Shrimp and grits: the concept of layers

From Drop Box

How do you make a heavy dish taste light? There has to be acid to balance it out. Shrimp and grits as a traditionally Southern dish is notorious for being way too heavy, but there’s a way to lighten it on your palate. The inspiration for this dish came from watching (don’t laugh) Martha Stewart when she had David Chang from Momofuku restaurant in New York City, who has been featured in several magazines lately and considered the new guard of Asian cooking in the Eastern US. I’ve never eaten there, but I’m intrigued because the weakest link in my repertoire is definitely Asian.

From concept to satisfaction

Shrimp and grits are about a few main ingredients, the sine qua non, because without these ingredients, shrimp and grits barely exist if at all. But as you build the layers separately and add them all at the end, you’ll taste that complexity in the final product. Sure, you could just make grits, add some cheese, and add some shrimp, but you’ve limited the depth.
Obviously shrimp and grits, but also bacon, butter, and something acid to balance the flavor. The David Chang version included dashi, soy sauce, and hot chiles to give it a distinctively Asian flavor profile. The bacon and soy sauce are a surprising combination and an easy dressing to any Asian style noodle dish, but…that’s another post (was that too Alton Brown?).

One guy’s version of shrimp and grits
The recipe is not important, because if you’re Southern, and you like to cook, then you’ve likely eaten it, or at least tried it.

This was a 3-4 pan dish.

1. High volume water pot at 140F to soft boil two eggs (serving was for 2 people). I can’t swear about the time on these, but my thought was that as long as they cooked no higher than 140, they couldn’t be bad. They cooked for about 20 minutes.
2. Sautee bacon, shallot, and minced garlic. Low heat is the key, don’t really need to brown it, particularly the veggies.
3. Grits, of your choice, cooked to almost done. The higher the quality of the grits (yes there are different kinds like instant, quick, regular, fresh, etc.), clearly the better the dish. Chang swore by Anson Mills in Columbia, SC. Y’all hear that, CSRA? Have you tried them? Whatever you do, add butter to the grits as they’re cooking.
4. Garnish of finely diced scallions.

Cook the above, use the sautee pan to cook your shrimp. Deglaze the pan with water and reduce, add to the grits for flavor. Don’t skip steps like these, they’ll be the difference between good and irreproducibly great.

Assembly
Once the grits were cooked, I added the sautee of bacon, shallot, and garlic to them and added 1 tbsp of butter and heavy cream until the consistency was right. Added the shrimp (sauteed in a Dizzy Pig rub that obviously had a hint of curry powder), and stirred it up to mix.
Side note: the egg. Crack the shell CAREFULLY and place in a slotted spoon. What you want is a coagulated layer of egg white around the creamy yolk. Add to the dish, garnish with something fancy.

Other ideas

  • For acid, you could use vinegar, but the “volume” is to high. A little squeeze of lemon or lime juice (not enough to taste) would do. Probably not zest, because you need the flavor and the acid.
  • This would have been infinitely better with a higher quality of grits. The wife got a funny look when all I could find were Quick Grits. As I learned in My Cousin Vinny, “No self-respecting Southerner cooks instant grits.” Nuff said.
  • Go Asian, cook your grits in a seaweed broth with smoked or unsmoked pork belly. Add soy sauce to the grits, it goes GREAT with butter.
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4 thoughts on “Shrimp and grits: the concept of layers

  1. I love me some shrump n grits! My preferred method is to finely mince spicy sausage (like andouille) and brown it in a pan, then pour my cooked grits, cooked shrimp, and some additional browned sausage slices into the same pan. I'll have to try your method. Sounds tasty.

  2. Oh – and I love the egg idea. That makes it more of a breakfast dish. I always eat mine for supper, but now I have a choice.

  3. As the key ingredient to shrimp and grits is, well, grits…I can't fathom making this dish with anything other than stone ground grits. I think the best come from South Carolina, I usually get mine from Charleston, however in a pinch I have used "Uncle Bob's" from the hippie section of the grocery store with close to equal success. I like to make a quick shrimp stock with the shells and use that for cooking the grits. Some use chicken broth, but I feel that if you are using some form of pork, there are too many competing flavors…chicken, pork, shrimp, and the flavor that is usually dimished is the seafood (a tragedy). I also agree with OG that this dish is oftentimes very heavy…my favorite quick version is to saute the shrimp, remove then add shallots and garlic, deglaze with white wine. Add some diced (seeded please) tomato followed by heavy cream. Return the shrimp for about a minute before serving and garnish with shredded basil. This is a very French preparation and definately a complete meal. (1 pot, 1 pan) JW

  4. One more thing…the egg! Only in the past year or two have I started using eggs for other things than breakfast. I love topping a bitter salad with a lightly fried or poached egg…all the runny goodness. Eggs are great cracked over a simple pasta dish (hello carbonara!) and are especially good with a tomato soup when added to the top of a floating crouton! Again, quality is extremely important. I would challenge you to buy several varieties of eggs based on cost, "organic", free-range etc and crack them side by side (allow to come to room temperature first). Compare the consistency and color/size of the yolks. You'll be amazed at the difference. Paying more is definitely the way to go when the egg is to be more than an ingredient.

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