To cheese…or not to cheese?
In his or her kitchen repertory, any Southern cook should have the successful preparation of grits. Not fancy grits, but just plain grits. Many don’t, and I suspect that’s because they can’t boil pasta or cook rice either. All are simple chores, and the success of many a meal depends on mastery of them. Grits come in several variations. They’re all essentially hominy, corn kernels processed using an alkaline solution like lye. At most groceries, you’ll find coarse and fine-ground grits, yellow and white grits—even “instant” grits. “Real” grits need to cook slowly for about 20 minutes. I avoid “instant” grits at all costs.
In many parts of the American South, grits are considered breakfast food. In fact, Northerners often confuse grits with cream of wheat and add sugar and milk. More likely you’ll find them with eggs, bacon and sausage in the South. In Florida, to the initial surprise of my Eastern North Carolina-native wife, we eat grits with fish and seafood.
In recent years, shrimp and grits has become a standard menu item in many establishments and homes. The dish is simple to cook and a hearty main course on a cold winter night. And it can be varied with regards to whether or not to include cheese or the type of meat to include.
Cheese can add richness to the grits, but some chefs feel it overpowers the taste of the shrimp. Others go to great trouble to include elaborate combinations of cheddar, Parmesan and even cream cheese. The choice is yours, but I’ll stick with simplicity and use extra- sharp cheddar—if I use cheese at all. As for meat, “salty” is the key. It’s hard to beat store-bought bacon, but you can easily substitute Cajun-style tasso or Italian pancetta to give your version of shrimp and grits a regional or continental touch.
Shrimp and grits can easily become a standard main dish at your dinner table, taking simple ingredients to new heights. Serve with a salad or slaw and a buttered biscuit and you’ll find that, along with compliments about the meal, guests and family will be asking for a repeat performance. FS
Basic Shrimp and Grits
6 cups water
1 tbsp. salt
1⁄2 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1⁄2 cups yellow grits
½ stick butter
2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese (optional)
2 lbs. shrimp, peeled and deveined, lightly dusted with flour
1 lb. bacon
1⁄2 cup chopped parsley
1 cup scallions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
In a large saucepan, bring the salted water to a boil. Then, add grits and pepper and stir for about 30 seconds. Turn down heat to a simmer and cover. Cook until the water is absorbed. If the grits are too thick, add some more water (or milk) and continue to cook, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in butter and cheese.
Fry bacon in a skillet until crispy; drain and crumble. In the reserved grease, sauté shrimp until pink, just a minute or two, and remove to a holding plate. Don’t overcook your shrimp! Then, add parsley, garlic and scallions to the hot bacon grease and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until the scallions are transparent.
Spoon grits into a serving bowl. Stir in all the other ingredients, serve immediately—and enjoy. Serves 4 to 6.
First published Florida Sportsman magazine, 2013.