Happy Spring! On these cool, rainy days my mind always turns to rich, hearty comfort foods. One of my favorites is the Southern classic, shrimp and grits. It is usually made in a skillet but I thought it would be fun to change it up with some Cajun seasonings and the smoky goodness of the grill.
Because shrimp cook so quickly, they are perfect for inclement weather when you don’t want to be tending the fire or food for long period of times. If you really don’t want to use your outdoor grill right now, you can also use an indoor grill pan, but I highly recommend you use your barbecue whenever possible. It adds tremendously to the flavor of the final dish.
Grits are essentially just another name for polenta. For those who have never had grits or think they don’t like them, give them a try. I grew up refusing to eat “mush,” a wonderful dish of fried cornmeal with maple syrup, because of the name. Little did I know that I would grow up to be passionate about grits, polenta, cornbread, and corn pudding!
I love using dry rubs to add tons of interest to cooked foods. The spiciness of a Cajun rub has a special appeal to me, especially when combined with barbecuing. I made this seasoning blend fairly mild to suit my family’s tastes, but you can easily add more heat by increasing the cayenne and chipotle powders. Reminder, any time you are handling spicy seasonings or chiles, make sure you wash your hands well with soap and water. You definitely don’t want to rub your eyes before you do!
I originally was going to add some heat to the grits – I do love spicy foods – but I tasted the shrimp when it came off the grill and decided they were zippy enough that mild grits would be the best accompaniment. You are welcome to add some chopped jalapeno peppers or other chiles to the grits if you want more heat.
If you are using skewers like I did, look for the ones that are slender and have squared-off edges, that way your food won’t spin as much on them. After years and years of using bamboo skewers and having to soak them in water and still having them burn, I finally bought myself a set of the metals ones and I am so happy!
My husband who doesn’t particularly like either grits or shrimp went crazy for our dinner and went back for seconds.
The traditional version of shrimp and grits is made on the stove top, so I had to figure out a way to incorporate the grilled shrimp without overcooking it. My answer (which also makes it easier to eat) was to cut the cooked shrimp into bite-sized pieces. Then I sauteed the veggies and tossed the shrimp in right at the end to warm up before spooning the whole thing over my cheesy grits.
My husband who doesn’t particularly like either grits or shrimp went crazy for our dinner and went back for seconds. The shrimp was succulent and the grits cheesy, creamy, and very filling. This may be a casual meal, but it is one that will have you and your family begging for more!
BBQ Cajun Shrimp and Creamy Cheesy Grits
- Shrimp and Seasoning
- 1-1/2 lb raw medium-size shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
- 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp dried thyme leaves
- 1 to 2 tbsp organic olive oil
- 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 3/4 cup water (add more if needed)
- 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup regular grits, yellow or white (not quick cooking grits)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream (you can substitute low fat evaporated milk)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions
- 1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Optional Garnishes
- Chopped chives
- Lemon wedges
- Prepare the Shrimp: Preheat outdoor barbecue or grill pan if cooking on the stove. Peel and devein the shrimp. Rinse, drain, and pat dry. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl combine the paprika, salt, Old Bay, cayenne, garlic powder, onion powder, and thyme. Stir until evenly blended. Pour in the oil and mix into a paste. Add shrimp and toss until thoroughly coated. Thread shrimp on skewers (see Tips and Hints), leaving some room between them so heat will flow around all sides of each shrimp. These can be done up to 2 hours ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.
- Lightly oil the grill and cook shrimp on barbecue for about 1 to 2 minutes per side or until shrimp turn pink and become slightly firm. Remove from heat and set aside on a plate. Remove skewers and if desired, chop shrimp for easier eating, discarding tails.
Make the Grits: Bring chicken stock, water, and lemon juice to a boil. Whisk in the grits in a slow stream. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes or until grits absorb the liquid and become thick, stirring often. (Follow directions on the package for your specific brand of grits, adjusting the amount of liquid if needed.) Stir in the cream, cheese, butter, and zest. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Set aside and keep warm. Note: Grits thicken as they sit, so add more water, stock or cream to bring them to your desired consistency.
Make the Sauce: Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the bell peppers and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the onions and shallots; cook 1 minute. Add the garlic, lemon juice and the reserved shrimp plus any accumulated juices from the plate. Toss together and cook just until the shrimp is heated through. Do not overcook or the shrimp will become tough and chewy.
To Serve: Scoop the grits equally into 4 bowls. Top with some of the shrimp and sauce. Sprinkle with some of the chives. Garnish bowls with lemon wedges. Serve immediately.
Jane Evans Bonacci - The Heritage Cook © 2012