It may not be a traditional Southern Shrimp and Grits, but this dish is packed with flavor and freshness!
Grits were not a part of my childhood cuisine. In fact, I never tasted them until I was an adult and actually lived in the South. I must confess, my first encounter with them was as a side dish at a truck-stop diner and I was less than impressed. They looked so pale on the plate compared to the bright yellow cornmeal mush of my Northern experience.
And then, I had the real thing
All that changed when I later sampled some shrimp and grits cooked by an Alabama native. It included bacon and cheese and cream, and was nicely spiced. The grits themselves were made with chicken stock. The best part was the shrimp fresh from the Gulf waters. I had various other versions of the dish after that, but the first was still the best and most memorable. My only critique of the original was that there was so much going on, the shrimp flavor was not the most pronounced, but the flavors were out of this world.
A recipe evolves
Every now and then, I revisit and revise the dish the way I like it, with humble apologies to my Southern friends. The bacon was the first to go since I think it can overwhelm the sweet flavor of the shrimp. I also do not like bacon in New England clam chowder for the same reason. It can be a bully.
Let’s enhance what we already have
The chicken stock was the next to go and the most obvious swap. Why not use those shrimp shells to make a flavorful shrimp stock instead! It was a no brainer to me! I try not to toss out flavor in any form; if you’re not using them right away, the quick stock you make from the shells can be frozen for another use, or used in the next day or so in place of water in rice, for example. The grits turned out so flavorful, I’d just eat a bowl of them plain and be quite happy!
Fresh is always best, but frozen shrimp is pretty good too!
I used frozen wild Gulf shrimp. If you live in the area, use fresh of course! My shrimp were large, so I cut them in half or thirds for a perfect little bite, but you can leave smaller ones whole. I also removed the tails except for a few for garnish.
Just a touch of Cajun seasoning and paprika is my nod to the original dish, but too much will also take away from the shrimp flavor so use a light hand.
I used quick-cooking grits, the only I could find in about six stops to different markets. Did I mention we still don’t serve a lot of grits here in the North? Use what you can find, or what you like. To enhance the flavor of the grits themselves, I added the last of my frozen corn from the previous year, a hefty handful. These little kernels added some lovely sweetness and a bit more texture as well. I can’t wait to make this during corn season. Use whatever sweet corn you have. You can substitute polenta for the grits if you have trouble finding them.
If you can find a luscious Vidalia onion, which are in season now, use it! If not, any sweet onion or even shallots or a leek will serve nicely.
Let’s use our beautiful spring asparagus
My last addition was beautiful asparagus that is just coming into season here. Our spring has been cold, so it was a little late appearing, and most welcome after our long, grey winter. I’m using it without restraint at this point! A little drizzle of lemon juice will keep everything fresh tasting.
A quick and delicious dish
Once the shrimp are prepped and stock made, this comes together in just as long as it takes for the grits to cook. It might not be a traditional Southern recipe for shrimp and grits, but we love it!
A Yankee’s Shrimp and Grits with Spring Asparagus
- 1 lb. domestic wild shrimp, shell-on
- Sprinkle of Cajun seasoning
- ½ tsp. sweet (or hot) paprika, your choice
- Grits, regular, quick cooking, or instant
- 1 quart shrimp stock made from shells from shrimp above
- ½ to 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen, thawed
- 2 tablespoons each extra virgin olive oil and butter or non-dairy butter
- ½ cup Vidalia or other sweet onion, small dice
- ¼ to ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, optional but recommended
- 1 cup asparagus, bite-sized chop
- Zest and juice of one lemon
Peel and devein the shrimp, including the tails, reserving a few whole for garnish. Place the shells in a pot with a quart of water. If the shrimp are small, leave them whole, otherwise cut in halves or thirds. Sprinkle with a bit of Cajun seasoning and paprika, salt and pepper, and refrigerate until needed.
Prep the veggies. Trim and chop the onion, place those trimmings in the stock pot as well. Add a bay leaf, a teaspoon of tomato paste, a half teaspoon of fennel seeds if you like, and salt and pepper. This time I also tossed in a few celery leaves because I had them on hand. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about a half hour. Strain.
All this can be done in the morning so you can assemble the dish for dinner in just moments.
Cook your grits according to directions, using the shrimp stock in place of water. Mine called for one cup of grits to a quart of water and I had to add a bit of plain water to give me a full quart of stock. Once cooked, stir in the sweet corn and a bit of butter or non-dairy butter.
While grits are cooking, heat olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until translucent. Add the shrimp and pepper flakes, and cook for two or three minutes, until pink and fragrant. Stir in the lemon zest, then remove everything from the pan, set aside to keep warm, and add the asparagus back into the pan, along with a few tablespoons of either shrimp stock or water to lift the glaze (did I mention I did not like to leave a speck of flavor behind?). Cook just until tender.
To assemble and serve, place the grits on a large, deep plater and top with the onion/shrimp mixture. Arrange the asparagus around it, and drizzle everything with the lemon juice. I added a bit more zest and chopped parsley as well.
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