Fast take on Southern grits spurs cleaning shrimp

The Whole Dish podcast: Shrimp shells make stunning seafood stock

For the second holiday-season meal running, I estimated just right.

After preparing an 8-quart Dutch oven chock full of fresh mussels, clams, shrimp and Oregon halibut in a briny broth for six adults and two kids, I only had a few odds and ends for the fridge. There were a couple of good-sized nuggets of fish, about 10 small fingerling potatoes from our garden, fewer clams still in their shells and 2 cups or so of that intensely flavored, fennel-infused, saffron-hued stock.

The seafood left over in greatest quantity, to my surprise, were the wild-caught Gulf shrimp. But that could have had something to do with my apathy for continuing to peel and devein them when I had clams to scrub AND mussels to de-beard.

So I cleaned a dozen or so of the less attractive shrimp last night, chopped them up with some scallions and fresh ginger and encased the mixture in prepared wonton wrappers. After pan-frying on their bottoms and briefly steaming, the quick, Asian-inspired dumplings got a bath in the leftover bouillabaisse broth.

Delicious as it was, I almost went in another direction to use up leftover ingredients from the Christmas breakfast casserole. Bacon ends, collard greens and shrimp all suggest a play on shrimp and grits, which I could pull together in a hurry, owing to the polenta squares in my freezer. But because I ran out of steam cleaning the shrimp for the second night in a row, that meal is sure to be in our near future.

I use the yellow, medium-grind cornmeal labeled polenta, but this version with white cornmeal in the true Southern style is well within reach. It would be a great use for leftover ham, if that factored into your holiday meal. And frozen corn kernels are a perfectly adequate substitute in winter. Likewise, if you lack fresh chives, feel free to substitute some finely sliced scallions.

Tribune News Service photo

Shrimp and Grits

2 1/4 cups milk

Kosher salt, as needed

1/2 cup white grits

1 ounce grated white cheddar

Canola oil, as needed

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 ounces ham steak, diced in 1/4-inch cubes

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Cajun spice mix (or paprika and cayenne)

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on, rinsed and patted dry

1/2 cup fresh corn kernels

2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup chicken or shrimp broth

1/4 cup snipped fresh chives

Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with parchment, leaving an overhang.

In a large saucepan, heat the milk and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil. Sprinkle in the grits, whisking continuously. (Wear mitts: Grits can spatter). Reduce heat to medium, and whisk until thick, for about 10 minutes. Pull pan off heat; whisk in the cheese. Scrape grits into prepared pan; set aside to cool, for 10 minutes or more.

Pull out parchment and slice slab into 4 squares; halve each, yielding 8 triangles. Set a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add a little oil. Working in batches, crisp all triangles, for about 1 minute per side. Drain on paper towels. Set 2 triangles in each of 4 shallow bowls.

Melt the butter in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Tumble in the ham, and let brown, for about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, scoop out ham; toss with 1 teaspoon cornstarch and either 3/4 teaspoon Cajun seasoning or 1/4 teaspoon each salt, paprika and cayenne; set aside.

Tumble the shrimp, corn and garlic into skillet, still over medium heat. Stir for 1 minute. Pour in the wine and broth and cook, stirring, until shrimp is curled and pink and corn turns tender, for 2 to 3 minutes. Return seasoned ham to pan. Increase heat and cook for 1 minute. Add more seasoning, if you like.

Spoon shrimp and sauce over grits. Scatter on the chives. Enjoy.

Makes 4 servings.

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