Shrimp and Asparagus with Cheddar Grits

Confession time: I, Chef Ann, being an admitted lover of all food, never tasted grits until I was in my late 40’s.   I can see my followers south of the Mason-Dixon line are shaking their heads in disgust.

I’m sorry!  Really truly I am.  Let’s just chalk that unfortunate fact up to my living way ABOVE the dividing line my entire life.   I suppose Cream of Wheat was the closest I ever got to grit-land, and well….let’s just say they didn’t exactly float my boat.

Fast forward many many years.  I am dining with my most excellent cooking friend, Kathy and on the menu for the evening: shrimp and grits.  What an odd combination, I thought.  In my still naive mind, grits belonged on a plate with ham hocks and collard greens while shrimp?  Well shrimp are classy!  They belong perched atop a champagne glass on a bed of ice.  Delicately poached and served with cocktail sauce and a lemon wedge.  Shrimp + grits just seemed…counterintuitive.

Yes, I was wrong.  So very wrong.  Mea culpa.   This indeed is an inspired combination with humble origins in the Lowcountry, discovered by chefs in the 90’s, and now on the menu in the most sophisticated of restaurants.  And no matter which side of the line you are on, you simply MUST give them a try!

Just a few recipe notes here.  The original recipe calls for slow-cooking grits which I could not locate at my Whole Foods the other day.  I substituted corn grits (aka polenta): a fabulous, flavorful alternative.  Instant grits are good in a pinch although, like instant oatmeal, you will sacrifice a bit of texture.  The shrimp are tender, the asparagus, just crisp enough and the Worcestershire/butter sauce gives it the right amount of kick.

I am indeed a convert and ready to move on to another culinary adventure.  Collard greens anyone?

Shrimp and Asparagus with Cheddar Grits

4 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2-1/3 cups homemade or low-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup old-fashioned (not quick-cooking) grits or corn grits
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated extra-sharp Cheddar
1/2 tsp. Tabasco or other hot sauce; more to taste
1/2 lb. medium-thick asparagus, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
1 lb. large (about 10/15 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 to 2 scallions (green parts only), thinly sliced

Heat 1/2 Tbs. of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Add the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. While stirring constantly, pour in the grits and 1/4 tsp. salt. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the grits are thickened, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the Cheddar and 1/4 tsp. of the hot sauce. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more hot sauce. Cover and set aside in a warm spot.

Heat 1 Tbs. of the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus, sprinkle with a little salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender and a little browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until the shrimp is opaque and the asparagus is tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the Worcestershire sauce and the remaining 1/4 tsp. hot sauce. Melt the remaining 2-1/2 Tbs. butter into the shrimp and asparagus. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and more hot sauce. Serve the shrimp and asparagus over the grits, sprinkled with the scallions.

Serves 2-3

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