April 25, 2011

Shrimp and Gri.. er, Mashed Potatoes?

Now for those of you who reside in South Carolina or Georgia, Shrimp and Grits may be a staple in your diet. It may not even seem like a big deal once you've grown up around it and had it on a regular basis.

But, for me, Shrimp and Grits is very new. And a VERY big deal.

While doing my weekly troll on Food Porn Daily (I'm a masochist, don't mind me) I saw the most BEAUTIFUL picture of the dish and it brought me back to my first experience with Shrimp and Grits.

Shrimp and Grits from Simple Comfort Food

I first learned of Shrimp and Grits on an episode of "Throwdown with Bobby Flay" on the Food Network. (see the recipes from the episode here) To be honest, I couldn't even tell you who won. I was too busy wiping the drool off my face.

Think perfectly cooked, juicy shrimp.. sitting on creamy, cheesy grits.. smothered in a pan sauce using the drippings from rendered pork (the recipes used either bacon or ham).

Now I was immediately ready to begin replication of this sumptuous looking dish, but I had a problem. Apart from the fact that I had never before seen quick-cooking grits in any of my local grocery stores, I had always written it off and up to this point in my life have never tried it. It reminds me of cornmeal porridge which I REALLY dislike. Needless to say, I decided that I was not going to serve my shrimp with grits.

Once again, if you are from an area where shrimp and grits is not only a staple, but a cultural icon, it was not my intention to spoil the dish. Apologies to the creators of Shrimp and Grits.. but I decided that my take would be with mashed potatoes.

Here's what I did:

  • First I chopped up some bacon - turkey bacon, because my pork intake is already ridiculous enough - and fried it up in a skillet.
  •  Set aside the cooked bacon, but leave the drippings in the pan. It serves as the base for the gravy drizzled over the dish when serving.
  •  I cooked 3 potatoes, just cubed them up and boiled them in vegetable stock for added flavour. You can cook them however you want, bake them, nuke them in the microwave, whatever.. just make sure they're cooked through so they're easy to mash. And seafood stock would be perfect here, I just used what I had in the pantry at the time.
  •  I drained the potatoes, leaving just about a teaspoon of stock at the bottom of the pot to keep the flavour in. 
  • To the potatoes, I added about 2 tablespoons of milk, 4 ounces of sour cream, a tablespoon of butter, and half a cup of cheese. White Cheddar would be ideal here, but I used Pepper Jack.
  • Mash it all together until you feel like your arm feels like it's not there anymore... then switch arms and mash some more. By that time the residual heat from the potatoes should have melted the cheese.
  • Once you have the potatoes to a silky smooth consistency, fold in the cooked bacon pieces and chopped green onions. I also added in crushed red pepper flakes for some heat. 
  • I seasoned the shrimp with a dry spice rub containing pimento, paprika, fennel, garlic, onion, red pepper, sugar, thyme and ginger; then sauteed the shrimp in the bacon fat, until JUST pink. This also adds more flavour to the drippings in the pan.
  • For the gravy, I could tell you to use your already exhausted arms to make a roux using the drippings and stand over the stove, slowly pouring in stock and stirring until the consistency was just right.. or I could say that I deglazed the pan with some white wine, added a tablespoon of heavy cream, and made the sauce bubble away til it reduced by half. Which would you prefer?
  • For serving: I spooned the potatoes into the bowl, topped it with a few shrimp, and drizzled the entire dish with the white wine and cream reduction.

I was so excited about stuffing my face that I forgot to take any pictures, the only one I have is from my blackberry the next day when I took some leftovers in a plastic container to work. Under fluorescent lighting *shudder*. It had been reheated in the microwave, but it was still delicious. The potatoes on their own could be a meal in itself because the bacon, green onions, and cheese each impart a different kind of flavour. But with the seasoned shrimp and white wine reduction... there are no words.

Leftover Shrimp and Mashed Potatoes at my desk at work
(taken with a blackberry, apologies for the terrible quality!)
Please comment and let me know what you think... even better, try it for yourself!


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