Cajun Shrimp and Grits6 Comments
Nothing says welcome to the good ol’ South like a steaming bowl of grits. Around the world, people think of American cuisine as a very homogenous entity, fat filled and with mandatory large portions. While this notion is propagated by the presence of McDonalds and Coca-Cola in every corner of the globe, and Hollywood, who does its part to mass produce the American experience, it isn’t always the case. Sure, you can go to any part of America, and find hundreds of fast food “restaurants” as well as the greasy, under-seasoned joints, but there are great spots too. And the cuisine does vary! This is a little harder to prove, again thaks to chain restaurants flooding the country, but you get all sorts of variations and influences on cusines in different parts of the nation. There’s Cajun cuisine, Tex-Mex, Italian (Italian-American, which I find quite different from traditional Italian), Southern cooking and so much more.
Anyway, when I moved to the US, I was pretty sure nothing about the food would surprise me, because like everyone else, I thought I had seen it all. After I was introduced to grits, livermush (gross), hush puppies and all sorts of other quintessential Southern things, I realized there might be more to discover.
Let me preface this post by saying I don’t really like grits other than when it’s made like this. The traditional version of grits – boiled and with butter, is just insanely boring, flat and underseasoned to me. It evokes the same reaction in me as when I mention porridge to Hannah. Because of this, I stayed away from grits for a long time. Until I decided to give shrimp and grits a try… And yes, I have now been converted! I still won’t eat grits the traditional way – such a waste of stomach space. But grits to me now are like couscous – very simple yet very versatile.
Grits are made from ground, dried hominy, which is dried corn kernels, with the hull and germ removed. Grits can either be white or yellow, depending on the corn that it comes from. To make grits, you just boil it in your liquid of choice – water, milk, stock, etc – until the liquid is absorbed and the mixture reaches a gelatinous consistency. The grits absorb the flavor of the liquid they are cooked in, but are still somewhat mild tasting, and are most often supplemented with cheese or butter. Grits are supposedly Native American in origin and are similar to other corn based meals around the world like porridge and polenta.
I don’t know who came up with the idea of mixing shrimp with grits, but seriously, genius. The grits are heavy and cheesy, but are wonderfully balanced by the spiciness of the shrimp. And there are so many ways you can spin this dish (in my opinion at least). This may be more traditional Southerny, with cheddar cheese, shrimp and bacon, but I’m already dying to try it with blue cheese and steak, pepper jack cheese with crab..I could go on.
Anyway, it’s not that difficult to make, and it makes for an amazing dinner.
Cajun Shrimp and Grits
For the Grits:
1 cup yellow grits
4 cups water
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup strong cheddar cheese, grated
1 tbs salted butter
For the Shrimp:
1 lb wild shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp Zatarain’s Creole Seasoning
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cloves garlic
1/2 medium white onion, diced
5 strips bacon, cut into small pieces
1) Make the grits according to the package directions. This is usually how it goes: bring the water to boil. Once it’s boiling, add the grits and stir. Reduce to low heat, cover and simmer, stirring occassionaly for 5-6 minutes or until desired consistency is reached.
2) Add the salt, butter and grated cheese to the grits and stir it in. I had to use a whisk here because things got gooey quickly. Set aside.
3) Place the bacon in a cold skillet and bring the heat up to medium. Cook the bacon until nice and crisp and then remove from the pan, leaving the bacon grease still in there.
4) Add the onions to the bacon grease and sauté for a couple minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for couple more minutes.
5) In a bowl toss the shrimp with the Creole Seasoning and lemon juice until nicely coated.
6) Add the shrimp to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionaly, until they turn nice and pink (aka done).
7) Place a serving of grits into a deep bowl. Add half the shrimp mixture on top, followed by half the bacon. Garnish with scallions.