Masala Shrimp 'N' Grits

Monday, September 28, 2015

Oddly enough, being from the south kind of, I have never had shrimp and grits.  Side note, I don't really consider Texas the south, as we are just an entity all our own. This is a hot button issue and has been debated for decades.  Is Texas Southern?  Western?  Southern influences, sure, but we also have mega Latin flavor and western cowboy style too.  I actually would venture to say that the diving line between where southern starts and west begins is right through Houston.  Allow me to make my case.

Fort Worth's nickname is 'Cow-town' so that is most certainly western.  Austin, San Antonio and all of the Texas valley are highly Hispanic populations, so that doesn't seem very Southern to me.  Southwestern is better fitting. Houston is also pretty Hispanicly influenced, but there are a great mix of all ethnicities.  The east side of town though...lots of...what is a nice way to say rednecks? And East Texas, yikes.  Those are some porch sitting, sweet tea drinking, oil field working southerners.  Galveston has a Mardi Gras parade, so that counts for Southern.  Dallas too, with all of their high-society snootiness like the ladies from 'The Help'.  
I have no horse in the race of South vs. Not South, as I consider myself 100% Texan, and merely a perfect blend of south and west.  I have manners, I think sweet tea is disgusting, I say y'all, I use butter liberally, I don't drive a truck, I leave the house looking 'not perfect' most of the time. Lily Pulitzer?  No thank you.  My actual ancestral heritage traces back to Texas for like a billion years, so we were Texans when it was Mexico (and France, and Spain).  #nativetexan
What are we even talking about?  Okay, yes, so I haven't had shrimp and grits before tasting some that Aaron ordered a year ago (so I couldn't possibly be a southern lady) and holy cow.  Mind blown.  I had no idea they were served with cheesy grits??  My first taste of cheesy grits wasn't until my 20s when I dined at Copeland's in Dallas with my bff Katrina.  We now make it a point to go to Copeland's whenever I am in town.  Those grits are off the charts delicious.  All this time I was turning my nose up at grits like they were lumpy flavorless mush.  They are actually really flavorful mush when made properly!
Long story short, I am a late in life adopter of shrimp and grits fandom.  This version is really great however, because it takes the beautiful cheesy goodness of the grits and pairs it with a tomato sauce that is, well, masala.  The flavors are outstanding and pretty similar to Chicken Tikka Masala (which is a FAVE!) , and I will be making this again and again.  I think I like it more than the original!  

You will need:
(for the shrimp)
1 LB shrimp (ideally under 15 count, so they are large and pretty!) peeled with tail on. (and deveined if you ask me) (frozen or fresh is fine, but have them thawed)
1/2 TSP turmeric
1 TBSP fresh lemon juice
3/4 TSP Kosher salt
2 TBSP olive oil

(for the masala)
4 cloves of garlic, grated
1 in piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 TSP paprika
2 TSP ground coriander
1 TSP ground cinnamon
1/4 TSP turmeric
1/4 TSP garam masala
2 cups water
2 TBSP olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 serrano chile, seeded and sliced into half moons (less if you prefer less spicy)
Kosher salt
2 TBSP tomato paste
3/4 cup chopped ripe tomatoes (I used two med. sized)
1/2 TSP honey
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

(for the grits)
4 1/2 cups of water
1 TSP Kosher salt
1 cup grits (course ground cornmeal)
4 TBSP butter (1/2 a stick)
4 oz grated sharp cheddar (1 cup)
freshly ground black pepper

First we prep the shrimp.  Combine the turmeric, lemon juice, Kosher salt, and shrimp in a bowl.  Toss to coat the shrimp and allow to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes.  Just enough time to get the rest your ingredients prepped!  

I will say one thing, the more you cook, the better your cooking time management skills get.  Prep work that used to take me 30 minutes can get done in 10-15 now.  And I am better at looking at a recipe and timing everything out so the whole meal finishes at the same time and not having the sides get cold for 15 minutes while I finish the main dish.  

Has it been 20 minutes?  In a heavy bottomed skillet, heat the oil to medium high heat.  When the oil is shimmering we are ready to add the shrimp.  You want to drain the shrimp of any liquid before adding to the pan - I just used tongs and gived each little shrimp a shake before placing in the pan.  Give the shrimp room in the pan, if not you won't get a nice crust on them.  Cook a couple minutes on each side, so a nice char is formed.  Remove shrimp from the pan set aside. Give your skillet a quick swipe with a paper towel before starting the masala. 

In a separate small bowl combine the garlic, ginger, paprika, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, garam masala and 1/2 cup of water.  Mix and set aside.

Add your olive oil to the skillet and allow to heat up until oil is shimmering.  Into the skillet add the onion, serrano and a generous pinch of Kosher salt.  On medium high heat, cook and stir occasionally for 5 to 7 minutes.  You want to veggies to get brown on the edges.  Then for another 5 minutes or so, keep stirring a little more frequently until the onions are very brown and sweet smelling.  

Reduce the heat to medium and add the watery spice blend from earlier, tomatoes and tomato paste.  You want to stir together to combine all the ingredients.  Cook for about 5 minutes, until the whole mixture darkens and the tomatoes are softened.  You want the mix to be one mass that holds together at the end of this.

**maybe start the grits about now - put the water and kosher salt on to boil

Now we add the honey, 3/4 TSP of Kosher salt and the remaining 1 and 1/2 cups of water.  Allow the ingredients to lightly simmer for 5 minutes to combine.

Add the shrimp back in the mix, cover and reduce the heat to low.  We are just trying to get the shrimp back up to temperature without overcooking them.  This should take about 4-5 minutes.  Once everything is heated through, add in the cilantro.

Now I cheated and used instant grits and they turned out just as wonderful, but use whichever you prefer.  You want to get the 4 1/2 cups of water and Kosher salt boiling in a saucepan over high heat.  Add in the grits, whisk together and bring back up to a boil.  Cover and reduce the heat to low, stirring fairly frequently.  You can pretty much follow the instructions on the box to prepare them.  Be careful of the bottom of your pan, they can burn if you don't stir them enough.  Make sure to taste the texture before the next step.  

When your grits are a good consistency, whisk in the butter and cheese until incorporated.  Add the pepper to taste.  To assemble the dish (use a bowl, ideally) add grits, top with the masala and shrimp sauce and add a few cilantro leaves to the top to garnish.  I hope you enjoy this delicious east meets west version of shrimp and grits!

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