A Riff on Shrimp and Grits

A few weeks ago, probably at my Christmas dinner Costco run, I picked up a large bag of frozen, cooked langoustine tails.  I’ve already experimented with creating a dish with black rice and these little tails in a spicy tomato broth, but it was just ok.

Tonight we await a “definite” snow storm here in the nation’s capital.  I will believe it when I see it, especially since it was 55 degrees this afternoon.  Nonetheless, I told Ken I would make something with grits (his absolute fave), and decided use the tails in a shrimp-and-grits style recipe.

My favorite shrimp and grits recipe is by John Besh; I reference it here.   I love the use of piquillo peppers, shallots and shrimp stock (which I make ahead of time and freeze).  Tonight, I didn’t have all those ingredients on hand, and having heard from my neighbor that the grocery stores were mobbed, I decided to improvise.

I did have the piquillo peppers in the fridge; I used them over the holidays for another dish.  No andouille, so I decided to use bacon, and not just any bacon, but bacon from Kurt’s extreme camping buddy Mike.  Mike has left the craziness of metro DC, moved further out and bought some land; his kids, who are a bit younger than Ken, raise pigs for 4H.  After the competition, well…  This year, we got a piece of that action!  YUM YUM– you cannot beat the flavor of local meats;  the chicken is chickenier, the pork is porkier.

I almost never have shallots on hand, but always have a sack of onions.  A small one would do.  Fortunately, I had one last half-quart of shrimp stock, which could be easily melted in the microwave.  I was good to go!  Seafood stock is available at most grocery stores if you don’t want to make it yourself.

Of course, I have grits on hand– the old-fashioned kind.  You get those started first and while they cook, you make the sauce.  I was out of cheddar, but did have a hunk of cream cheese.  Good enough.  (Note:  1 cup of grits is not enough if you have a hungry teenager and do not serve anything else).

The success of the dish is dependent on reducing the stock, so let the liquid thicken;  the tomatoes and frozen tails will give up some liquid and thin out the sauce.

Langoustine Tails and Grits (inspired by John Besh’s Shrimp and Andouille with Grits)

for the grits:

  • 1 cup white grits, old-fashioned, not quick
  • 4 cups water
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2-4 ounces cream cheese (to taste)

for the tails:

  • 1 small onion, small dice
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5-6 strips of bacon, cut cross-wise into 1/4″ pieces
  • 4-5 pieces of jarred piquillo peppers, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • oil (I use olive) to coat the pan
  • 1 can peeled whole or diced tomatoes (I only had peeled whole)
  • 1 TB New Orleans-style seasoning (your choice, I had some Cajun blend)
  • 3 cups frozen cooked langoustine tails (I got a big bag from Costco)
  • juice of half a lemon or to taste

Here’s what I had (well, most of it, I was flaky tonight– it’s been a long time since I blogged):

Pretend you see canned tomatoes, some thyme, etc.

Pretend you see canned tomatoes, some thyme, etc.

Prep anything that needs to be chopped and crushed:

That little white bowl in the upper left helps keep the mess at a minimum by giving you a place to put all the skins and peels...

That little white bowl in the upper left helps keep the mess at a minimum by giving you a place to put all the skins and peels…

You need to break down the tomatoes so they cook faster

You need to break down the tomatoes so they cook faster

Get the water to a simmer for the grits, then slowly add the grits, using a whisk.  When all the grits have been added to the water, whisk slowly to combine, then cover and cook at a low simmer.  I check periodically while I’m cooking the sauce to see how they’re coming along, usually stirring once to re-distribute.  Once the grits are cooked, add the chunk of cream cheese and stir to melt the cheese into the grits.  Since I use an enameled cast iron pot, I just turn off the heat and let the grits sit until the sauce is done.

4 cups of water results in fairly loose, creamy grits, use less if you like them thicker!

4 cups of water results in fairly loose, creamy grits, use less if you like them thicker!

Once the grits are simmering away, heat a little oil in a pan.  When it shimmers, add the bacon, stirring to separate into pieces.

Our porky bacon from Mike!

Our porky bacon from Mike!

Once the bacon has begun to brown, add the onion, garlic and peppers.  Stir to combine.

When this trio hits that hot pan of bacon fat, the aroma is fantastic!

When this trio hits that hot pan of bacon fat, the aroma is fantastic!

Let everything saute a bit, then add the thyme and New Orleans seasoning.  Stir again to combine.

A tablespoon of my stuff resulted in a mild heat, but make sure you know how strong your own blend is!

A tablespoon of my stuff resulted in a mild heat, but make sure you know how strong your own blend is!

Add the shrimp/seafood stock and stir well to combine all those fantastic flavors.

Yes, it is pink.

Yes, it is pink.

Once combined, taste it.  Really.  You need to get a sense of what it tastes like now before it reduces.  Mine definitely lacked acidity, and was a bit salty.  Let this mixture simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened.  (This is a good time to check the grits, if you haven’t already).

This took about 15 minutes on a pretty good simmer

This took about 15 minutes on a pretty good simmer

Now taste the base again.  Mine was even saltier, but I was hoping the acidity from the tomatoes would overcome that– if not, there was always the lemon juice.  Add the crushed/diced tomatoes.

You'll notice the sauce will double in volume from the tomatoes.

You’ll notice the sauce will double in volume from the tomatoes.

Stir well and taste again.  The seasoning should be pretty close by now.  The tomatoes did the trick!

I start adjusting the seasoning now

I start adjusting the seasoning now

Let the sauce reheat to a simmer, then add the frozen tails.  Stir/shake the pan to evenly distribute, and continue to simmer until tails are heated through, about 1-2 minutes.  Taste a tail sooner than later to see if it’s warmed through.  Do not over heat the tails or they will get tough!  Add the lemon juice, which you really to bring out the flavor of the shellfish, then taste again to correct all seasonings.

Cleaned, cooked and ready to be enrobed!

Cleaned, cooked and ready to be enrobed!

To serve, spoon some (or a lot, in the case of Ken) grits into a bowl, top with tails, then ladle additional sauce all around!

Creamy, cheesy grits and tender tails in a delicious tomato seafood sauce with just a bit of a kick!

Creamy, cheesy grits and tender tails  in a delicious tomato seafood sauce with just a bit of a kick!

Not bad for one of my cooking riffs...

Not bad for one of my cooking riffs…

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