March 22, 2012

Shrimp and Grits

Let me start with a disclaimer. I know nothing about grits. I grew up in New Jersey. My parents are from India. So grits are not a food I grew up eating.

So why am I writing about grits? A few weeks back, during a trip to New York City, I ate brunch at Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay's southwestern restaurant. I don't remember what I ordered. But I know it came with a side of grits.

I had expected bland. But they weren't. They tasted of corn. Nothing fancy. Just corn. Okay, and maybe some butter. The grits were so creamy. They had big, soft pieces of tender cornmeal. And kernels of whole corn.

I loved the grits. My sister loved the grits. My one-year old nephew loved the grits.

So I decided to make grits. Being from the North, when I think of grits, I think "shrimp and grits." So I found a recipe and went for it.

The shrimp part of the shrimp and grits was good. Spicy and tangy, redolent of smoked paprika. The perfect thing to pair with...

...grits. Yes, again it was the grits that stole the show. I'd bought a bag of stone ground grits and prepared them according to the directions on the package. They weren't as tender as the ones I had at Mesa Grill. And yet they were strangely addictive. In the way that mashed potatoes are addictive.

The grits have a mild, yet unmistakable taste of corn that's enhanced by a little butter and milk. Comfort in a bowl.

Start with your shrimp. Toss with paprika, oregano, thyme, salt and olive oil and set aside.

Cut bacon into bite size pieces. Cook it over medium-low heat until the fat renders out and the bacon is crispy. Remove the bacon, but leave the bacon fat in skillet.

Add the shrimp to the pan. Cook it until it's just cooked through, then remove it from the pan and set aside.

Cook the onion in the bacon fat for a few minutes until the onion is tender. Then add the garlic and let it sizzle for about 30 seconds.

Add the tomato paste to the skillet and leave it in one place for 30 seconds. This will allow it to caramelize and sweeten a bit in spots.

Then mix the tomato paste into the onions.

Add the diced tomatoes and water, mix, and let the mixture simmer, covered, over medium-low heat.

While the tomatoes are simmering, prepare the grits. In a saucepan, heat 3 cups of water. When the water comes to a boil, add the grits. Turn down the heat and cover.

Stir the grits with a whisk, frequently. The grits will need about 30 minutes to cook. They'll start out looking coarse and tough, but they'll become more and more tender as they cook.

Once they've cooked through, add the milk.

And watch them transform into a creamy pot of goodness.

Once the grits are done, add the shrimp back in to the skillet with the tomatoes. Stir in the hot sauce.

To serve, put a (generous) ladleful of grits into a shallow bowl. Top with shrimp and tomato mixture. Sprinkle with bacon.

Shrimp and Grits

Recipe from Taste for Adventure

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 ½ tsp dried thyme
½ tsp salt
2 tsp olive oil
2 slices bacon, cut into small chunks
1/2 white onion, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, in their juices
1/4 cup water (for shrimp)
3 cups water (for grits)
1 cup quick-cooking grits
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
½ to 1 cup whole milk
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp hot sauce (your choice, I used Bella Forte hot sauce)

1.      Toss the shrimp with the paprika, dried herbs, ½ teaspoon salt, and olive oil. Set aside.

2.      Cook the bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and set aside, leaving the bacon fat in the pan.

3.      To the pan add the shrimp. Sear on one side for 2 minutes. Flip and sear 30 more seconds to a minute. Remove from pan, set aside.

4.      Back in the pan, add the onions. Saute in the bacon fat until they start to soften, 4 minutes. Add the garlic and bloom 30 seconds.

5.      Add the tomato paste to the pan and caramelize in one spot for 30 seconds. Then toss with the onions and garlic to coat.

6.      Add the diced tomatoes and 1/4 cup water to the pan. Season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer on medium-low while you get the grits going.

7.      Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the grits and turn down the heat. Cover until creamy, whisking often. When creamy, add the butter and milk.

8.      Add the hot sauce and shrimp to the tomatoes and stir to combine.

9.      To serve, ladle grits into a bowl. Top with shrimp, tomato sauce, and a sprinkle of bacon.

Serves 3

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