Cajun Shrimp & Grits
Shrimp & Grits is so hot on the food scene right now. It shows up on the menu of fine dining establishments everywhere. There’s a shrimp and grits festival on Jekyll Island and there’s even a cookbook out there dedicated entirely to this delicious duo. But I guess it’s always been hot on the Carolina food scene. Growing up in south Mississippi, shrimp was a really bring deal and grits were eaten just about every day, but not together. What we were missing all those years! Folks in Carolina sure knew what they were doing with this pair.
I wanted to put my spin on this coastal delight because I love these two separately and I REALLY love them together. There are plenty ways you can do the dish–with bacon or without, all kinds of cheese, and spices. You can really make it your own.
First up, the shrimp. Any time shrimp is consumed at my house, it’s doused in the heavenly elixir of Zatarain’s Crab Boil, so I knew it had to be a part of this culinary construction. Not for the faint of heart, this bold bath of spicy goodness is always in my cupboard and is in our Christmas Eve seafood gumbo, my mom’s shrimp casserole, etc. It just rounds out the flavor perfectly. You can start with just a little and add more to your liking.
Now the grits. I love a grit. My mother always makes cheese grits for breakfast when I go home to visit. She puts hoop cheese in it and I basically stand over the stove and eat out of the pot! When thinking about how I wanted the grits portion of Cajun Shrimp & Grits to taste, I thought about a grits casserole recipe I’ve been in love with for years from my old and well-worn Bell’s Best cookbook...so old that my book is now coverless and in two halves and so old that one of the ingredients listed is no longer available in stores! I did some modifications to the recipe, first figuring out a worthy substitute and a few other tweaks for my taste and I love the results! By the way, the Bell’s Best cookbook is just great! My mother gave it to me many years ago and it remains a favorite. It’s in its 34th printing and I highly recommend it. Here’s their ordering info-Bell’s Best.
And I can't forget the one-pan aspect. By using a cast iron skillet (or a stovetop and oven safe alternative) and removing the shrimp after you cook it and then returning it to the pan, you can get it all done in one pot! I brought home an old and well-worn cast iron skillet from momma’s cabinets–she had a extra one and I was glad to take it off her hands. She couldn’t recall if it was my grandmother’s or not, but no matter who it originally belonged to–Momma or Nannie- I know that skillet has held some wonderful food cooked with love.
I hope you like this dish as much as I do. It’s decadent, slightly spicy, and so filling. Make sure to have some french bread with it-it’s a good compliment to the rich flavor. I’m making this for the Top 20 crew for lunch at Monday’s shoot….good thing we’re eating at the end of the shoot because it’s perfect nap fare.
Cajun Shrimp & Grits Serves 4 A Louisiana twist on Carolina's favorite combo--shrimp & grits. Ingredients
24 large shrimp, deveined, peeled and tails removed (or about 9.5 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon divided Zatarain’s Liquid Crab Boil (may add more to taste)
salt for seasoning
5 tablespoons butter divided
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 cup chopped red pepper
1 cup low fat milk (I actually use skim)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cups quick grits (not instant)
3 tablespoons butter
1 (5 ounce) jar Kraft Old English Cheddar spread
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg separated
Freshly ground pepper to taste
In a small bowl, combine shrimp with 1/2 teaspoon crab boil liquid and sprinkle lightly with salt. Stir well and set aside.
In a 9-inch cast iron skillet (or a stovetop and oven-safe skillet), melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Toss in garlic and sauté for about a minute. Add remaining vegetables to the skillet and cook until soft. Sprinkle vegetables with salt.
Pour shrimp into the skillet and cook for about 3 or 4 minutes or until shrimp turn pink. Taste and add 1/4 teaspoon more crab boil (may omit if flavor is spicy enough for your taste) to the skillet and add more salt to taste. Stir well to combine. Remove skillet from heat and remove shrimp and vegetables from skillet and set aside on a plate. (I cover it and refrigerate.)
Wipe skillet loosely with a paper towel, then return skillet to stovetop. Pour in milk, salt, and 1 1/2 cups of water to same skillet. Increase heat until liquid just starts to bubble and add grits. Stir to blend and turn burner down to low. Cover (I use tin foil because I don’t have a cover for my skillet) and cook for about 5-7 minutes, making sure to stir a few times to avoid sticking. Remove from heat, remove cover and add in butter, cheddar spread, and garlic powder. Stir well to combine until the butter and cheese have melted. Mixture should have cooled off a bit at this point. Make sure skillet is not on the heat.
Beat egg yolk in a small ramekin and stir into skillet. Beat egg white with a hand mixer in a small bowl on high until stiff (about two minutes) and fold into skillet mixture. Gently stir to combine.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 18-20 minutes. Remove from oven and spoon shrimp mixture onto the top of the grits in the center. Bake for about 5-7 minutes more. Salt and pepper to taste before serving.
Nan’s Notes: The liquid crab boil is the ingredient that makes this dish so mouthwatering to me, but it's hot, so stop after the first 1/2 teaspoon if the flavor is enough for you. You can always add more, but you can’t remove once it’s in there! Also, I tried this with jumbo shrimp and I preferred the taste and texture of smaller shrimp.
Lastly, salt is key in this dish. I realize that shrimp is naturally high in sodium, but I always add salt to shrimp dishes for the taste. If you're watching your salt intake, add to your taste!
Serve with a green salad and garlic bread.
Adapted from Bell's Best Cookbook (grits portion)