Weeknight Shrimp and Grits

I grew up on the Florida panhandle, so I’m picky about my shrimp. I don’t buy tigers. They’re fresh water—usually farm-raised—and lack the briny sweetness of the salt-water varieties. There was a time I had to work hard to find wild Gulf shrimp, but now that Whole Foods is down the street, I have an endless supply.

Wild shrimp are a little pricey–$12.99 a pound when you buy a frozen two-pound bag—but they thaw quickly. In fact if you’re careful you can microwave them to a frosty peel-able state in just a minute or so. By the time you’ve peeled them they’re fully thawed. They cook in a flash too, making them a frequent supper option for David and me. I toss them into pasta and stir-fries, but I have a new favorite dish.

I may have grown up in Florida, but I was actually born in Alabama, which means I love grits too. Shrimp and grits have long been a favorite, but with all the butter in the shrimp and all the cheese (and more butter) in the grits, it felt more like a celebratory dish than something I’d eat during the week.

No more. Here’s my weeknight version of this dish. I could have leaned it up even more, but I like the body the extra bacon renderings creates when coupled with the shrimp liquid and lemon juice. If you prefer it leaner, pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat (but you really don’t want to do that!).

It makes a great brunch dish too. I served Weeknight Shrimp and Grits to friends a couple of Sundays ago. Since it was a celebratory meal, I could have justified more butter and cheese, but the fact is, I liked it just the way it was.

Weeknight Shrimp and Grits
Serves 4

*I buy individually quick-frozen (IQF) wild Gulf shrimp in 2-pound bags and thaw them as needed. For this dish I save the thawed shrimp liquid to use as stock to moisten the dish. If you’re not starting with raw shrimp, simply add a little water to the dish in place of the shrimp juice.

1 cup quick grits
Scant teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 cup) extra-sharp cheddar, grated
4 slices thick-cut bacon (about 4 ounces), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound large frozen shrimp, preferably wild Gulf thawed* thawed, peeled and halved lengthwise
2 large scallions, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 lemon
Ground black pepper

Bring 4 cups (1 quart) of water and salt to boil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan or small Dutch oven. Whisk in the grits; reduce heat to medium-low and cook, partially covered, until sputtery thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and whisk in cheese until melted, cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, fry bacon until crisp in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Transfer bacon to a paper towel and pour off all but 3 tablespoons of the drippings. Return skillet to heat; add shrimp; saute until opaque and curly, just a couple of minutes. Add scallions, garlic, and bacon; saute until fragrant, a minute or so longer. Add 1/4 cup or so of the reserved shrimp liquid—see note above–or water and a generous squeeze of lemon juice to taste to create a little sauce. Continue to cook to heat through, just a few seconds. Remove from heat. Spoon a portion of grits into each of 4 bowls. Top with a portion of shrimp and serve immediately.