Traditionally South Carolina Lowcountry fare, Shrimp and Grits is a magnificently coastal, southern staple and one that everyone has to try at least once in his life. I warn you though, once you’ve tried it, your view of southern fare will never be the same. You’ll find yourself scouring all the menus on a southern roadtrip looking for this bewitching meal. It’s not simply comforting, but complex in flavor too.
Originally relegated to breakfast, I’ve tried a variety of different plays on this dish at a variety of different times of the day, but this one from The Pioneer Woman Rie Drummond’s new cookbook The New Frontier actually impressed us quite a bit! The Mr even stated that it was right up there with some of the best Shrimp and Grits he’s ever had. And I agree. It wasn’t just that it was super cheesy (you really can’t go wrong with more cheese can you?), but it was loaded with diverse flavors and textures.
Despite the fact that the ingredients are all ones you can easily find in any local market, the only one that was a little bit different was the mascarpone which could easily be substituted with cream cheese if you can’t find it. The mascarpone folded into the cooked grits with both sharp cheddar and pepper jack produce a smooth, lightly zippy, velvety pillow to cradle the cooked shrimp and sauce. One of my favorite ingredients utilized here however, was actually the simplest one. Rie uses chicken stock (I swapped in Better Than Bouillon Roasted Chicken Base) here to cook her grits. So simple! It’s so simple, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before! I mean, I routinely cook all other grains in stock! How did I not think of this before?! Cue facepalm emoji. The recipe also uses chicken stock for the base of the sauce with a generous dollop of tomato paste.
The shrimp is dusted with Cajun seasoning before it’s tossed into the hot pan until just turning pink. The shrimp comes out flavorful and the sauce is seasoned with the remnants of the Cajun seasoning, but with smoky bacon, spicy jalapeño, sweet onion, and earthy red bell pepper. The cooked down sauce is tempered with the acidic heat of Tabasco and sweet acidity of Meyer lemon juice. The shrimp slipped back into the pan to be blanketed in the sauce before being nestled on a bed of the golden, cheesy grits.
I topped each serving with verdant, sweet green onion and crispy, crumbly smoked bacon. Although it’s serious comfort food, the dish was elevated by the zesty-spicy sauce. The acid to the sauce cut right through the fattiness of the creamy grits on the palate making way for the briny, meaty shrimp. Next time I think I would drizzle a little local honey in the sauce while it’s bubbling to cut the heat with a hint of floral sweetness.
It was the perfect dish for us with a great combination of some of our favorite flavors! What are some ways you would shake this dish up for your family?
Currently Reading: Food and Travel, April 2012, Issue No 145