Monday, March 7, 2011

Shrimp and Grits

Have I mentioned I live in the South?

Sometimes, I forget this fact. My little town finds itself to be just cosmopolitan and democratic enough that there are times it slips my mind.

There are other times, however, when it is blatantly clear.

I had decided to do a month of being vegan in preparation for a cholesterol test (I'm not sure if being vegan really matters, the jury is out and the internet is undecided).  It was awful. I had all this free time and I couldn't bake anything, because if there is one thing I don't do, its substitute butter and eggs for their cheap imitations.  I went out to eat and all I could have was scallops pan seared in butter (I kid, I kid. I know they're not vegan, but i was trying to irritate my sister. I swear I'm a grown up). Okay, so I had to forgo the vegan oath for a few meals, but I tried really hard. I went without eggs in my fridge for at least two weeks. The poor KitchenAid was left to gather dust.  Did I mention how awful it was?

The morning of the test which was at the god awful time of 7:45 (and yes, even though there are days including today when I start work a full hour earlier than that, it does not mean the same thing on your DAY OFF. I have black out curtains for a reason: I hate the morning), I actually planned my time correctly and had fifteen minutes to spare before my appointment. I guess that's what happens when you are forbidden breakfast.  Never one to miss an opportunity, I went to one of the best pastry shops in town to get my after-meal breakfast: two eclairs, a cannoli, and a piece of sacher cake.

After my test (You can let out that breath you've been holding because I have no news; I am still waiting on results) I went to the nearest grocery store and I let my favorite fishmonger pick out the best thing on the rack that day. It was fresh shrimp.

Have I mentioned that I don't really like shrimp? They're really cute-style points for color and accessory  antennae, but all I really like is cocktail sauce. So after she packaged them all up for me, I had to figure out what to serve with them.  Did I mention that whole vegan thing? I was beginning to think of some creamy cheesy grits as the perfect accompaniment. I let my second favorite fishmonger and all around gourmet pick out some cheese. We went with asiago (which, if you're like me and was first introduced to you by Panera Bread's bagels, is so much better in real food).

Well, my breakfast was a great hit, and not just to my blood glucose levels.  I had some errands to run and things to do, so I was planning on the grits as dinner. It got to be about 7pm, and I got all my supplies out.  Because I am not from the south (I just live here) it wasn't until then that I realized that corn meal is not the same thing as grits. Thank you, wikipedia.  Can you tell I had never made them? Apparently, grits are ground white hominy. Apparently, they are hard to find in stores (thank you again, online forums devoted to Best Hard to Find Food Stores).

I went to the closest open store with a foolproof backup plan: a bottle of cocktail sauce.  The store, which had only four aisles and one wet rack for produce (I notice things like this, I know too much about the grocery industry), had a fine selection of grits. Five different brands, to be exact, and three different varieties of each brand. Not just your quick or traditional cooking times, but flavored varieties as well (butter flavored? Red eye gravy and country ham? What does that even entail? I can't make this up).  Now, if I lived in New York City (New York City? get a rope!) I might not be so surprised. But Charlottesville, Virginia? Where locally owned stores aren't open on Sundays or past 8pm? Ten or more varieties on one tiny grocer's shelf? They hadn't gathered any dust.  A subtle reminder that I live in the land of tobacco.

So, dinner: after peeling and de-veining the shrimp, was a huge success. I now own white hominy grits, have had them for more than just that dinner, and know where I can get "Country Bacon" flavored ones at a moment's notice. Let me know if you need some shipped.

Shrimp and Grits Adapted from Cooking for Two 2009

8 oz large shrimp (31-40/pound), peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small onion, minced (I omitted, obvi)
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup quick grits, the normal flavor (America's test kitchen recommends you not use a different cut as it will require a different amount of water)
4 ounces asiago cheese, shredded
1 scallion, sliced thin

Preheat your oven to 375F.

Throw the shrimp, olive oil, garlic and cayenne with some salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a 10 inch OVEN SAFE skillet over medium heat. Add your gross onion and cook until it has softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the water, cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Bring this to a boil. Whisk in the grits slowly. Reduce the heat to low and cook (keep on stirring) until they are thick and creamy, 5-7 minutes.

Remove from heat. Whisk the cheddar until combined. Lay the shrimp on their sides in a pinwheel formation over the grits. You can press them down to embed them if you want it to be extra pretty. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook for 5-7 minutes until the shrimp are cooked through. Garnish with scallion before serving.

Other ways they suggest cooking them:
with bacon (use 2 pieces in place of butter, removing the bacon after it has cooked and using hte remaining fat to cook the onion)
With a chipotle chile added in during the water and cream boiling.

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