A Test Of My True Southernness

What truly Southern person doesn't like the combination of shrimp and cheese grits? Add some bacon into the mix and I'd almost bet that anyone within a 1,000,000,000 mile radius of the Mason-Dixon line would come running for a hefty helping of the delicious goodness.

I make a pretty awesome spicy shrimp and cheese grits casserole myself, but I'm not opposed to trying something new and different like this recipe from Food & Wine for Shrimp and Cheese-Grit Cakes with Bacon Vinaigrette. This recipe tested my true Southernness ~ let it be known right now that I cannot fry a grit cake. Frying is an inherently must-know-how-to-do Southern trait and I failed miserably. If I make this recipe again, I'll probably use a skillet instead of a grill pan and fry them in a bit of vegetable oil just like I do when I make Chicken Parmesan. My grit cakes stuck to the pan and the crust peeled right off when I tried to flip them. They weren't attractive at all and thank goodness they were smothered in vinaigrette so no one noticed.

I liked the combined flavors of the tangy balsamic vinegar, the smoky bacon, and the sweetness of the shallot in this recipe. I had a bit of the vinaigrette left over and mixed it with ziti pasta, leftover steamed broccoli and a pinch of Parmesan cheese for an awesome lunch the next day.

Shrimp with Cheese-Grit Cakes and Bacon Vinaigrette
Food & Wine, August 2009
Serves: 6

3 1/2 cups milk
5 garlic cloves -- minced
1 cup quick grits
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbs vegetable oil -- plus more for brushing
4 oz lean bacon -- cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 small shallots -- minced
1 small celery rib -- minced
1 scallion -- finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper -- minced
1 Tbs chopped parsley
1 tsp chopped thyme
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
Barbecue spice mix or Cajun seasoning -- for dusting (I used Tony Chachere's)
1 lb large shrimp -- shelled and deveined

Lightly oil a 9-inch-square glass baking dish. In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer with half of the garlic. Slowly whisk in the grits over moderate heat until very thick, 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cheddar. Season with salt, pepper and Tabasco. Pour into the dish and press plastic wrap directly onto the surface. Let stand until firm, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the bacon; cook over moderate heat until crisp. Add the shallots, celery, scallion, red pepper, parsley, thyme and the remaining garlic and cook, stirring, until the shallots are softened, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire and a few dashes of Tabasco. Season with salt and keep warm.

Heat a grill pan and brush with oil. Cut the grits into 12 squares and dust on both sides with barbecue spice mix. Cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 2 minutes per side. Keep the grit cakes warm in a low oven; keep the grill pan hot.

Brush the shrimp with oil, season with salt and pepper and dust with barbecue spice mix. Grill the shrimp in the pan over moderately high heat until lightly charred and just cooked through, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Arrange the shrimp and grit cakes on plates, drizzle the bacon vinaigrette on top and serve right away.



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