There are a few dishes posted in Bon Appetit’s Best arsenal of home cooking must-knows that evade me a little bit. Not in the sense that they are overly challenging or unfamiliar – more in the sense that I don’t already have go-to recipes of my own for them, which means starting the process of developing and testing a new recipe, usually one sewn together from various cookbooks read over the years. I have to think about what I love about that dish and what I don’t; the necessary ingredients that I want to highlight, and the ones I want to tweak or swap out altogether. I once read a piece by Deb Perelman (of Smitten Kitchen goddess fame) in which she stated that she was driven to cooking mostly out of the fact that she was particular about what she liked to eat, and that (for lack of a better word) rigidity made her tweak nearly every recipe she made because of it. This has always been a factor for me in cooking as well: the tweaking, the calibrating, the slight adaptations – all in the name of just being quite particular about your food. It leads to some good things a lot of the time.
Shrimp and grits started out like that. Not something I’ve ever made at home, nor something that I’ve eaten often enough to feel like I even know what the essential components of the dish are. Perhaps you’re in the same boat, so let’s review shrimp and grits, shall we? Aside from the obvious ingredients that are special enough to make the title, there is usually a spicy, or at least smoky, pork component, rendered and sprinkled throughout the dish. A generous amount of sharp cheddar stirred into the grits seems to get a wide nod of approval as well, as does anything that delivers a mild undercurrent of heat. My preferred choice when dealing with “how do I put this all together” food conundrums is simple: make fritters. This is a move that cannot be undersold when it comes to cooking with new combinations of ingredients (if in doubt at first, fry it – it’ll probably be good and you can at least start learning about playing around with that melding of ingredients). The result in this case (or rather, the final result following many a test batch) yielded very similar flavours to a traditional bowl of shrimp and grits, but bound together neatly in a crispy casing. The Bon Appetit entry for shrimp and grits of course boasts the more traditional option, a beautiful mound of soft, yellow grits draped in sautéed shrimp and smoky Andouille, ladled with buttery, garlicky juices. I honestly did not expect to be so floored by these dishes, but both of them made me do this weird little hand stim movement that I only do when I am tremendously pleased by my own work.