Wednesday, June 22, 2011

shrimp + cheese grits

I love carbs. Pasta is my Achilles' heel.  Potatoes... heck, I'm Irish. Rice: yes, please, and make it jasmine or basmati.  And grits?  Grits are a Southern staple. I admit that I quite frequently make these cheese grits for breakfast, so it almost feels like cheating, including them in a fancy dinner recipe, because they're completely simple to make.

The last time I made shrimp and grits, I used one of those pre-done trays of steamed shrimp from Costco, pulled the tails off and stirred them into the sauce at the last minute, and used water instead of shrimp stock in the sauce. It was still delicious, but nothing like the wonder it was this time. Cooking the shrimp in the sauce just adds a whole new layer of shrimpishness to the whole thing, to say nothing of the yummy brightness of the lemon and wine in the stock. However, if you don't want to take the extra step, I don't blame you. And it'll still be good, trust me.

Bought at Whole Foods.
Grown in Athens, GA!
So, last week I was in Louisville for the annual AP English Literature Exam reading, scoring essays for seven days. (And yes, I went back to the sublime Proof on Main twice while I was there, though the Gold Rush was unfortunately gone from the cocktail menu this year.) While it's tons of fun in the evenings to socialize with old grad school friends, drink bourbon (and complete the Urban Bourbon Trailfor which I got a t-shirt, thankyouverymuch), and eat Kentucky Hot Brown (best version: the English Grill at the Brown Hotel), the icky part of the week tends to be the food in the cafeteria, which, while I'm sure it's pretty much the best thing they can offer two thousand people who all have to eat in a centralized location thrice daily, starts to wear on you around the second day. Even I was sick of salads, and you all know I LOVE SALADSI was born in a Year of the Rabbit, after all. All week, I craved a bowl of pasta that I had made: fettuccini with a tiny bit of sauce mixed with some starchy pasta water, butter and wine, and a ton of Parmesan. I wanted to cook something with lemon thyme in it.

When I got home, the first thing I did was buy a ball of mozzarella, fresh basil, and some vine-ripened tomatoes. That's the closest I'm gonna get to a salad for the moment. In addition, for the last couple of days, I've been dreaming of making something home-cooked that would involve lots of chopping and simmering fresh ingredients. Luckily, last week I also rediscovered how much I love to run outdoors, so I might just manage to avoid gaining weight in my current state of gustatory enthusiasm. :)

plz ignore dirty dishes in the sink
Anyway, I invented this recipe a couple of months ago, after D got home from what he said was the worst day he had ever had at work. For me, food always makes coming home from a hard day (or week) feel even better. Here's hoping this recipe does the same for you...

shrimp and cheese grits
for the grits:
1 cup water
1 cup skim milk
generous 1/4 cup shredded cheese (any kind)
generous 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan
2 tbsp. grated Parmesan
1 tbsp. butter
6 tbsp. quick grits

for the shrimp:
1 lb. fresh, raw shrimp (peeled and de-veined, shells reserved)
1 to 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 to 2 tbsp. canola oil
3 vine-ripe tomatoes, seeds and pulp removed, and diced
half of a medium yellow or orange bell pepper, finely diced
half of a red onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 to 3/4 cup shrimp stock (see below) or water
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, stripped and chopped
5 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
black pepper and kosher sea salt

for the shrimp stock:
reserved raw shrimp shells
1/4 cup dry white wine
lemon wedge (or two)
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tbsp. whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning (or more, if you like)
1/2 tsp. kosher sea salt

stocky... yet delicate
Prepare the shrimp and stock: Peel and de-vein the shrimp, reserving the shells and discarding the veins. Place shrimp shells, wine, lemon wedge(s), butter, thyme, peppercorns, Old Bay, and salt in a small saucepan and add just enough water to cover it all. Boil gently until reduced and concentrated, about 15 or 20 minutes. Let the stock cool, and then strain it into a bowl or measuring cup. (Bonus: there should be more stock left over than you will use for this recipe, which means you can freeze the extra cup or two and use it later in a soup or another sauce.)

Make cheese grits: Add water, skim milk, grits, and a little salt and pepper to a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook until grits are thick, about three to five minutes. Remove from heat and add butter, a sprinkling of fresh thyme, and cheeses. Stir until the cheese is melted. Cover and set aside. (If the grits thicken too much while they sit, you can always stir in a few tablespoons of leftover shrimp broth, milk, or half-and-half to thin them a bit later, as well as re-warming them before serving if needed.)

Now for the shrimp: Heat the canola oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and pepper and cook until it is beginning to soften, several minutes. Melt a tiny pat of additional butter and add the garlic. Cook just until fragrant, about 30 to 45 seconds.

This right here is a good moment.
Stir in tomatoes and thyme, turn up the heat a little, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until they are incorporated into the sauce and beginning to caramelize, but not brown. Add wine and cook until reduced a bit. Add shrimp stock (or water) in small amounts and let it evaporatethis will concentrate the sauce and add flavor.

During the last few minutes, while you still have some liquid in the pan, stir in the shrimp and saute for 2 to 3 minutes, tossing occasionally so that they cook on all sides. Reduce heat to low and add basil and remaining tablespoon of butter. Heat through. Spoon shrimp and sauce over cheese grits, and garnish with chopped fresh basil or Italian parsley.