Before I moved to the South, just saying the word "grits" would make me scrunch up my nose. The first time I ever tried them was at Waffle House, which was a big mistake. I'm pretty sure they just cook them in water and serve them. Boring.
Yet, every time I watch Top Chef and some Southern chef rolls in with their shrimp and grits, all the guest judges go wild. Shrimp, cheese and bacon? Sounds good to me. If only I liked grits. Then, I found the grits at The Flying Biscuit. They aren't cheesy, but they are buttery. I liked them - a lot!
So one day I decided I was going to make a meal of grits and order Shrimp and Grits. We were out to lunch with my in-laws. My mother in law loves for everyone to order different things, then half way through, she wants to start trying everyone elses dishes so she can sample a little of everything on the menu. Typically, she ends up trading her entire dish with my father in law. I joke with my husband that my father in law should just order for her, he seems to know what she'll like better than she does. I'll admit, I do not enjoy this food sampling. But we only eat with them a few times a year, so I can adapt.
But this time, when I tasted the shrimp and grits, I said, "no one is touching this. It's all mine and if no one will be embarrassed, I'm going to lick the bowl clean." I did end up sharing a bite or two, and was delighted that no one loved it as much as I did. More for me! I loved how the creamy grits had a tangy bite from the cheese. Paired with the crunchy bacon and the tender crispness of the shrimp, it all came together perfectly.
And so began my hunt for a recipe to replicate the dish I had. The restaurant served theirs with a cheesy white sauce over the top, which I did not do. I found this recipe though and everything about it seemed right to me. It had the grits cooked in milk and water, which I am told is not authentically Southern. ("Grits are cooked in water, oatmeal is cooked in milk.") But I did it with milk and it was delicious without the bacon, shrimp and cheese.
I used a really sharp white cheddar for this. This is not the time or place for a bag of Sargento. I also think I will add some red and yellow bell pepper next time, for more color and texture.
Shrimp and Cheese Grits
adapted from Serious Eats
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2.5 cups milk
2.5 cups water
1 cup grits
1 1/2 cups really good cheddar cheese, finely grated
8 ounces bacon, chopped
20 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup scallion, chopped
salt and pepper
Add the butter and olive oil to a saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Turn the heat to high and pour in the milk and water. Bring to a boil and slowly whisk in the grits. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes. When done, add the cheese and stir until its melted. Season with salt and pepper tot taste and set aside.
Add the bacon to a large skillet and cook over medium-high heat. Cook until browned and crisp*. Remove and drain on paper towels. Pour out all but 3 tablespoons of bacon fat.
Set the skillet back over medium-high heat and when smoking, add the shrimp. Cook until pink, about 1 1/2 minutes per side.
Add some of the cheese grits to a bowl and top with the shrimp, chopped bacon, scallions and a little additional cheese.
*A note about bacon. A lot of recipes will have you cook bacon on the stove top, then use some of the reserved fat to cook the rest of the ingredients in. Since I hate messes; especially bacon grease spattered on my stove top, hood, and cabinets; here is a shortcut I take:
When I buy bacon, I cook it on a baking sheet. I lay all the slices out and bake it for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. When it's done, I remove it to a paper towel lined plate to cool, and I drain all of the bacon fat from the baking sheet into an airtight container and refrigerate it when its cooled.
When a recipe calls for me to cook bacon then use the bacon fat in the pan for cooking, I pull out my ziplock of cooked bacon, chop it up (or do whatever I need to do with it). Then take my reserved bacon fat out of the fridge and add however many tablespoons of fat I need to the pan I'm using to cook the rest of the ingredients. I get bacon flavor layered into my dish and I don't have a huge mess to clean up. If I don't use all the bacon that week, my husband gets to have a BLT sandwich at some point, or I'll toss a piece into an egg sandwich during the week.