Grits are not easily found in Upstate New York outside of a Cracker Barrel, and you would be hard pressed to find me at one of those. Some diners will make them, some diners also make spaghetti and meatballs. Just because it’s on the menu does not necessarily make it good.
My first exposure to grits, outside of episodes of the television show Alice, was the 1992 movie My Cousin Vinny. I never actually ate a grit, but because of that film I know that they take 20 minutes to cook. I have had them from the Waffle House (not bad) and at multiple gastropubs in the north where they usually come with shrimp. The most authentic grits I’ve ever had were at the Flying Biscuit Cafe in Atlanta and while they were great, I get the impression that I could do better. And one day I will. But, until then, I’ll get by on my container of the Quaker grits now in my pantry.
So, what’s the difference between shrimp and grits, and shrimp grits? A conjunction? Well, yeah, but there’s the matter of what to do with the shrimp. What James Beard award winners Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock created was a shrimp paste made with a lot of butter, and incorporated it into the grits. The result is a rich, salty, perfect use of the shellfish and a Southern staple.
WHAT WORKED: All of that butter. Grits aren’t supposed to be healthy. Oh, and buy regular grits. Not instant. Not stone-ground. Regular grits.
WHAT DIDN’T: This was pretty much perfect.
EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy.
BEST FOR: A mid-week dinner or Sunday brunch.
SERVE WITH: Grilled shrimp, maybe some andouille sausage, and a malty beer.
Adapted from the original by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock from Food52 Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore, Ten Speed Press (2015)
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 lb. shrimp (IDEALLY one would use fresh that you peel and devein on one’s own, but my options were limited. I grabbed frozen salad shrimp and moved on with life)
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup sherry
- 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup regular grits (Avoid instant. If you must use stone-ground, you will have extra work, which is noted below)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
- kosher salt
- chives, chopped finely
Prepare your shrimp paste first by heating 6 tbsp. of butter in a large skillet on a medium burner until it is hot and foaming. Add the shrimp, salt and pepper, increase heat to high, and cook until pink and cooked through, about 4 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to the bowl of a food processor.
Return the skillet, with the remaining pan liquid, to the stovetop. Add the sherry, lemon and cayenne. Stir together and cook 3 to 5 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced into a thicker, syrupy consistency. Transfer from the pan to the bowl of the food processor. Add a couple of tablespoons of butter and process on low. Add butter, piece by piece, to the processor as the motor runs. This should take about 60 seconds. Stop the food processor and check the consistency. If the shrimp needs more pureeing, put the top back on and pulse a few times. Otherwise, transfer the paste to a bowl (and avoid the urge to spread on a cracker and eat). Let stand and cool.
Prepare the grits by combining the water and milk in a medium, thick-walled saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a bare simmer.
Pour the grits in a large mixing bowl and just cover with water. Stir vigorously with a spoon and allow the chaff to rise up. Skim the chaff off and discard, then drain the grits through a fine mesh strainer. Gently add them to the simmering milk and cook (Note: Regular grits take 20 minutes. Anyone that watched My Cousin Vinny can tell you that. Stone-ground grits will take upward of an hour.), stirring frequently. Pay attention to the grits towards the end, taking care to stir more often so they do not scorch or stick.
Add the butter and cream, and season with salt. Stir vigorously to combine, then remove from heat.
Combine the grits and paste by pouring the pan of grits over the top of the shrimp paste. Stir together to combine thoroughly. Let stand 5 minutes to rest, then stir again. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle fresh chives over the top.