Shrimp and Grits

This is part 2 of the Dining at Bar Americain series.
Part 1: Chocolate Crepes with Rum Whipped Cream
Part 3: Tilapia with Chile Butter and Ricotta Grits Cakes
Part 4: Molasses Mustard Pork Chops
Part 5: Roast Chicken with Honey Mustard Black Pepper Sauce and Hatch Chile Spoonbread

There are very, very few people who dislike grits.  But there are many, many people who are reluctant to try grits.  Yet, everyone who tries them ends up loving them and wondering where they’ve been all their lives.

True story: after graduating college, I worked for a federal senator, and one time my boss had to attend a brunch for some foreign dignitary.  The brunch was at a restaurant in Dallas locally known for their grits.  All the locals familiar with the place started raving about the grits and, upon seeing the confused frown from the dignitary, told him that he just HAD to try them, they’re just so good here.  He politely declined.  No, no, everyone insisted, they’re so amazing, you have to try them. Oh, no, that’s okay, he responded.  Have you ever eaten them, they asked.  No, he replied.  Well, that settles it, you have to try them at least once.  And they’re so good here!  He kept saying no, he really wasn’t interested in trying them.  The Americans kept pressing and refusing to take no for an answer.  The dignitary knew he was losing at that point, so to shut everyone up, he blurted loudly, “Okay, fine!  You win.  I’ll try ONE GRIT.”  As you can imagine, they all nearly fell out of their chairs with laughter.  He ordered the grits and finally got the joke.

I had tons of grits growing up, which made me very happy, but usually they didn’t include shrimp.  I’m very glad I have tried them with shrimp, because I think that shrimp and grits is one of the more delicious dishes in existence.  The plump, juicy shrimp meld so beautifully with the salty, crunchy bacon and rich, creamy grits.  This was one of the table’s appetizers when we dined at Bar Americain.  It was a huge hit with everyone, and the homemade version is just as terrific.  If you’re one of those people who is reluctant to try grits, TRY THIS DISH!!  It will convince you, I promise.

Source: Bar Americain Cookbook, by Bobby Flay

4 cups seafood or chicken stock
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 cup stone-ground white cornmeal
1/4 pound white Cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4″ strips
20 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme

Make the grits: bring 4 cups stock and 2 tsp salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking for another 25 to 30 minutes, until the grits are cooked and have lost their gritty texture. Flay says to whisk occasionally. I found that grits get a real attitude when left to their own devices and start spitting at you. I whisked continually and kept the heat on medium-low to reduce the spitting and make sure it didn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. It worked nicely for me. Just play with the heat levels and see what works.
If the mixture becomes too thick add another cup of stock or even water. Continue cooking until absorbed. Add the cheese and cream and whisk until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
Cook the bacon in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat until crisp and the fat has rendered. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon.
Pour off all but 3 tbs of the bacon fat and return the pan to the stove over medium-high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Working in batches as needed, add shrimp, garlic and thyme to the pan and saute until the shrimp have cooked through. Transfer to a plate with the garlic (as much as you can get – don’t be too hyper about it).
Divide the grits among 4 bowls and top each with 5 shrimp. Sprinkle with bacon and scallions. Serve immediately.

Note: if you have leftovers, put away the shrimp and grits separately. Microwave the shrimp until they are hot but not any further cooked, which only took 30 seconds in my microwave. To microwave the grits, add a little milk or cream to them and then heat 1 minute. Stir the milk in, test heat level, and keep reheating until they are to the desired temperature. They will take longer than the shrimp, thus the need to separate the components, but they will get creamy again.