Pure comfort food, grits, like polenta, are made from stone-ground dried corn and cooked slowly in water so they release their starch before transforming into a creamy, luxurious dish. Look for good-quality grits such as Anson Mills, Marsh Hen Mill or Bob’s Red Mill white corn grits. Grits (traditionally made from dent corn) will cook into a softer creamier texture while polenta (made from flint corn) retains some of its coarseness, and offers a toothsome bite while still buttery and creamy. In a pinch, use polenta in place of grits but modify cooking time and liquid accordingly.
I grew up eating grits — traditionally made in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia as a hearty breakfast — with plump, juicy Gulf shrimp, but in-season wild Alaska spot prawns really elevate this humble dish. This recipe is inspired by my favorite version made by chef Bill Smith, formerly of the legendary Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Commonly available cremini mushrooms work great here but feel free to experiment if you have access to other mushroom varieties such as shiitake, morel or king trumpet.
Smith calls for grated cheddar and Parmesan in the grits, but I find really good, creamy, high-quality grits and fresh sweet spot prawns don’t need the added cheese. Make sure to have Tabasco or another good vinegar-based hot sauce on hand. Leftover cold grits can be shaped into triangles and crisped in butter for a delicious side or as a base for eggs in the morning. — Kim Sunée
Creamy grits with wild shrimp
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 cups water
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup stone-ground grits (not quick-cooking)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Tabasco or other favorite vinegar-based hot sauce
1/2 cup grated cheddar or Parmesan (optional)
4 to 6 slices bacon, chopped
1 1/2 pounds fresh wild shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cups mushrooms, such as cremini or king trumpet, thinly sliced
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 to 4 fresh thyme sprigs
Lemon wedges and fresh chopped parsley, for garnish
• For the grits: Combine 2 cups water, 2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium-to-large saucepan and bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in grits. Continue stirring and reduce heat to low until an occasional bubble gently breaks the surface. Cook, uncovered, stirring often to prevent scorching until thickened, 25 to 30 minutes, depending on type of grits. Stir in butter, a few dashes of hot sauce, cheese if using, and 1/4 teaspoon white or black pepper. Taste and add more salt or butter as needed. Turn off heat. Stir and cover to keep warm.
• Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp; remove bacon and drain on paper towels, reserving 1 tablespoon drippings in pan. Crumble bacon and set aside
• Pat shrimp dry and season with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper; set aside. Sauté mushrooms in bacon drippings in skillet over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes until tender. If pan is dry, add about 1 to 2 tablespoons peanut oil or olive oil. Move mushrooms to one side of skillet. When oil is hot, add shrimp in a single layer and sauté 2 minutes until shrimp are beginning to just color. Turn occasionally to cook evenly. Add green onions and garlic, lemon juice and thyme, and cook with mushrooms until shrimp are just cooked through. If needed, add a few tablespoons of chicken stock or water and scrape bottom of skillet to loosen any browned bits. Taste and adjust seasoning, as needed. Divide grits evenly over 4 to 6 plates and spoon shrimp over. Serve with lemon wedges, fresh parsley and more Tabasco.