Simply Southern – Grits (and shrimp)

You can’t eat just one….well, you can, but it is really hard. What is a grit?  Grits are ground corn – sometimes white, sometimes yellow. Think of grits as super coarse corn meal. Shrimp and grits is an old Southern Low Country dish that has become chic. Grits are great with just butter, cheese added, eaten with milk and sugar, allowed to get cold and then sliced and fried (think of northern corn meal mush), baked in a casserole, an interesting side instead of rice or mashed taters, served for breakfast with a good drizzle of Red Eye gravy….  Shrimp and Grits are an excellent brunch, lunch or elegant dinner dish.

Grits. I love them. A bowl of hot grits with plenty of butter makes me happy. It is what I call a “non-confrontational” food. Warm, comforting, filling; feeling peckish, tired, lazy….Grits.

I like to buy stone ground grits (not the non-quick cooking or instant ones) that have plenty of the corn bran in them. They take more time to cook – like Irish Oats – but the texture and taste is rewarding. Add whatever you think you want to them – they’re grits – they’re gritty – they can take it. I have included the recipe for Shrimp and Grits and also, a scene from one of my favorite movies: My Cousin Vinny. I think you know the scene before you even see it.

どうぞめしあがれ douzo meshiagare, y’all!!

Shrimp and Grits (or, Breakfast Shrimp)
•1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled, halved lengthwise, and deveined
•Juice of 1 lemon
•Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce (I use Frank’s or Crystal)
•1 1/2 teaspoons salt or more to taste
•1 1/2 cups stone-ground grits, not instant or quick-cooking
•6 thick slices bacon, chopped
•1 small onion, finely chopped
•1 garlic clove, minced
•1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
•2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
•1 cup chicken stock
•1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
•1 cup (about 1/4 pound) grated medium to sharp Cheddar cheese
•Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce

Preparation:
Combine the shrimp with the lemon juice and a couple of generous splashes of hot pepper sauce. Let sit while you begin the grits and gravy.
Make the grits in a large heavy saucepan, first bringing 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of the salt to a boil. Whisk in the grits a few handfuls at a time. When you have added all the grits, reduce the heat to a very low simmer and cook over low heat for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently toward the end. Be sure to check frequently as they can stick. Like risotto, stirring makes them more creamy.

While the grits simmer, get the gravy under way. Fry the bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat until brown but still limp. Stir in the onion and garlic and continue cooking until the onion and pepper are limp, about 5 minutes. Add the scallions, sprinkle the flour over the mixture, and continue cooking for 5 minutes longer. Stir in the stock and remaining salt and cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove from the heat while you finish the grits.

When the grits are thick and creamy, stir in as much of the butter as you wish, followed by the cheese. Add a splash of hot pepper sauce and additional salt if you like. Cover the grits while you finish the gravy.

Return the gravy to medium heat and stir in the shrimp. Cook until the shrimp are opaque throughout, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, mounding the grits in large shallow bowls or on plates and covering them with shrimp and gravy. A sprinkle of thinly sliced green onion is a good garnish.

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