Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and grits is one of those meals- delicacies, rather- that I never enjoyed until moving to North Carolina. There were a lot of firsts upon entering the South as a formerly-Midwestern girl. I remember the first time I saw the Atlantic ocean, the weekend before moving, staying in a beach-front hotel in Wilmington. The expanse of sand and water was so much greater than what I’d previously known to be a “beach”- the shores of Lake Michigan and the dunes of Northwest Indiana. Not that there’s anything less valuable or beautiful lakeside, but there is something different about salt-water air. I remember that first summer absolutely gasping for air, drowning in the intense humidity, and realizing my hair was actually kind of curly once saturated upon stepping outside. I noticed how much more friendly everyone was, how much more welcoming. I still feel like the South is the most inclusive and comforting of places, a recognition that some may disagree with. But I made such wonderful friends, met such driven yet kind people, and truly relished my time living there. I left for the city life and my Midwest “home” for grad school, but while Chicago is a different kind of excitement and comfort, it doesn’t quite feel right anymore.

I don’t remember the first time I ate shrimp and grits, I think it may have been at a nice restaurant with my family, or maybe a divey yet upscale hole-in-the-wall joint in Chapel Hill; either way, it immediately made a jump to one of my top 10 meals. I used to believe I didn’t like seafood, shrimp occasionally included, but shrimp and grits is definitely an expansion upon its nominative parts. The grits are creamy, cheesy, and indulgent; the shrimp spicy and succulent, usually swimming in a bit of broth with aromatics. It’s comfort food at its finest, and it wasn’t long before I was making it at home.

This version is a bit more elaborate than my usual weeknight shrimp and grits fare. Not that it’s overly labor-intensive, more just that I actually bought all of the ingredients and components I wanted to make it my version of perfect. I more often just throw together some pantry staples, a varying mix of the components listed below. So it’s worth mentioning that this can be prepared more simply, but if you’d really like to blow yourself away, go for the whole shebang.

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Shrimp and Grits

Serves 2 (could easily be doubled for 4)

To prepare grits:

  • 1/2 cup grits (or corn meal)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup water, reserved
  • 1/4 cup shredded cheese, a mix of cheddar and monterey jack
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

To prepare shrimp:

  • ~20 frozen shrimp, peeled and deveined, defrosted
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. red chili flake
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock

1 cup arugula, to serve

To prepare the grits, heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring chicken stock and milk, whisked together, to a boil. While whisking, slowly add the grits to the sauce pan. Reduce the heat to low, and continue to whisk the grits into the liquid until somewhat bound, about 2-3 minutes. Cover the sauce pan and simmer over low heat, stirring/whisking regularly, about every 2 minutes. Cook until the liquid is absorbed and the grits have softened. I used a fine corn meal, which cooks through in about 10 minutes. Depending on how coarse your corn meal, it may take longer. If needed, add up to 1 cup of water to thin the consistency as it cooks. I added about a 1/2 cup of water during cooking. Once the grits are finished, add the cheese, butter, and spices/seasonings and whisk to combine. Cover and let rest, removed from the heat.

To prepare the shrimp, heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter, and, once melted, the minced shallot. Heat the shallots until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Add the bell pepper and continue to sauté an additional 2-3 minutes, until the pepper has softened. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add the shrimp to the pan, keeping evenly spaced with good contact to the bottom of the pan. Cook the first side for about 1 minute, then flip. Cook the shrimp for an additional minute, then deglaze the pan with the juice of 1 lemon and about 1/2 cup of chicken stock. The liquid should bubble violently and begin to reduce. Stir the shrimp mixture and cook until the liquid has reduced by about half, about 1 minute longer. Remove from heat and set aside.

To serve, scoop the warm grits onto a plate or shallow bowl. Top the grits with about a 1/2 cup of arugula, which will wilt slightly on contact. Add the shrimp, peppers, and aromatics to the grits, and pour some of the pan sauce over the top.

The grits will firm slightly on the outside, but, when attacked with a spoon, will yield that smooth, creamy interior. Devour at will.

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Show Brian this picture and tell me his mouth won’t start watering. You should probably double the recipe.