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Shrimp and Grits

Classic shrimp and grits, shown here with Anson Mills Antebellum Coarse White Grits, should ring with the flavor of shrimp.
difficulty:
yield:

6 first course portions or 4 main dish portions

time:

About 1¾ hours start to finish, not including the time it takes to cook the grits

introduction

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The renaissance of regional Southern fare some two decades ago landed shrimp and grits on every menu from Charleston to Savannah—as well as on menus in cities where no shrimp ever swam or spawned. And for good reason. Shrimp and grits is an ethereal dish, guileless and profoundly comforting. You need nothing more than sweet dayboat shrimp (with their shells to make shrimp stock), real country ham or smoked bacon, minced onion or shallots, a knob of butter, and a pot of hot...

The renaissance of regional Southern fare some two decades ago landed shrimp and grits on every menu from Charleston to Savannah—as well as on menus in cities where no shrimp ever swam or spawned. And for good reason. Shrimp and grits is an ethereal dish, guileless and profoundly comforting. You need nothing more than sweet dayboat shrimp (with their shells to make shrimp stock), real country ham or smoked bacon, minced onion or shallots, a knob of butter, and a pot of hot grits to make a memorable dish. Right. But collecting these ingredients is not always easy, even if you happen to live on a tidal creek. As a result, shrimp and grits recipes wind up reading like laundry lists of random, out-of-place ingredients. Diced tomatoes and heavy cream, for instance, are smooth interlopers, but interlopers nevertheless. Frankly wrong are ingredients like bell peppers and sausage—save them for the jambalaya. You can, indeed, make an acceptable dish of shrimp and grits with frozen shrimp, but all the other ingredients need to be pristine.

equipment mise en place

For this recipe, you will need a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, a fine-mesh strainer, a small saucepan, a large nonstick skillet, a pair of tongs, a warm plate to hold the cooked shrimp, and a whisk.

    • 1
      pound 31/40 or 26/30 shell-on shrimp
    • 1
      tablespoon olive oil
    • 1
      medium onion, finely diced
    • 1
      small rib celery, finely diced
    • 2
      large garlic cloves, sliced
    • 4
      cups spring or filtered water
    • 1
      teaspoon tomato paste
    • 3
      sprigs fresh thyme
    • 1
      Turkish bay leaf
    • 1
      teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
    • 1
      strip lemon zest
    • 2
      tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 1
      tablespoon all-purpose flour
    • 2
      ounces thick-cut bacon or real country ham, minced (3 tablespoons)
    • 2
      medium shallots, minced (¼ cup)
    • Fine sea salt
    • ½
      teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • ½
      teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1
    • 1
      scallion, white and green part, thinly sliced
  1.  

    Peel and, if desired, devein the shrimp, reserving the shells. Dry the shrimp between layers of paper towels and refrigerate until ready to use. 

  2.  

    Heat the olive oil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the shrimp shells, onion, celery, and garlic and sauté until the shells are crisp and the vegetables have softened, about 10 minutes. Add the water, tomato paste, thyme, bay, peppercorns, and lemon peel. Cover and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the stock is flavorful and reduced, about 1 hour. Pour the stock through a fine-mesh strainer set over a small saucepan (you should have about 1½ cups strained stock), cover the saucepan, and keep hot over low heat while you cook the shrimp.

  3.  

    While the stock is simmering, in a small bowl, mash the butter and flour to a smooth paste and set aside.

  4.  

    In a large nonstick skillet, sauté the bacon or ham over medium-low heat until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Move it to the periphery of the skillet and increase the heat to medium. Arrange the shrimp in a single layer and sear until pink, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle the shallots over the shrimp, toss to combine, and continue to cook just until the shrimp turn opaque, about 1 minute. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, the red pepper flakes, and the black pepper and toss well. Using tongs, transfer the shrimp to a warm plate. Add the hot shrimp stock to the skillet, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Whisk in the butter-flour mixture, return to a boil, and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 20 seconds. Return the shrimp to the skillet and stir to coat them with sauce. Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more salt, if desired.

  5.  

    To serve, spoon the hot grits into shallow bowls. Top with the shrimp and sauce, dividing them evenly, and sprinkle with sliced scallion. Serve immediately.