I’m often inspired by the food that I eat on my travels. On our recent road trip from New York City down to our new home in Florida, my husband and I travelled through the South and we splurged on many classic Southern dishes. We filled our bellies with fried green tomatoes, biscuits and gravy, crispy fried chicken, collard greens, black eyed peas, and of course plenty of ice cold, sweet tea.
But the dish I found myself craving the most when I got home was shrimp and grits. So I decided to
perform a recipe resuscitation and set about trying to create a healthier version of this hearty Southern classic. Growing up in the Northeast, I had never really experienced grits, which are such a staple in the South. Grits are made from coarsely ground corn. They’re available in white or yellow varieties and are usually cooked in water or milk until they reach a porridge-like consistency similar to Italian polenta. Grits are often served for breakfast topped with some butter and cheese or they’re served with shrimp in the classic dish originating in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Good news for those of you who are short on time- they also come in a quick cooking variety.
- ¾ cup stone ground grits
- 1 2/3 cup reduced sodium chicken stock (or shrimp stock)
- 1 cup skim or 1% milk (I used Skim Plus)
- 1 ounce grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (about ¼ cup)
- Kosher salt
- 1 lb. extra large shrimp (26-30 ct), peeled and deveined with tails on
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning blend*
- 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided use
- 2 ounces Canadian bacon, diced
- ¾ cup finely chopped scallion
- ¾ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 teaspoons all purpose flour
- ¾ cup less sodium chicken stock (or shrimp stock)
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
- Chopped scallion greens and lemon zest for garnish
Pour the grits into a large, heavy saucepan and fill with enough water to cover them. Drain off as much water as possible to remove any floating pieces of bran. Add the stock and milk and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Cover the pan and reduce to a simmer. Cook the grits, stirring occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan, for 20 minutes. Partially uncover the pan and cook another 5-8 minutes until thickened. Stir in the cheese. Taste and season the grits with salt. Keep warm.
Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and toss them with the seasoning blend. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet (cast iron if you have it) over medium high heat and add the bacon. Cook the bacon for a few minutes until browned. Add the shrimp to the skillet and cook, stirring them often, until they just turn pink, 3-4 minutes (the shrimp will finish cooking later in the sauce). Transfer the bacon and shrimp to a bowl.
Heat the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil in the skillet over medium heat and add the scallions, bell pepper, and garlic. Season the vegetables with salt and cook until slightly softened, 4-5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook another minute. Add the stock and cook another minute or two until the sauce thickens slightly. Stir in the lemon juice and hot sauce.
Add the bacon and shrimp back to the pan and stir to combine. Cook another few minutes until the shrimp are cooked through. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
To serve, place a serving of grits in a bowl and top with some shrimp and sauce. Garnish with scallions and lemon zest.
* If you don’t have a premixed Cajun seasoning blend, you can sprinkle the shrimp with a combination of dried thyme, paprika, garlic powder, oregano, and cayenne.