shrimp and grits

Peeling shrimp is one of my earliest memories of being in the kitchen. Growing up, my parents would host a big party every year on New Years day. And every year, my sister and I were put to work in the kitchen, cutting carrots and peeling shrimp for tempura, while my mom steamed live Dungeness crabs in beer. I remember carefully removing the shells and trying to keep the tails intact. I also remember icy cold fingers and shrimp guts – not the most pleasant of childhood memories. But eating hot, juicy battered-and-fried shrimp later that day made it all worth it. It’s what I like to remember about those New Years past.

All of these memories came back to me while preparing lunch last weekend. Miss Kim had requested a macaron making lesson while she was in town. I hadn’t seen her since before the arrival of her new bundle of joy, so I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone and make the ladies some lunch while catching up and meeting the little one. And I was in the mood for some shrimp and grits.

I must say that new babies in town and my recollections of being in the kitchen as a child made me realize that having kids is like building a little team of sous chefs (I learned how to peel potatoes before I learned how to write in cursive). Which makes me look at baby-making in a totally new light. I could definitely use a few extra sets of hands in the kitchen down the road.

Back to shrimp and grits. Oh, shrimp and grits. Just the thought of shrimp and grits makes my mouth water.  I love the combination of creamy grits with savory, smothered shrimp. I also like that it’s hearty without being too heavy. Plus, it’s a good excuse to eat shrimp for breakfast. That might explain why it has become one of my brunch favorites over the last couple of years.

This is Momofuku’s take on shrimp and grits. It’s a hybrid of Southern shrimp and grits and traditional Japanese ramen. The grits are cooked in bacon dashi, a sort of Japanese-style bacon stock, and seasoned with light soy sauce. And the shrimp, when cooked in the same pan as the bacon garnish, take on this deep smoky flavor. The whole thing is topped with a poached egg and is to die for. I like to think of this as the dish otherwise known as bacon-bacon shrimp and grits. And I’ve decided I’d like to rent a space inside David Chang‘s brain. Actually, it would probably be more interesting to live inside his mouth. That sounds wrong, but don’t judge. At least not until you’ve tried his shrimp and grits.

shrimp and grits

adapted from Momofuku

serves 4

for the bacon dashi, which you can make a day or two in advance:

2 3×6-inch pieces of konbu

8 cups water

1/2 pound smoky bacon

Rinse the konbu under cold water, then add it to 8 cups of water in a medium pot. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat and turn off the stove. Steep for 10 minutes.

Remove the konbu from the water and add the bacon. Bring to a boil, the reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain the bacon from the dashi,  and chill the broth until the fat hardens at the surface. Remove and discard the fat. Dashi will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

for the shrimp and grits:

2 cups water

2 cups white or yellow quick-cooking grits, soaked overnight

2 cups bacon dashi

2 tablespoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1/2 pound smokey slab bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch long batons

1 pound medium shrimp (16-20 shrimp), shelled and deveigned

2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil

4 poached eggs

1/2 cup chopped scallions (green and white parts)

Place grits in a medium bowl and add 2 cups water. Let grits soak at least 8 hours and up to overnight.

Drain grits and transfer to a medium saucepan. Add dashi and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook, whisking constantly, for 5 minutes. Add usukuchi, a large pinch of salt, and season with pepper. Continue whisking constantly until thickened, bubbling, and no longer grainy, about 10 minutes. If the grits are too thick, add water or more dashi. Add the butter and stir until melted. Adjust seasoning if needed. Set aside and keep warm.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally until it shrinks to about half its original size and is crisp and browned, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove bacon from skillet and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain fat and wipe skillet with a paper towel; set aside.

Place shrimp in a large bowl and add grapeseed oil; season with salt and toss to coat. Heat cast-iron skillet over high heat and add shrimp, working in batches if necessary. Press down on shrimp using the back of a spatula. When shrimp look about halfway cooked, turn and press down on second side. Continue cooking until shrimp have just become opaque and have browned slightly. Remove from pan.

Divide grits evenly between 4 bowls.  Top each with a poached egg. Divide shrimp and scallions evenly between bowls and serve immediately.