So I added the chives on top for a little contrast, and to make this look a little less like dog food. It’s a little trick I use that decreases enhances my effectiveness as a food stylist. Food too beige? Prop a chive on it. Looks a little too much like dog food? Chives. Unattractive dessert? Chives. Kids aren’t cooperative for the family photo? Chives. I mean, come on, you can see the results here. I dare you to create an appetizing looking plate of shrimp and grits sans chives.
*I know it’s a serious condition, but is this or is this not a very funny word? Answer: Yes, it is.
You will never guess the explanation for this picture. Well, unless you read this post.
Normally, I don’t like grits. I don’t understand them, I think their texture is creepy, I have awful memories of my mom trying to make me eat farina, and I’ve definitely never understood them as a breakfast food. I don’t care how much butter and salt you add, or even cheese – which fixes a multitude of culinary sins – gruel is still gruel.*
Apparently, I’ve been approaching grits entirely the wrong way – cooking them with water or stock and adding some butter at the end, more polenta style. Apparently, when you cook them with milk and heavy cream and butter, grits are fantastic. Who knew? This is one of the two useful pieces of knowledge I’ve gleaned from Tyler Florence, and it’s what keeps me from permanently relegating him to the dungheap of chefs. Although he definitely lives in a shack very close to the dungheap. (In my mind, I mean. In real life, I bet he has a really nice apartment he doesn’t deserve.)
The picture above is of the milk and cream in a measuring cup. Note the fairly drastic color difference between yellow cream, which is practically butter, and the milk. I normally use equal parts milk and cream, but this cream was so thick – and barely pourable, so it took a long time to measure – that I had to dial it back to 2-to-1 (and probably could have gone to 3-to-1, to the delight of my HDL cholesterol levels**) . I whisked the grits in and left the pot to bubble while I made the shrimp. Note: Put this pot on the back burner, because the bubbles that erupt from this shit are like tiny volcanoes that will burn off the top layer of skin before you make it to the sink to wash it off. You’ve been warned.
*Although, if forced to make a choice, I suppose I would choose the cheesy gruel. But they probably didn’t give you that choice in 14th century dungeons or19th century British orphanages, which I assume are the most likely places one would be forced to eat gruel.
**That’s the bad one, right? I always mix them up. NB: If someone could figure out a way to make this meal so that it has a positive effect on my cholesterol, I would find a way to raise a million dollars and give it all to you.
The cook’s ABC.
Or GOO: Garlic, Onion, Olive oil. They are the start of shrimp and grits, as they are of all good things. Hey, maybe I could turn this into another Rachael Ray-like acronym! I’ve got FoPro, and now I’ve got GOO. Now I just need inappropriately tight high-wasted pants and a dog whistle-like giggle and I AM the Next Food Network Star. That’s how she shot to fame, right?
Here’s where things get good. Why do they get so good?
This is not your momma’s shrimp and grits. Or maybe they are. What do I know, I’m an Italian Yank? If these are your momma’s shrimp and grits you were one lucky bitch growing up.
These are not just shrimp cooked with the garlic and onion, maybe tossed with some lemon and cayenne and tossed on top of a pile of grits, not that I wouldn’t eat that if you gave it to me, assuming the grits follow the guidelines outlined above.
No, these shrimp are poached in a fantastic, rich, flavorful sauce made with stock and a touch of milk filled with spicy sausage and thickened by a roux made by the fat given off by the sausage. Think milk gravy that one might eat with sausage and biscuits, if that gravy had snorted a few lines of cocaine in the Ladies’ room after chugging a 2-liter Mountain Dew.* See how you can feel your arteries hardening already? But it feels SO GOOD? Yeah, I know it.
I cut a few links of spicy Italian pork sausage out of their casings – a good andouille would also be fantastic, nay, preferable here – and browned them with the onion and garlic. When the sausage was good and brown and had let off all the fat it was going to, I added a few teaspoons of flour and incorporated them to make a roux.
It scares me a little to admit this but this sausage was shockingly lean for sausage and I had to add a little extra fat to the pan – (NOT MORE BUTTER) butter – to get enough for a decent roux. I cooked it for a few minutes (You want to get rid of any raw floury taste. Unless you like that. In which case, ew.) and whisked in chicken stock and a little milk, stirring the roux in well. Once it came to a boil and the roux reached FULL THICKENING POWER!! I gauged the thickness of the sauce and thinned it out with a little more stock to get a good gravy-like (v. paste-like) consistency.
**This post is very aside-y. It’s been awhile! It feels good.
Arteries fully hardened. Name officially on heart transplant list.*
In the meantime, the grits finished up. I corrected the salt and pepper levels and stuck a pat of butter on top to keep them from forming a skin. Look, if there’d been any other way I would have done that, but I really had NO CHOICE but the butter,
*Do you think they would they make you sign a waver saying you wouldn’t eat this anymore once you got your new heart? Because I might have to think about that. I’m not saying I wouldn’t sign, but I might try to negotiate a little.
Watch the amazing transformation of the shrimp from slimy slug-like objects to MAGICALLY DELICIOUS!
Brian is the official animal-breaker-downer of our household, so he peeled and deveined the shrimp while I doctored the sauce – a bay leaf, some dried thyme, some snips of fresh chive, a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and a pinch of cayenne (we like it spicy, especially since the grits are so batshit insanely rich). A shot of red wine vinegar also helps – a little acid keeps the flavors bright, because this whole dish could so easily get drug (dragged?) down into a TGIFridays-esque gutter of over-the-top heaviness.* A salt and pepper check, and we were ready to move.
Can I take a brief moment to wax rhapsodic about these shrimp? Brian was all like, “Why did you get these enormo shrimp?” And I was like, “Wild, Louisiana-caught, never-frozen freshly shrimp baby.” Because just saying “How do you like THEM shrimp?” seemed like it wouldn’t really get my point across. Anyway, they were plump, non-fishy-smelling, just perfect shrimp specimen. Well, except for their carbon footprint, since I don’t live in Lousiana (although it would have been worse, I could have picked the pathetic looking previously-frozen Thailand shrimp) and the shrimp didn’t teleport to my kitchen.
Which, to be candid, would have scared the living shit out of me. I like my shrimp to appear in the kitchen when I say so, not whenever the hell they damn well please. Shrimp don’t need that kind of power, which will only go straight to to their tiny, tiny heads. (You know they have the penultimate Napoleonic complex of the sea, plankton having the worst.)
I nestled the beautiful, beautiful shrimp down into the simmering, sausage-laden sauce and left them to poach for a few minutes, just until they turned that perfect shade of peachy-pink. While they cooked, I fetched my fool-proof chives.
*My criteria for a good dish: Is this something that Guy Fieri and his ill-advised hair**would try to sell me for $6.99 by yelling loudly about its in-your-face, bold flavors? If the answer is yes, that dish shall never again grace the kitchen.***
**Seriously, why would you trust someone above the age of 23 who still thinks that hair is a good idea? He’s married, right? Isn’t it part of any good partner’s job to tell the other person when they look like a jerkwad? Why won’t she speak up? Is she scared? WE WILL PROTECT YOU, MRS. FIERI.
***At the very least, it will not be cooked in the high-quality pots and pans.
SEE? See how the chives make things “pop”? If you don’t then I think that’s your problem, end of discussion.
Goddamn, these shrimp and grits are good. The grits are a creamy, buttery wonder that actually taste like something. The sauce is a spicy but balanced gravy; pronounced sausage, obviously, with a little more up-front spice from the additional chile, some background herbal notes and that bright ping of acid. Two or 3 minutes produce perfectly poached shrimp, and their delicate sweetness pairs beautifully with the sausage – another reason not to skimp on shrimp, they really need to stand up to the bold sauce. The sauce helps temper the grits, whose creamy sweetness echoes the shrimp; it’s like the Circle of Life that rules us all. Really, a surprisingly balanced dish for something with a lot of potential to go horribly, horribly awry.
There remains one way in which things can go horribly awry: during serving. I cannot emphasize enough: BE CONSERVATIVE IN YOUR PORTIONING. I never am, and you do NOT want to be like me. A dollop of grits, a few small ladlefuls of sausage and gravy, topped off with 4 or 5 shrimp = done; balance aside, this dish is distinctly heavy and fat-laden and is NOT meant to be eaten in mass quantities. It also happens to be great as leftovers to pawn off on your friends and family, because you really shouldn’t be eating this 2 days in a row.
Really, I feel almost irresponsible telling you about it. But I couldn’t not, because Holy Moses parting the Red Sea with his magical staff,* this shit is fucking good and I spend 364 days of the year waiting for the day when I I get to eat it again, and I don’t want you to not have that joy, that anticipatory delight in your lives.
*Whoa, that sounds off-color.
Shrimp and Grits of Beautiful Death
Serves 4 – NOT 2. I AM SERIOUS.
1 c. Stone-ground grits of your preference
3 c. total liquid of your choice – stock, milk, cream, accordingly to how deadly you want it to be. However, cream should definitely constitute part of this, probably 1/3
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 links hot Italian or andouille sausage, removed from their casing and broken into chunks
2 tsp.. AP flour
1-2 c. chicken stock
1/2 whole milk
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. dried thyme, or a few sprigs of fresh
pinch of red pepper flakes
pinch of cayenne
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 pound of the freshest shrimp you can get your mitts on, peeled and deveined.
Make the grits: Bring the liquids to a simmer in a sauce pot. Slowly whisk in the grits. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the grits are nice and thick, 10-20 minutes depending on your grits. Season with salt and pepper. Put the butter on top to melt and keep a skin from forming; you’ll whisk it in later.
Make the shrimp: Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook for 5-7 minutes until translucent; a little color is okay, but not too much. Add the garlic and cook 2-3 minutes.
Add the sausage and cook until browned all the way through, breaking up the larger chunks with your cooking implement of choice as you go. At this point, you want about 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan. If you don’t have that, add a little butter to get there.
Sprinkle the flour over and mix it into the sausage well, making sure it combines with the fat and there’s no raw flour lingering in the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes to get rid of the raw floury taste.
Whisk in a cup of stock and the whole milk, stirring constantly to incorporate the roux. Bring to a low boil and evaluate the thickness; use more stock to get the sauce to a gravy-like consistency. Add the bay, thyme, pepper and let simmer to combine the flavors.
Just before you’re ready to serve, add the vinegar, stir to combine and drop in the shrimp. Poach them in the gravy until they’re just cooked through. Meanwhile, whisk the butter into the grits; if they’ve gotten too thick, thin them out with a little more stock, milk or cream.
Put a (reasonable) pile of grits in your bowl, and add a ladle or two of gravy and sausage, making sure you get 4-7 shrimp (depending on their size). Add a chive if you require visual appeal. Eat, making sure you have a spoon to get all the gravy-soaked grits that will remain at the bottom of the bowl.