Thursday, March 6, 2014

Shrimp and Grits go West!

I know many of my friends, and some of my family, choose to give up meat on Fridays for Lent. So, I thought I would share a beautiful recipe for "Sauteed Shrimp with Sweet Potato and Smoked Chile Grits and Green Onion-Cilantro Sauce" from Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook: Explosive Flavors From The Southwestern Kitchen. While grits started with humble origins, all the way back to when the Native Americans first shared their grits with Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, they have become a southern classic and a staple of true American cuisine. However, it was in the lowcountry of South Carolina, and particularly Charleston, that shrimp and grits became a match made in heaven. This was due to the availability and affordability of grits and access to free shrimp in the surrounding channels, waiting to be caught by anyone with a net. (Although, in Charleston, they are probably referred to as "shrimp and hominy" or simply "breakfast shrimp.") South Carolina loves their grits so much that in 1976 it was declared their state food!

If you are unfamiliar with grits versus cornmeal versus polenta, etc., I'll try to help you out. Grits are made by grinding hominy. Hominy is dried maize that has been treated with alkali (lime or wood ash) in order to loosen the hulls from the kernels. When mashed, it is known as masa in Latin cuisine and used for tortillas, tamales, etc. While cornmeal and polenta are made from untreated corn of different grind sizes. Got it?

If you've never eaten or tried to make grits before, this is the recipe for you! The addition of roasted sweet potato, chipotle chile, and honey make them unique and exceedingly delicious. In fact, even if you don't make the whole recipe, the grits alone are worth the effort. However, why not saute some shrimp (it only takes a few minutes) and the green onion sauce (which can be whizzed up in a blender in a matter of minutes and can be made up to 8 hours ahead) is the perfect compliment. The red chile oil is written as "optional," but not in my opinion. It is vibrant and a beautiful touch to a perfect plate. The oil is simply a matter of pureeing toasted guajillo chiles, oil, and salt and then strained. It can also be made a day in advance. Bonus! (Although, in a pinch, I have used store bought chile oil, such as "Mongolian Fire Oil," available at most grocers.) This recipe may not be the traditional shrimp and grits of the south, but it is the southwest that makes it stunningly beautiful and downright exciting!

Sauteed Shrimp with Sweet Potato and Smoked Chile Grits and Green Onion-Cilantro Sauce

Serves 4

For the Grits
1 large sweet potato
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small Spanish onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons chipotle chile puree (I just mince 2 teaspoons chipotle chiles - I like canned San Marcos brand.)
Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking grits
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2-3 teaspoons honey

For the Shrimp
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For serving
Green Onion-Cilantro Sauce - recipe below
Red Chile Oil - recipe below
Thinly sliced green onion, for garnish

For the Grits
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roast the sweet potato on a rack in the oven until tender when pierced with a knife, 45-60 minutes. When done, peel the sweet potato and puree the flesh in a food processor or pass it through a ricer; set aside.

Heat the canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the stock, milk, chipotle puree, and 2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in the grits, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the sweet potato puree and cook, stirring frequently, for 5-10 minutes, until smooth and thickened. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter and honey to taste. Cover and keep warm.

For the Shrimp
Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saute pan over high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Cook half the shrimp until lightly golden brown and just cooked through, 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and shrimp.

To Serve
Spoon the grits into 4 shallow bowls and arrange the shrimp around the grits. Drizzle with the green onion-cilantro sauce and red chile oil and sprinkle with green onions. 

Green Onion-Cilantro Sauce

Makes about 3/4 cup

1 cup sliced green onions, white and green parts 
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar (don't substitute white vinegar as it is more acidic!)
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup canola oil

Combine the green onions, cilantro, vinegar, 1/4 cup cold water, the mustard, and honey in a blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. With the motor running, slowly add the oil and blend until emulsified. Can be made up to 8 hours ahead and refrigerated.

Red Chile Oil

Makes about 1 cup - (You may want to halve this recipe!)

5 guajillo chiles, toasted and seeded (remove the seeds first and with a spatula, press on a hot pan until color changes slightly, flip and toast other side - it only takes a minute)
1 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Combine the guajillos, oil, and salt in a blender and blend for 5 minutes. Strain into a bowl. This can be made up to 1 day in advance and refrigerated.

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