When I first moved away from home, one of the first things I tried to make was polenta. It was a complete disaster. My arms were pockmarked with tiny burns thanks to the boiling hot bubbles of cornmeal that seemed to bubble up non-stop. The end result was thick and tasteless and I threw it away. It was years before I had the guts to try polenta again.
I'm glad I did, because polenta is awesome. Grits are even better because even the word sounds tastier! I've made this dish with both grits and cornmeal, but since cornmeal is so much easier to come by around here, that's what I use. If you got yer grits, use 'em, otherwise, plain ol' cornmeal is fine.
The key to good grits is using lots of liquid. I love to use chicken or vegetable stock and then enrich the sauce with milk. If the mixture starts getting too thick, add in more milk (or water) until you reach a nice consistency. Too thick and it becomes like glue - totally unappetizing. And don't forget to use the butter and cheese! Crucial elements, indeed.
Most shrimp and grits recipes use bacon or sausage, but I didn't want things getting too heavy, so I used plain old white mushrooms instead. It was a good move. The mushrooms and shrimp and chilis mingle with garlic and onions and tomatoes to create a rich and thick sauce. White wine (or lemon juice) helps give it a kick.
Shrimp!! Don't forget the shrimp. If your shrimp is frozen, just let them sit in a bowl under slowly running cold water until for about 5 minutes. Let shrimp sit in the cold water for 10 minutes and repeat. Sometimes I quicken the work, by giving the shrimp a bit of a rub - enough to remove any ice layers still attached to the shrimp. It works like a charm.
Is shrimp still fancy? I like to think so, but trust me here, in this dish, it's comfort food. Plain and simple. Enjoy!
Spicy Shrimp & Grits
5 cup water or stock
1 cup cornmeal or quick cooking grits
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup grated sharp cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 jalepeno, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup white wine (or juice from 1 lemon)
1 lb uncooked large shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 tablespoon hot sauce (I like Frank's Red Hot here)
In a large pot, bring water or stock to a boil. Turn down heat and slowly, slowly, slowly, whisk in cornmeal or grits. Stir with a wooden spoon and add in milk. Let simmer, but stir often. Mix in butter and cheese and season, if necessary with salt and pepper. Is it still a bit thick, lighten it up with more milk or water and give it a stir once in a while!
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over med-high heat and add in onion, jalepeno, garlic and chili flakes. Saute until fragrant and soft. Stir in mushrooms and let that sweat a bit before adding in the tomatoes, oregano and salt. Pour in wine and let the sauce bubble and thicken for a bit before stirring in shrimp and hot sauce. When the shrimp is pink on all sides, it's cooked - this should take just a couple of minutes.
Serve grits in deep bowls and top with shrimp and sauce. Serves 4.
By Jeannette Ordas of Everybody likes Sandwiches