I have some friends who spent their Spring Break with their teenage daughter in New Orleans (NOLA). They built homes for an organization called Shirts Across America which builds homes for families whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. There are many many families still in temporary housing, so the need remains great. Of course, while there, they spent early mornings and their evenings visiting all the important sites, including fabulous restaurants and beautiful neighborhoods.
Anyways, New Orleans was on my mind this past week. That city is one that you need to visit at least once. There is no other city like it in the entire USA. NOLA is a place that falls into the category of “TOTAL SENSORY OVERLOAD” with its lovely architecture, fabulous music, outrageously delicious foods with their incredible aromas and exquisite flavors. It reaches all your senses in ways no other place can.
One of the best meals I’ve had in my life was in New Orleans. I was in town for a convention, and a group of us went to lunch at this place in the Garden District that is known for its “Barbecue Shrimp”. As a girl from the Midwest, transplanted to the Pacific Northwest, my idea of BBQ shrimp was a bunch of shellfish thrown onto a grill. To my surprise, that was not NOLA barbecue shrimp at all. NOLA BBQ Shrimp is large succulent shrimp swimming in a spicy, buttery, red-orange sauce that is so good, you really just want to drink it. And then lick the plate. But fortunately, it is served with various delights, like crispy French bread and cheesy grits to sop up that lovely liquid. My only recommendation for this meal is when they offer you a bib to wear while you eat it, definitely take it!
Like other classic Cajun/Creole dishes (gumbo, jambalaya), everyone has their own recipe. This past Sunday, Teresa and I searched Epicurious and FoodNetwork.com for a good recipe. We usually choose a recipe with the most reviews and good “Star rating”, meaning 3.5 out of 4, or at least 4 out of 5. We settled on a recipe entitled “Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Shrimp and Grits“. As usual, we adapted it to our own tastes, and added a few things we saw in other recipes that looked good. Our recipe is a kind of riff on Tyler’s. Our additions include the honey, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, and Parmesan cheese. And, for those who think you don’t like grits, these are a game-changer! You will be trying to decide whether to eat the leftovers for breakfast instead of saving them for the shrimp!
This is a very flavorful dish. Savory, spicy, succulent and a little sweet. I would say it safely serves 6 people, probably with some left over for your own lunch the next day.
Ultimate Shrimp and Grits
For the grits:
3 c milk
2 c Heavy cream
1 c Stone-ground white (we used coarse-ground yellow, because that’s what I had on-hand)
2 T unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano cheese
For the shrimp:
2 T EV olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb andouille or spicy Italian sausage, cut into chunks
1/4 c all-purpose flour
2 c chicken stock
2 T honey
1 T molasses
3 T Worcestershire sauce
2-3 bay leaves
2 lb large shrimp 16-21 size preferred, (we used smaller because that’s all the fishmonger had left), peeled, de-veined, tail-on
Pinch cayenne pepper
Tabasco or Crystal hot sauce, or similar
1/2 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 green onion, sliced
2-4 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
First, make the grits. Add the milk and cram to a 3-at saucepan. Place over medium heat. Whisk in the cornmeal. When it begins to bubble, turn down to low or medium-low.
Stir frequently, cooking until mixture is smooth and thick. If your cornmeal is fine to medium, this may take 10-15 mins. Since ours was coarse-ground, it took around 45 mins. When thick, remove from heat, stir in the butter, cheese, salt and pepper. You can also thin it out a bit with either milk, cream or stock.
While the grits are simmering, as long as you remember to stir them with some frequency, you can move on to the shrimp. Or, you can wait until they are done, no worries, because they keep warm in the pan, and you can thin them out if they thicken more than you like.
Heat a deep skillet, pour in the 2 T olive oil. Sauté the onion until almost soft. This took our onion about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, sauté 1 minute more or until fragrant. Add the sausage chunks, and cook until brown and some of the fat has rendered.
Remove the sausage at this point. Your onions should have decreased in volume by this time, so it would be difficult to remove them. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon to create a roux. At this point, you need to stir for at least one minute, so there is no flour flavor to the dish. But you can stir for several minutes to deepen your roux in color and flavor. We probably stirred for 6-8 minutes, just to deepen the color and flavor a bit. Next, pour in the chicken stock, while whisking so it remains smooth. Add bay leaves, molasses, honey and Worcestershire. When the broth begins to bubble, add the shrimp to cook. Poach for 2-3 minutes, until pink, then add the sausage back to the pan. At this point the gravy should be smooth and thick.
Add cayenne pepper, hot sauce, lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spoon grits in serving bowls, top with shrimp mixture. Garnish with chopped onions and parsley. Enjoy!