Shrimp & Grits with Tomato Gravy

Monday, March 04, 2019

Shrimp & Grits has long since been on my list of ultimate comfort foods. With so many different ways to approach this classic combo, it's hard to go wrong. (Unless of course, you're serving instant grits. Yes, I'm judging you.This post is an update to my original Shrimp & Grits recipe, published back in 2014. For folks familiar with the older version, here's a quick rundown of the changes made here:

  • I'm using a shallot instead of the sweet onion, which is milder and smaller. Minor swap, so just use what you have on hand. If you're making this in the summer when Vidalia's are in season, definitely go for that. (You could also complete "the Trinity" by adding diced celery and bell peppers.)
  • Doubled the garlic.
  • The shrimp are added to the gravy only at the very end, instead of searing first. Besides cutting out a step, there's less of a chance you'll overcook the shrimp this way. 
  • I switched to fresh thyme (which I always have) vs the oregano (which I rarely have.) It's added directly to the pot instead of marinating the tomatoes.
  • I skipped the jalapeno, and instead added heat with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Less prep, and easier to adjust. If your spice blend is already hot, you may not need this at all.
  • Lemon zest adds to the lemon flavor. 
  • Heavy cream finishes off the gravy instead of butter, for a creamier, richer consistency.
If you know what you're doing, feel free to scroll down to the recipe. Here's the rest of my ingredient notes, for those of you who like to take the scenic route:

Pork: I usually opt for a tomato based-gravy studded with crispy bacon, though sometimes my choice of pork is slivers of browned andouille sausage or tasso ham. If you're pork-adverse, I wouldn't bother with turkey substitutions, but duck bacon is worth exploring.

Stock: The magic's mostly in the sauce so the stock you use will determine the complexity of the flavor in the finished dish. I highly recommend taking the time to steep all your shrimp shells in chicken stock, as detailed in the first step of the recipe instructions. The shells of the shrimp hold so much more flavor than the flesh, so that's a major key. I know it's easier buying the shrimp already peeled but this is an extra step worth taking. That said, if you happen to already have homemade shrimp stock or lobster stock on hand, you're in even better shape and can skip that step. Using lobster stock is a fairly new trick up my sleeve, as I only get the opportunity to work with fresh whole lobsters once a year or so. I've had a few quarts in my freezer saved up for rainy days, and today was one of them - it did not disappoint. If you're up for a project next time you cook lobster, the stock recipe I tried was close to this one, minus tomatoes.

Grits: Treat yourself to the real thing. Stone ground grits will take about 20-30 minutes of fairly frequent stirring, but the timing aligns with making the shrimp gravy portion of the recipe. In other words, no excuses. There's nothing like properly cooked, creamy, savory grits. My old recipe still holds up, though I usually skip the thyme and increase the liquid by a cup. It all depends on the type of grits I'm using. Consult your package for the ideal ratio of liquid to grits. I recommend a combination of milk and water, or milk and stock. You don't have to add cheese, but if you do, smoked gouda won't do you wrong. Fontina or Gruyere are also great options. I'm not a big fan of cheddar as I think it interferes with the flavors here, but whatever floats your boat. If you have exceptionally good grits, you may find that the cheese isn't necessary. My frequent splurge is the smoked grits from Louismill, which get super creamy without the addition of cheese. At the time of writing this post, it appears they're out of stock of the Smoked Country Grits, but the City Grits are also good (just a finer grind.)

Tomatoes: I use cherry tomatoes because they're consistent throughout the year and easy to prep. In the summer, you may want to take advantage of really great heirloom tomatoes, peeled and deseeded. I think canned tomatoes add too strong of a flavor to the sauce.

Spices: Any good Cajun or Creole rub works. My Cajun blend is on the original post. The All-Purpose Rub from the Kitchenista Diaries Volume 1 cookbook is also a great fit; and though I haven't tried this myself, the Mexican Chile Rub could be a flavorful tweak. The key is just to be mindful of whether you're adding salt to the recipe from your rub, and if so, only add Kosher salt to taste as you cook. Today I used Chef Jade's All Purpose Rub, which can be purchased on Etsy. Her blend is ground from whole spices so the flavor's fresh, and I loved the addition of cumin and coriander.

Onto the recipe! You can also find a video tutorial of the process on my IGTV feed!

Shrimp & Grits with Tomato Gravy

1 lb jumbo shell-on shrimp (21/25 count)
2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 - 2 tbsp your favorite Cajun or All-Purpose spice blend
Kosher salt, as needed (about 1 tsp)
8 oz. cherry tomatoes, halved
4 strips bacon, diced
Butter or olive oil, if/as needed
1/4 cup diced shallot
4 garlic cloves, minced or thinly sliced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 lemon, plus juice
2 tbsp chopped chives

Active Time: 45 min
Total Time: 45 min
Yield: Serves 4
Special Equipment: saucepan, fine mesh sieve, 12" heavy-bottomed skillet, braiser or Dutch oven pot

  • Peel and devein shrimp; set aside in a bowl. Add shrimp shells, tails, and the bay leaf to chicken stock in a small saucepan and bring to boil. When shells turn pink, turn off the heat and set aside until needed.
  • Pat the peeled shrimp with paper towels to dry. Toss with Cajun seasoning and half a teaspoon of Kosher salt, if needed. (Use more or less seasoning here, depending on the strength of your rub, and of course, be mindful of salt content.)
  • In a separate small bowl, toss the cherry tomatoes and a good pinch of salt. The salt will help to start releasing some of the tomato juices for the sauce.

When you're ready to watch the stove top, you can start cooking your grits. Meanwhile, add the diced bacon to a cold skillet or other large pot. Bring up the heat to medium, cooking the bacon until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon, transferring to paper towels to drain. Set aside. Drain all but 2-3 tablespoons of bacon grease.

If you're short on bacon fat or skipped the pork, you can add some olive oil or butter to grease the bottom of the skillet before proceeding. Add the diced onion or shallot and cook just until softened. 

Then add the garlic, crushed red pepper flakes (if using), smoked paprika, and cracked pepper. Stir, cooking for another minute until fragrant. Turn the heat down a little if necessary. The remnants of sugar from the crispy bacon bits can sometimes char a bit, but burnt garlic is not one of those good burnt flavors.

Stir in the salted cherry tomatoes. Allow them to cook until the skins start to blister, stirring frequently. Add a little bit of butter or oil if necessary to keep things moving.

Once the tomatoes start to blister, you'll want to incorporate your stock. Just hold the fine mesh sieve over the pot and pour the stock through, to catch all the shells and bay leaf. Pour in the Worcestershire sauce and add the thyme. Stir, bring the contents of the pot up to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer. You're looking for the level of the liquid to reduce and thicken and cherry tomatoes to break down, which could take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. 

After the liquid has reduced, do a quick taste test for salt. (Remember, your shrimp are already seasoned, so there's a bit more salt headed to the pan.) Stir in the heavy cream and lemon zest. You should have a nicely thickened gravy now.

In go the shrimp. Spread them out so they're laying in a single layer. Allow the shrimp to poach gently in the gravy, on the lowest heat setting. Watch for shrimp that have turned pink, and flip over to the other side. If any appear to be fully cooked early (firm and opaque), just start to stack them on top of uncooked shrimp. 

When all the shrimp are cooked, turn off the heat and give things a final stir. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Fold in the chives and bacon. Serve immediately over hot grits. Savor every glorious bite.

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  1. Was just looking for a shrimp and grits recipe. So glad I came by here!

  2. I am looking forward to making this dish this weekend. We've been living in Holland for three years and you just don't get food like this here. YUM.