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Baked Shrimp and Grits

If you grow up in the south you know that grits is the breakfast of champions, but outside of the south few would agree.  It is one of those uniquely American dishes that inspires polarized opinions; either you love it, or you hate it.  And I know people that proclaim to hate it that I suspect have never given it a serious chance.  A friend of mine, one with a very educated palate, proclaims to hate grits while extolling the joys of polenta.  To me this makes no sense.  While they are not technically the same, in taste and texture polenta is basically Italian grits.

In any case if you are a grits lover you no doubt have heard of a great southern classic, shrimp and grits.  Originating in fine restaurants in Charleston this dish can be found throughout the south.  This is my version.  The shrimp imparts a subtle flavor to the entire dish while the shrimp itself is tender and delicious.  This may be served as a side dish or, with a salad and fresh bread, it makes a fine entree.

1 cup quick grits (uncooked) (see notes)
½ pound fresh, raw shrimp, shelled, de-veined and rinsed (see notes)
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese cut into 1/2" chunks
¼ cup pickled Jalapeños, chopped (optional)
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
4 whole scallions, chopped
1 teaspoon salt (see notes)
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
2 large fresh tomatoes, sliced (see notes)
2 large eggs, slightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325º.

Butter a 13x9 inch baking dish. Prepare grits according to package instructions. When the grits have started to thicken, stir in all ingredients except the eggs and shrimp. Blend well until cheese is mostly melted.  Remove from heat.

Fold in the eggs.  Now fold in the shrimp; spoon mixture into baking dish coated with cooking spray, ensuring the shrimp are evenly distributed. Top with sliced tomatoes.  Bake in oven until bubbly and slightly browned, about 45 minutes. Allow a few minutes to cool and set.

Notes:

  1. Quick grits is one of those 80/20 things.  While stone ground grits may be better, with quick grits you'll get 80% of the flavor with 20% of the time and work.  However, never, ever use instant grits.  It's horrible.
  2. I use fairly small shrimp in this dish.  The small (36-45 count), or medium (31-35 count) work well.
  3. Use more or less salt according to your preference.  Be aware, however, that grits is the one food that absolutely demands salt to bring out its flavor.  Without salt grits is very, very bland.  I recommend adding salt to the grits while it's still in the pot, and before adding the eggs, stir well and taste.  When it's right, then proceed.
  4. Slice the tomatoes thick enough so that all the slices cover the baking dish.
 
 

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