We needed something relatively easy to make when we made dinner plans with our friends Liz and Ed and Liz’s parents, Carol and Will. This recipe fit the bill because I made the gravy ahead of time and then took care of the shrimp and the grits after we arrived at Liz and Ed’s house (they have air conditioning, we don’t and it’s been a hot summer in Milwaukee).
The grits, or polenta (same difference as far as I’m concerned–I’m neither Southern or Italian, so don’t come after me with an angry mob of your fellow villagers, please) can be made according to the instructions on the packaging or using Alton Brown’s recipe linked above. Don’t use quick or instant grits (this meal’s easy, but not that easy) and the real thing is much better. Because tonight was a dinner party and I wanted to both be social and handle cooking, I used Alton’s oven polenta recipe rather than making the grits on the stovetop, so I could avoid frequent stirring of the grits and was out of the kitchen as much as possible.
Another reason I’m calling this meal “easy” is because I splurged (an extra $1 a pound at my grocery) for peeled and deveined raw shrimp. Don’t use precooked shrimp, they’ll toughen up as you try to cook them and the raw shrimp will absorb some of the gravy’s goodness as they cook.
Finally, I made the gravy ahead of time and then made the polenta and cooked the shrimp in the gravy just before dinner.
You can make all three parts of this dish (gravy, grits, and shrimp) in parallel or make the gravy ahead of time like I did. Read the recipe all the way through before making (though of course, you always do this, right?) because you’ll end up with a couple of pans going at the same time and you’ll want to figure out how to get everything done at about the same time.
For the shrimp:
- 1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Frank’s RedHot Sauce
For the grits:
- 1 1/2 cups stone-ground grits, not instant or quick-cooking
- 2 tablespoons butter (unsalted if you have it)
- 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheesed (I prefer white cheddar and make sure you’re using sharp cheddar)
For the gravy:
- 6 slices thick bacon (spend the money on the good stuff, no Oscar Meyer)
- 1 small yellow onion (not a Vidalia or other “sweet” onion), finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced (I used spring garlic because we just got some in our CSA box)
- 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions (the green part, not the bulb)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (for thickening gravy, so use more or less as needed)
- 1/2 cup beer (I used Goose Island’s Sofie, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale. Use something with flavor, but not dark.)
- 1/2 cup chicken stock (or use all beer if you like)
- Slice your bacon into lardons (1/4 -1/2 inch-wide strips cut cross-wise across the length of the bacon strip).
- Fry lardons in a medium or large skillet. Brown and crisp the bacon, but don’t let it get super crispy, it will continue to cook a little as you add more ingredients.
- Add chopped onion and garlic to the skillet and sauté in the bacon fat until translucent and limp (about 5 minutes).
- Add the scallions and flour as needed to slightly thicken and continue to sauté for another 5 minutes.
- Add the beer and chicken broth, stir to combine, and allow mixture to slowly bubble for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and wait for the grits to finish or allow to cool and cover if you’re making the grits ahead of time. If you make ahead of time, the gravy will thicken and you may want to add a little liquid (beer, chicken broth, water, whatever is handy) when heating the gravy back up before adding the shrimp.
- Make grits according to package or using Alton’s oven polenta recipe using water–chicken broth (even low sodium) will be too salty after you put the shrimp and gravy on top of it. Also, if using Alton’s recipe, no need to sauté onion or garlic like he does. We’ve already got them in the gravy.
- After grits are done cooking (thick and creamy), add the butter and the cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Peel and devein shrimp if needed. I leave the tails on, but they can come off now if you want.
- About an hour before you want to eat, toss shrimp with the lemon juice, salt, pepper, and several generous dashes of Frank’s hot sauce and let it sit in a bowl while you make the grits and gravy (if you haven’t made the gravy ahead of time). You could use different hot sauce, but Frank’s is the best, so just use Frank’s.
- About 15 minutes before the grits are done, put the skillet with the gravy in it back over medium heat until it is bubbling.
- Add the shrimp to the gravy and cook until shrimp are opaque (not see-through), turning the shrimp at least one so they cook all the way through. This will probably take 5 to 7 minutes.
- Spoon grits into shallow bowl.
- Top with gravy and shrimp. I topped with some fresh chopped parsley too.