Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Big Easy Shrimp and Grits

You want to get to know a city, a state, a country? Travel there. Want to get to know it intimately? Live there.
Growing up, I had the great fortune to visit New Orleans many times. My mother loves the city and passed that affection on to me. I'd tell you it was the culture, the people, the exotic nature of the old city that has always intrigued me. Certainly that's all true, but it's the food that hooked me.
It's food that always hooks me.
I love all things Creole and Cajun. And being an outsider, I never had to pick sides. Gumbo, etouffee, poboys, dirty rice, I dig it all.
I've also been fortunate to spend a few years living in North Carolina. Like New Orleans, the state has its many charms, but it was the food that truly interested me.
That's the great thing about food. I'm not the first person to say it, but it bears repeating: if you want to understand a place and its people, eat the food.
Just as the Crescent City has its mudbugs and jambalaya, the Tar Heel state has its signature dishes. The first that comes to everyone's mind -- as it well should -- is pork barbecue. Literally and figuratively, North Carolina is the alpha and the omega of slow cooked pork. Once you get a taste for that soft, succulent swine sopping in vinegar sauce, you will yearn for it forever.
However, pork barbecue isn't the only dish done in Carolina. It was another favorite meal that led me to bring two of my favorite cuisines together: shrimp and grits.
The genius of shrimp and grits is its simplicity. The dish isn't composed of much more than than the ingedients in its name. As such, it's easy to play around with. So when the missus' folks were in town recently, I decided to put my own spin on it by combining it with the classic New Orleans dish barbecue shrimp.
I love barbecue shrimp, but it took me years to figure it out. Now, it's not that I wasn't exposed to it. It's one of my mother's favorites, so I had it growing up, whether in a restaurant or at home. The thing is, though, barbecue shrimp is not barbecued and doesn't involve any barbecue sauce.
Weird, right?
What it does involve is an incredibly rich and savory butter sauce that the shrimp swim in until plucked from the plate and popped in your mouth. Just about every restaurant in New Orleans -- and along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi for that matter -- serves this dish as an appetizer with plenty of bread to soak up the sauce (because if they didn't give you the bread, you'd drink the sauce right there at the table).
The sauce got me thinking: What if instead of bread, you spooned the barbecue shrimp over top a bowl of grits? I'm not the smartest guy, so I know someone else has thought of this. But I've not met that guy, so I'm taking credit.
Now, how is it that I've gotten this far in life and eaten in as many places as I've had and not seen this before? Barbecue shrimp atop a bowl of grits! People, this is genius. That's how I know that I can't be the first person to figure this out.
Anyway, until you or I hear differently, this is my moment. Let's enjoy it.
Laissez les bon ton roulez, Carolina!

Big Easy Shrimp and Grits

For the dish, I basically used Commander's Palace's recipe for barbecue shrimp, but made a few tweaks. I ladled it on to a bowl of grits I cooked with andouille sausage, yellow onion, minced garlic and a jalapeno. It's a simple dish, but man is it good.
(As a side note, I made this dish twice; once using fresh shrimp and fresh rosemary and once using frozen shrimp and dried rosemary. The differences were stark. I cannot encourage you enough to use fresh Gulf shrimp and fresh rosemary. If you don't, your meal won't be nearly as good as it could be. Trust me.)

Barbecue shrimp

2 lbs. large fresh Gulf shrimp, completely shelled (tails and all)
1 tbs. olive oil
1 large head of garlic, minced
2 large stems of fresh rosemary, left whole, but bruised with the back of your knife
3 tbs. of Worcestershire sauce
3 tbs. hot sauce or to taste
1 large lemon, juiced and quartered
1/3 cup of beer (an ale, like Big Boss' Bad Penny Brown, or a dark beer, like Abita Turbodog)
1 tsp. of dried basil
1 tsp. of dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. of paprika
8 tbs. of butter (one stick) at room temperature
Sea salt and pepper to taste

The grits

1 cup grits (I use instant, but use what you have or like)
1 yellow onion, minced
1 jalapeno, partially seeded and minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced finely
2 andouille sausages, diced
2 tbs. butter at room temperature
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Although neither dish takes very long to cook, knock the grits out first. Allowing the grits to warm on the stove while you cook the barbecue shrimp won't hurt them in the least.
Over a medium high heat, melt one tablespoon of butter and toss in the onion, garlic, jalapeno, and salt and pepper to taste. Saute the vegetables for a minute or two and add the andouille sausages. Saute for another couple minutes, or until the sausage begins to sweat some of it's porky goodness, and then add water and cook the grits according to the instructions on the box they came in. When the grits are cooked, add the remaining butter and taste the grits to make sure you've added enough salt and pepper. Cover the pot and set on low heat while you take care of the barbecued shrimp.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, add the tablespoon of olive oil. When the oil begins to smoke, add the garlic and stir so the garlic browns, not burns. After a minute or so, add the shrimp, Worcestershire sauce, whole rosemary, oregano, thyme, paprika, cayenne, basil, hot sauce, lemon juice, lemon quarters, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a minute or two. Add the beer and deglaze the pan by scraping off any bits that are sticking to the bottom. Finish cooking the shrimp for another two to three minutes and then add the eight tablespoons of butter piece by piece, stirring them into the sauce. Once the butter is fully incorporated, taste the sauce to ensure it's seasoned to your liking. Remove the lemon quarters and rosemary stems.

When the shrimp are pink and begin to curl, pull the pan off the heat, fill a few bowls with grits and ladle the barbecue shrimp on top. I'd tell you to enjoy, but I think you'll do that all on your own.


Rebecca said...

I never realized you were into N.O. for the food! Geez that college trip you and Matt took some dozen years ago seemed to be all about booze and narrowly avoiding jail time. My how time flies...

Matt Redman said...

This looks great. I'm going to try this one for sure. Thanks!

Taresa said...

Have you tried the shrimp and grits at Creme?