This past Friday night I was asked to cater a dinner party for twenty. The guest of honor hadn’t asked for anything but Red Velvet Cake, so I reached out to her early in the week to ask what she would like to have for dinner. As often happens, she turned the question around on me and asked what I thought would be good. My mind immediately went to Shrimp & Grits, a classic low-country dish, to go along with her decidedly southern cake. When I gave her my suggestion, she replied “That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day.” And so it was.
Friday came, and with it a quintuple batch of Shrimp & Grits, a big green salad with tomato, avocado, and buttermilk dressing, and thick slices of Red Velvet Cake served to dear friends in a garden in Brooklyn Heights. And you know what? It was maybe the best dinner party I’ve catered so far, and I’ve catered a lot of dinner parties. The food was good, the company was better, and I never really got flustered–a win all around. I was super proud of the work I had done, but I couldn’t help thinking about how I could make Shrimp & Grits “my own.” What can I say? I can’t leave well enough alone.
And so, I spent this past weekend making even more Shrimp & Grits. But instead of keeping it traditional, I added a little southwestern flair. I whisked a touch of cayenne into the cheddar cheese grits. I swapped the bacon for chorizo. I traded lemon for lime. I added traditional southwestern spices like cumin and chipotle powder to the sauce, and I topped it all with chopped fresh cilantro.
Y’all, these are the best Shrimp & Grits I’ve ever had. The grits are super creamy and cheesy with just a hint of heat. The shrimp are smoky and a little spicy with a good hit of lime. Southern comfort food meets the southwest–yum.
The best part? This hearty, comforting meal comes together in under an hour, meaning that you can have Shrimp & Grits any night of the week. And on the chance that you have leftovers the next morning, I highly recommend topping them with a fried egg.
Southwestern-Style Shrimp & Grits
makes 4 servings
2 cups whole milk
2 cups water
1 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup old-fashioned grits*
6 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces Spanish-style (dried) chorizo, casings removed, quartered, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 pound peeled & deveined raw jumbo shrimp, fresh or frozen (thawed)
1 sweet bell pepper, diced small
4 scallions, white and green parts separated, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 large (or 3 small) cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon cornstarch
juice of 1 lime
chopped cilantro, for garnish
Prepare the grits. Combine milk and water in a 4-6 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, watching carefully so that the mixture does not boil over. Add salt. Whisk in grits. Reduce heat to low and let simmer uncovered until cooked (mine took 20 minutes*). Remove from heat. Whisk in cheddar cheese, followed by butter and cayenne. Cover while you make the shrimp.
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add chorizo, cooking until crispy. Remove the chorizo to a bowl. Remove and reserve all but 1 tablespoon of the rendered fat from the pan.
Working in batches if necessary, add shrimp to the pan and cook just until they turn pink, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate.
Add more fat to the pan as necessary. bell pepper and sliced white portions of scallion to the pan and cook until soft. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in chipotle powder, cumin, and optional cayenne. Add chicken broth and let come to a simmer.
In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 2 teaspoons of the boiling chicken stock until a gluey paste (slurry) forms. Stir it back into the simmering chicken stock mixture and cook until slightly thickened, 3-5 minutes. Fold shrimp and sliced green portions of scallion and cook for 1-2 more minutes, just to heat through. Remove from heat. Stir in lime juice.
To serve, divide grits among four bowls. Top with shrimp mixture. Garnish with cilantro, if desired.
Leftover grits will keep in the fridge for up to five days. Leftover shrimp are good for up to three days.
- I used Quaker Old-Fashioned Grits. You may also use quick grits or stone ground grits.
- Refer to grits packaging for cook time.