By Rosie Hawthorne on April 5, 2023
Grits, a uniquely Southern dish, have come a long way – from a simple mixture of water and ground corn as breakfast food to a more complex, creamy, savory, and cheesy culinary dish, suitable for the dinner table. On Sunday mornings, however, I like to take my time with breakfast or brunch, and one of my preferred dishes for this leisurely meal is a classic favorite – shrimp and grits. I’m putting a spin on this iconic Southern dish by adding a mushroom gravy. You can always use those ubiquitous white button mushrooms, sort of like the white bread of mushrooms, but I enjoy using an assortment of mushrooms – cremini, portabella, shiitake, and/or oyster mushrooms. Each type will add its own particular umami-rich flavor to the dish, running the gamut from earthy and woodsy, to savory and meaty, to nutty, to slightly smoky. For the grits, I like stone-ground, not quick-cooking or instant. In stone-ground grits, the entire corn kernel, including the germ, is coarsely ground between two stones, making the finished product richer and more palatable and toothsome. Try to avoid Big Agriculture’s industrially processed, mass-produced corn – flavor is sacrificed in favor of higher yields and pest-resistance, and the grits, sadly, suffer. It’s advisable to stick to small-scale growers and millers who have kept Southern history alive by cultivating and milling corn with respect and appreciation of the product and the history.
For the grits:
Rosie Note: Generally, for cooking stone-ground grits, you need a ratio of approximately 1 part grits to 4 parts liquid. You can use all water as the liquid, but adding milk makes the grits richer and creamier. I never have whole milk on hand, but I always have both skim and heavy cream, so I use a combination of the two. Also, it’s important to salt your liquid before cooking, as cooked grits don’t pick up the salt flavor very well. After cooking, all you really need is a big chunk of butter plopped into your bowl of steaming grits, but occasionally I like to punctuate my grits a bit, hence the milk, cheeses, shrimp, and mushrooms.
Combine milk, cream, water, and salt in medium saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat. Whisk in grits. Reduce to simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and clumping, until thickened, about 25 minutes. (Follow cooking directions on package. If you have coarser grits, you’ll need to increase the time.) If the mixture gets too thick, simply add more liquid and whisk away until it’s the consistency and texture you like. Stir in cheeses and butter and let melt. Add pepper, to taste. Keep warm while you prepare the rest of the meal.
For the shrimp:
Mix flour, powders, pinches, and grinds and toss with shrimp to coat.
For the mushroom gravy:
In a heavy skillet, cook the bacon until crisp. Drain on paper towels.
Pour out all but a tablespoon of the bacon grease, add a tablespoon of butter, heat to medium high, add shrimp in a single layer, and cook about 90 seconds, turning once, until just done. Transfer to plate.
To the same skillet, add oil, remaining tablespoon butter, onion, and mushrooms. Reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring, until mushrooms start to brown, about 2 minutes. Add in minced garlic for the 30-40 seconds of cooking. Garlic burns easily, so I always add it last.
Sprinkle with flour and cook over medium low, for about two minutes, until the mixture turns light to medium brown. About 2 minutes. This is your basic “roux.”
Rosie Note: A roux is a combination of equal parts fat and flour, cooked to eliminate the raw taste of the flour, and used to thicken a sauce or soup or gravy. When the flour is cooked in fat, the fat coats the starch granules, keeping it from forming lumps and clumping when the liquid is added, yielding a smooth sauce. A roux can range from light in color, and used to make a white sauce, like a béchamel sauce, used in lasagna, macaroni and cheese, or soufflés, or your roux can be cooked longer to get darker and nuttier, and used for a dark gravy, or in Cajun and Creole dishes such as jambalaya and gumbo.
When your roux is slightly brown, add in the wine, slowly, stirring and scraping up the goodie bits (That’s where all the flavor is.) Cook about 2 minutes. Slowly stir in the stock, bringing it to a boil, then reducing heat and letting it simmer until thickened. About 8 minutes. The consistency here is up to you. If you like it thinner, simply add in more stock. Add in cream (for richness) and heat through.
To serve, pour grits onto plate, add shrimp, then pour on mushroom gravy. Crumble bacon over top. Sprinkle with scallions and fresh thyme.
For any culinary questions, feel free to e-mail me at RosieHawthorne@gmail.com. Bon appétit! For more Rosie’s Recipes on the Outer Banks Voice click here