Shrimp & Smoked Gouda Grits with Tomato Gravy

Friday, July 25, 2014

It always strikes me as funny when I hear somebody remark, "shrimp goes with grits?" I guess I always knew it to be a fantastic southern dish, so it never occurred to me that some people might only know grits as a breakfast food. Even worse, there are people out there who only know how to appreciate grits with sugar. Yuck. I don't want any parts of that life.

I believe South Carolina deserves the credit for what most of us recognize as an "authentic" shrimp & grits dish, with Louisiana's creole shrimp & grits close behind. I make no claims to represent either with my recipe, although it borrows from both. I enjoy switching up the ingredients a bit depending on what I have on hand - garnishing with scallions instead of chives, subbing fresh basil for the oregano. Nothing that really changes the essence of the dish really, just little tweaks that any wise home cook would make in a pinch. The addition of sweet cherry tomatoes was a hesitant move the first time, but as soon as they burst and slumped into a rich tomato gravy, I knew it was a game changer. When I added jalapenos to give it a kick and spooned the shrimp over creamy Smoked Gouda Grits, I had a keeper.

Confessions of a food blogger... sometimes you've written an amazing recipe, cook everything perfectly, and sit down to edit your photographs only to realize they all suck. Okay, I'm being a little harsh on myself here but seriously? I cringed. My lighting did not quite cooperate with me this time. It's funny because I cooked this dish for one of my friends when I did my trial run and he was laughing at all the photos I was taking. His plate was clean before I snapped my last shot! One of the lesser known secrets of food blogging is how many cold meals we end up eating! At any rate, despite 100 photos I didn't get everything I needed. In order to get this post finished I have borrowed a few beautiful photos I took when I first made shrimp & grits back in Florida. It is essentially the same dish, but I prefer to make it these days with a little more gravy than my original recipe had.

You know what else struck me as ridiculous this time around? Keeping the tail on the shrimp for presentation. Whose idea was that anyway? When I see a bowl of shrimp and grits, I want to DIG IN. So don't try to be the fancy food blogger like Angela. Take the tails off and make life easy for your dinner guests. Trust me, this dish is delicious and elegant in its own right, so nobody will think any less of you for serving it in an approachable way. 

There are a couple steps here you might be tempted to skip in efforts to get dinner on the table faster. One is to use plain chicken stock instead of steeping the shrimp shells to make a tastier shrimp infused stock. I'm not going to say you'll ruin the dish if you do that, but I would love if you took your time with this one. There's a world of difference in flavor if you give each part of the process its due diligence. Yes, you can buy shrimp already peeled and save yourself a ton of time. For some recipes that wouldn't be a big deal but for this one, the shrimp shells really add a lot of flavor to the sauce. The other shortcut, far more criminal in nature, would be the use of instant grits. Don't do this. If you're going to take the time to make a flavorful gravy to coat these tender, plump shrimp - why serve it over hastily made grits? I wrote this recipe with my Smoked Gouda Stone Ground Grits in mind. Treat yourself, don't cheat yourself. This is one of my favorite comfort food dishes to make. Indulgent, yes, but it's the kind of stick-to-your-bones goodness that every now and then the soul really needs...

When it comes to bacon, you're good to leave that out if you don't eat pork. It definitely adds an undertone of smokiness and provides fat to both cook and impart flavor to the rest of the dish. That said, it's not a starring role here. There's no need to replace bacon with anything else, just use olive oil and a little butter to start your dish . I mention all this because "what can I substitute for bacon" is a common question (People who don't eat bacon? I know...scary.) The pork lover in me shudders a bit at the thought, but I get that everybody has their own dietary preferences. My general rule - if bacon is a main component to the dish, you are probably best to look for a recipe that doesn't use it at all rather than substitute with another meat product. If it's a negligible amount of bacon used primarily for fat, you are usually okay to omit and use an appropriate cooking oil instead.

If you really want to go all the way, there's nothing like homemade buttermilk biscuits to sop up that extra gravy. I made an amazing batch of Bacon Sweet Potato Biscuits this time. read that right. If you'd like to learn my secrets to this extra special version, that recipe tutorial is available (along with many others) with a small donation to The Kitchenista Diaries! I'm raising funds to publish my cookbook so every contribution helps!

Shrimp & Smoked Gouda Grits with Tomato Gravy

1 lb jumbo shell-on shrimp (21/25 count)
2 tbsp Cajun spice blend (or recipe, below)
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken stock
1 bay leaf
4 strips bacon, diced
8 oz. cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 garlic cloves, minced or thinly sliced
1 sweet onion, diced
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced (optional - for a milder sauce, omit or remove core & seeds)
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp butter
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp chopped chives
Kosher salt, to taste
Smoked Gouda Stone Ground Grits

Cajun Spice Blend:
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme

Serves: 4 modestly; increase shrimp to 1 1/2 lbs if you'd like a more generous serving
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Equipment Suggested: Large cast iron skillet, small pot

Many of these steps can be done at the same time, so this is definitely meant to be a multi-tasking dish provided you can keep an eye on things all at once. You'll want to start your Smoked Gouda Grits around the time the bacon hits the skillet.

Peel and devein shrimp. Add shrimp shells and bay leaf to chicken stock in a small pot and bring to boil. When shells turn pink, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside until needed.

Meanwhile, pat peeled shrimp with paper towels to dry. Toss with Cajun seasoning and smoked paprika; set aside. Halve or quarter the cherry tomatoes and in a separate bowl, toss them with the oregano, garlic, and a good pinch of salt. As the tomatoes marinate, the salt will help to release some of the juices for the sauce.

Add diced bacon to cold skillet. Heat to medium, cooking bacon until crisp. Remove bacon with slotted spoon, transferring to paper towels to drain. Set aside. Drain all but 2-3 tbsp bacon grease. If you're short on bacon fat, you can add a neutral cooking oil to coat the skillet.

Increase heat to medium high. Add shrimp to skillet and cook, turning once. As soon as shrimp turn opaque, remove from skillet and set aside. They will finish cooking in the sauce, so don't overcook them here. You can cook the shrimp in batches if they don't fit into your skillet in a single layer.

Add onions and jalapeños to skillet and cook until onions are soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Warning - the pepper can add a lot of heat to the dish, so use judgment to suit your tastes especially if serving to children. You can remove the core and seeds from the jalapeño and finely chop it for a milder dish, or omit the pepper altogether if that's your preference.

Add the marinated tomatoes along with any accumulated juices, and the Worcestershire sauce.

Strain the shrimp stock into the skillet, discarding shells and bay leaf.

Scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the skillet. Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer until gravy thickens, about 5 minutes or so. You really don't need to add any kind of flour to this if you just give the sauce a little time to do its thing and reduce.

Check and adjust seasonings as needed. Stir in lemon juice and cold butter to finish the gravy off.

Return shrimp to skillet and simmer just until heated through. Stir in chives and most of the bacon bits; I like to reserve a little bacon for sprinkling over the top of my shrimp once served. Turn off heat.

By now, your grits should be finished cooking and waiting patiently to be devoured. You've probably already been sneaking spoonfuls, if you're real.

Spoon shrimp and tomato gravy over the smoked Gouda grits, garnishing with bacon bits and a little lemon zest if you want to be fancy. Or not. The important part - dig in while those grits are nice and creamy and the shrimp is hot!

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  1. Thanks Love I'm def gonna try this tonight! I'm not a fan of tomatoes but you made this dish look fabulous so tomatoes here I come lol

  2. I just served this last night to a group of about 10 Minnesotans, most of whom had barely heard of shrimp and grits and the LOST THEIR MINDS. I am a habitual shrimp and grits eater, and this may have been the best recipe I have ever tasted. Really good and highly recommended.

  3. Tried this out on Sunday and everyone loved it! Nothing left. I even messed up, totally forgetting to add the tomatoes, but it worked out :) Thank you!

  4. These grits were the best I've ever had! They were gobbled up and raved about! I used andouille sausage instead of bacon, and I think next time I'll use just sausage and nix the shrimp. These were truly wonderful and I'll be making them again many times. Thanks for the wonderful recipe!

  5. Try this for any dish calling for grits as a base. Toast them dry in a dry skillet set to medium low until they are slightly toasted and aromatic. You kinda got to stir constantly and shake the pan gently to keep them moving and prevent scorching. It doesn't long. Adds another depth of flavor to the dish.

  6. Oh, forgot, then make grits as usual.

  7. Oh, forgot, then make grits as usual.

  8. I just made this recipe, my God!!! My lady does not care for grits(she’s a terrorist), but she cleaned her bowl after trying these.