Weekend special: Butter-poached shrimp and Carolina-style grits

We have shrimp on sale this weekend (again), but this time it’s the really good ones:   8-10 count jumbo wild-caught, raw Gulf shrimp from Louisiana, the best kind.  This being a short Mardi Gras season in 2016 (January 6 through Fat Tuesday on February 9 – barely four weeks), I’m looking for an excuse to make some Louisiana food … but as I’m also in the mood for some nice, creamy grits, a Carolina recipe will have to do.  Not that they don’t eat shrimp and grits in New Orleans, because they certainly do; they’re just spicier down there (think New Orleans barbecue shrimp in that spicy-hot, sassy butter sauce poured over cheese grits that have been perked up with tasso, and you’ll get an idea of what I mean).

South Carolinians like Chef Eve Felder, a former chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America and now director of their Singapore campus, are very fussy about their grits.  They’ll cook them all day long in order to have the shrimp for supper rather than lunch or breakfast and will steadfastly refuse to eat grits outside their home state, insisting that nobody else makes them properly (meaning: nobody else is willing to wait that long).  Of course you can make those grits in a slow cooker and start them eight hours or so before you want to eat; but cooks don’t spend that kind of time in New Orleans.  In NOLA, they can make decent grits in less than an hour; they know the shrimp are the really important part of the dish.

I think both the shrimp and the grits are important if you’re going to eat them together.  Sure, I love spicy shrimp of many varieties – but there’s just something about butter-poached shrimp slow-cooked in a pan, in a sauce underscored by white wine and fresh thyme leaves, that makes me breathless.  Oh my.  For that, the grits can’t overwhelm the stars of the show, which will have a lovely, subtle flavor.  Or you could go with a little bacon in the grits and maybe at the end a tablespoon or two of a friendly grated cheese like Parmesano Reggiano or Tillamook white cheddar.  Not too much.

But the quality of the dry grits must be high.   You want large, rough, stone-ground white corn grits.  Anson Mills from the Carolinas is the benchmark; however, I’ve also had excellent results using Bob’s Red Mill Southern-style corn grits.  Bob’s is an Oregon-based company, but they use white corn from northern California to make their grits.  If your grocery doesn’t carry either brand, you can find them both online.

PS — That photo at left is only slightly misleading:  it shows the New Orleans version of shrimp & grits, with golden cheese grits offsetting New Orleans style barbecue shrimp (the photo I had of the Carolina version somehow got damaged by computer gremlins; whoops).  Just imagine paler grits runny with melted butter and perfectly poached shrimp speckled with thyme.  Yummy!

Note:  Be sure to read the recipe completely at least once before you begin to cook.  It’s a good habit to get into and will keep you from making mistakes later while cooking.


Butter-poached shrimp with grits
                                                                            serves 3-4

3 cups low-sodium College Inn chicken broth or low-sodium vegetable stock
2 cups water
2-3 drops Tabasco  (only enough to keep grits from being boring)
1 cup high-quality stone-ground grits
4 strips of thick-cut bacon, cut into pieces
1 large shallot or a small Vidalia onion, peeled, trimmed and minced
2 tbsp. water
1 cup/8-tbsp. stick sweet unsalted butter, cut into about 10 chunks
½ cup Smart Balance margarine
6 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup dry white wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc or a dry Riesling
1 pound 16-20 count extra-large raw Gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined
Sea salt, to taste
A pinch of freshly ground white pepper
¼ cup half and half or milk
2 tbsp. grated imported Parmesan or grated aged white cheddar
Lemon wedges

  1. In a skillet, fry bacon over medium heat until almost crispy; drain on paper towels.  Reduce heat to medium-low and add the minced shallot/Vidalia onion and cook just until softened, stirring constantly.  With a slotted spoon, remove the onion to a bowl; set aside while preparing the grits.
  1. In a 2- or 3-quart saucepan, bring 3 cups broth and 2 cups water to a boil.  If not using broth, add 4 cups water and 1 cup milk.  When the liquid boils, reduce heat to medium-high and, while stirring, slowly add the grits in a thin stream until all the grits have been incorporated; keep stirring for another minute or two.  Reduce heat to a low simmer, add the bacon, cover, and cook the grits, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes.  Add more water as needed to keep the mixture fluid; use enough water so that the grits don’t stick to the pan and can absorb the liquid they need.  If the grits are too loose later on, you can always cook off the extra moisture, so err on the side of using too much liquid.
  1. At this point, you must decide whether to use the fast or slow method to finish the grits.  With the fast version, you cook the grits on the stove for at least another 15-20 minutes, stirring often and adding liquid if needed.  Once you have the grits at the right creamy consistency, neither too thin nor too thick, stir in the half and half, then the grated cheese and keep stirring until it’s all incorporated – and the grits are ready; they just need to be kept covered and warm at 180°F while you fix the shrimp.  Using the long method (for example, if you’re making them ahead of time for dinner or overnight for brunch), the grits will cook at very low temperature for another 8 to 10 hours, preferably in a slow cooker at its lowest cooking setting – that requires the least effort.  Spray the inside of the porcelain insert with olive oil spray or neutral cooking spray, then pour in the grits, cover, and turn on the slow cooker.  The grits should simmer for at least 8 hours.  If you can, monitor the moisture level, adding milk or water as needed; if you’re going to be absent while the grits are in the crock-pot, you need to add at least 2 cups of water to the grits before they begin simmering in the slow cooker, so that they don’t stick to the insert and start to burn (you can also put the grits in a covered pan in a low oven, 150° to 200°F, for up to 12 hours).  When the grits are nearly ready, add half and half and grated cheese as described above; cover grits, reduce setting on the cooker to the Warm function, and start the shrimp.
  1. Using your fingers, strip the thyme leaves from their stems into a small prep bowl; set aside leaves and discard stems.  Put 2 tablespoons water in a saucepan just large enough to hold the butter and all the shrimp (figure this out in advance before you shell and devein the shrimp).  Bring water just to a simmer over medium-high heat, the add a chunk of butter and whisk continuously with a flat whisk as the butter melts.  When the butter has begun to melt and emulsify into the water, add three more pieces and continue to whisk (or swirl the butter in the pan; the point is to keep it).  Add two tablespoons of wine, whisk, and add another two pieces of butter, whisking again.  Add the thyme and stir.  Keep alternating wine with butter in above manner and whisking until all the butter is emulsified; then add the Smart Balance 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking again between additions until all the margarine and wine have been added to the pan.
  1. Add the peeled, deveined shrimp.  Keep the pan on medium-high heat until the butter gets hot again.  Use an instant-read thermometer to maintain the temperature just below a simmer, 170° to 180°F – and don’t let the butter boil.  Cook for 3 to 5 minutes.  The shrimp should be an opaque white; remove a shrimp, cut it open, and check that it’s just cooked through.  It should be white at the center, not translucent gray, but still tender and juicy.  Remove pan from heat.  Add sea salt and a pinch of white pepper, to taste, and keep shrimp warm while you spoon out the grits.
  1. Put the grits over medium-high heat to get them up to temperature.  They should be just between loose and thick.  Taste and add more salt if needed.  Carefully spoon about a third of the poaching butter, without the thyme leaves, into the grits.  Mix well.
  1. Spoon the grits into wide, shallow soup bowls and arrange shrimp on or beside the grits, as desired. Garnish with more butter and a squeeze of lemon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Using your fingers, strip the thyme leaves from their stems into a small prep bowl; set aside leaves and discard stems. Put 2 tablespoons water in a saucepan just large enough to hold the butter and all the shrimp (figure this out in advance before you shell and devein the shrimp). Bring water just to a simmer over medium-high heat, the add a chunk of butter and whisk continuously as the butter melts. When the butter has begun to melt and emulsify into the water, add three more pieces and continue to whisk (or swirl the butter in the pan; the point is to keep it). Add two tablespoons of wine, whisk, and add another two pieces of butter, whisking again. Add the thyme and stir. Keep alternating wine with butter in above manner and whisking until all the butter is emulsified; then add the Smart Balance 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking again between additions until all the margarine and wine have been added to the pan.

 

  1. Add the peeled, deveined shrimp. Keep the pan on medium-high heat until the butter gets hot again. Use an instant-read thermometer to maintain the temperature just below a simmer, 170° to 180°F – and don’t let the butter to boil. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes. The shrimp should be an opaque white; remove a shrimp, cut it open, and check that it’s just cooked through. It should be white at the center, not translucent gray, but still tender and juicy. Remove pan from heat. Add sea salt and a pinch of white pepper, to taste, and keep warm while you spoon out the grits.

 

  1. Put the grits over medium-high heat to get them up to temperature. They should be just between loose and thick. Taste and add more salt if needed. Carefully spoon about a third of the poaching butter, without the thyme leaves, into the grits.

 

  1. Spoon the grits into wide, shallow soup bowls and arrange shrimp on or beside the grits as desired. Garnish with more butter and a squeeze of lemon.

 

 

 

 

 

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