory sauce.
"You could serve this in a restaurant," James said.
I looked over and saw him scrape his plate with the back of his fork to get every drop.

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