Enjoy a Mardi Gras-worthy dish with this Southern-style shrimp and grits

Enjoy a Mardi Gras-worthy dish with this Southern-style shrimp and grits

  • Let the good times roll on Mardi Gras with this dish of succulent shrimp and savory, cheesy grits.

    Let the good times roll on Mardi Gras with this dish of succulent shrimp and savory, cheesy grits. Courtesy of Penny Kazmier

 
Posted2/19/2020 6:03 AM

Next Tuesday is Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I've never been to Mardi Gras, but I've read it is quite the lively experience complete with parades, music, hurricanes (not related to the weather), and of course, lots of food.

King's Cake, gumbo, jambalaya, and of course, beignets are on the menu in New Orleans, but at my house, we will be serving shrimp and grits.

 

Thanks to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, seafood is often a key ingredient in New Orleans specialties. Blue crab, crawfish, red snapper, tuna and catfish are often sourced from the area. Still, shrimp seems to be one of the most popular and can be found barbecued, spicy or dredged in flour, cornmeal and spices and fried before being placed inside a bun and topped with lettuce, tomato slices and creamy rémoulade sauce, otherwise known as a po'boy. Shrimp is a New Orleans favorite.

Since I live nowhere near this plentiful seafood source, I purchased frozen uncooked peeled and deveined shrimp at my local grocery store. Whenever possible, I like to allow frozen shrimp to defrost overnight in the refrigerator before rinsing in a colander. I also decided to remove the tails before cooking, since I don't like fussing with them on my plate; easy.

What are grits? Grits are made from corn. What is the difference between cornmeal, polenta and grits -- I'm glad you asked.

While all three are made from corn, cornmeal is finely ground dried corn and comes in yellow, blue and white varieties; think tortillas and tortilla chips.

Like cornmeal, grits are usually made from dent corn, a starchy variety that becomes smooth and creamy grits as it cooks. The corn is treated with lime to remove the hull, creating hominy, and is dried before being coarsely ground to become grits.

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There are two types of grits; stone ground, whole grain that retain the germ, and instant. The stone-ground variety requires 45 minutes to cook thoroughly, while instant grits are tender in just 10.

Polenta is similar to grits except that it is made with dried flint corn, a variety native to Italy. This type of corn has a hard starch in the center, which gives polenta its characteristic grainy texture. Like grits, polenta can be cooked with any liquid -- from water to stock to milk.

Grits are neutral in flavor, so in addition to a flavorful liquid, it's not uncommon to see a recipe include cheese and spices along with ingredients like bacon.

In this recipe, grits are combined with milk, cheese, spices and andouille sausage, a smoked Cajun sausage. (I have had luck finding this near the packaged smoked sausage at my grocery store.) If you like your grits spicy, you can add some extra hot sauce if you'd like.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of crucial spices: Old Bay and Creole seasonings. Both add slightly different dimensions to this dish; Old Bay is celery salt and paprika with warm pepper undertones, while Creole seasoning includes paprika, oregano, black pepper, basil, cayenne pepper, granulated onion, thyme and garlic. Each serves a different role, so be sure not to let one substitute for the other.

Caramelized onions, mushrooms and shrimp are combined with spices and homemade beurre blanc sauce, made of shallots, garlic, vinegar, white wine, a little heavy cream and butter. I usually make the onions and beurre blanc sauce ahead of time to help with time management.

I fear my photo doesn't do this dish justice; sweet and slightly spicy shrimp combined with savory onions and mushrooms all covered in wonderful beurre blanc sauce sitting on top of creamy, cheesy and somewhat spicy grits. Not something you eat every day, but oh so worthy of a special occasion.

These recipes are adapted from a beautiful cookbook I received as a gift several years ago called "A Southern Palate." Full of Southern recipes by Robert St. John and the beautiful watercolor artwork of Wyatt Waters, it is one of my go-to resources for Southern recipes.

I know the recipes may seem involved, but if you break them down and prepare ingredients ahead of time, they are all very manageable. I promise the finished dish is worth a little extra planning.

In true Mardi Gras spirit, "Laissez les bon temps rouler," or "Let the good times roll," the official greeting of Mardi Gras.

• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.

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