As it turns out, my pops was going green long before any of us were toting our own recyclable bags to the grocery store or biking to work. When we were wee little tikes, he had a job requiring a commute of about an hour or two (yes, even in the rural South), and he and one of his best friends, ‘Mr. Donald’, carpooled. Come summertime, my brother and I would hop, sluggishly, into the cab seats of pops’ 1985 Nissan pickup promptly at 6 am, and off to gramma’s we went for the day. Getting up with the roosters’ crows was not something I looked forward to, but going to gramma’s certainly was.
The commute wasn’t bad, either. My pops let me get coffee from the corner store on most days, but every so often we’d skip the corner store and stop further along, near Skinners Bypass, to get a hot breakfast. To this day, I can’t remember what I used to get (probably a cheese biscuit, or maybe some pancakes if I wanted to push my luck with making a mess…), but my brother, he always got grits.
He loved grits so much that Mr. Donald stopped calling him Matt, and early on in our commuting days he began calling him Grits. “Guh mornin’, Heather n’ Grits”. “Goin’ to gramma Maggie’s today?”. Man, those were the days. I don’t think my bro minded the nickname one bit though, as long as he could continue getting grits on the regular.
Me though? I was never a fan of the grainy, mushy, corn. The way I was schooled, you were either in the grits camp, or the oatmeal camp. Matt & I were polar opposites on the matter, and in that pickup truck, I was most certainly the odd man out. To this day, I’d choose oats over grits, and quite honestly, the grits and I are still not on the best of terms.
But with my sis and niece in town last weekend, I’d promised to cook one night. I’d sorta planned a homemade ravioli dish, but I could be easily coerced into something else, I figured. Early on in their visit, my sister made one of her random comments (she gets that from my mom):
“do yuuuu know whut theyyy stopped servin’ baaack home? shrimp n’ griyts. i caaayn’t fin’ ‘em anywhayre. i suuure wood luv to git sum shrimp n’ griyts.”
Irony of coming from the South to the Midwest for shrimp and grits aside, rather than taking a trip for sushi away from my niece, I quickly decided that I’d save the ravioli, and conquer this dish once and for all. Sure, I could have submitted an exotic Indian dish for this challenge, or perhaps made crepes, but I was challenged here, not because of the cuisine itself, but for other reasons: I was making a Southern/Cajun dish for someone who is a ‘grit’ herself, and I was making a component I tend to stray away from. I wanted to prove myself wrong about grits and their textural shortcomings, and I wanted to show my sis that you don’t have to live in the South to make Southern food, and you don’t have to rely on a restaurant to provide for ya.
While I rarely admit fault (ask the hubs), I will happily do so here. I could have eaten this dish for the rest of the week, and instantly regretted having to share this meal with visitors because that meant the leftovers would be scarce. The grits were mushy, which is to be expected since they are in fact, grits, but the texture was offset by the shrimp and peppers. Heat? Whoa Nelly – that sauce is the meal ticket, and I happily doused more than my fair share into my bowl. My sis? I think she said less during the course of that meal than she typically says in a minute – a true sign that she was satisfied, hankering cured.
I’m still not sure if I’ll ever find myself ordering grits at 6 am like my bro used to, heck – I hope to not order much of anything at 6 am, but for the time being, oatmeal can certainly kiss my grits.
Cajun Shrimp & Grits
Adapted from The Boathouse in Charleston, SC via Epicurious.com; serves 6
this is a great recipe even if you aren’t in the grits camp, but you have to enjoy a lil’ spice in your life! alternatively, you could omit the hot sauce on top, but to me, that’s the best part .
hot pepper cream sauce
1/3 c hot sauce (preferably Frank’s)
1/4 c dry white wine
1 shallot, chopped
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 T rice vinegar
1 c half & half (divided, half is for grits)
5 c water
3 c 2% milk
1/4 c (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 c corn grits (not ‘quick cooking’ grits)
1/4 c olive oil
8 oz smoked andouille sausage*, casings removed
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 c minced onion
4 garlic cloves, chopped
30 uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 t Cajun seasoning
2 t Old Bay seasoning
chives, minced, for garnish
Combine hot pepper sauce, wine, shallot, lemon juice and vinegar in heavy medium saucepan. Boil over medium heat until reduced to 1/2 c, about 15 minutes. Stir in 1/2 c half & half. Cover and refrigerate (can make in advance).
Bring 1/2 c half & half, 5 cups water, milk and butter to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in grits. Simmer until grits are very soft and thickened, stirring frequently, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add sausage, both bell peppers, onion and garlic; sauté until vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Add shrimp, tomatoes, Cajun seasoning and Old Bay seasoning and sauté until shrimp are opaque in center, about 6 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Bring hot pepper-cream sauce to simmer. Spoon grits onto 6 plates, dividing equally. Spoon shrimp mixture over grits. Drizzle hot pepper-cream sauce over and serve.
*andouille sausage is is spicy, smoked pork & beef sausage. I get mine from the sausage case @ Whole Foods, but if you can’t find it, you can substitute any other spicy sausage and either slice it thinly or remove the casings and use it ground.