Grits cakes make crispy cushion for spicy shrimp

Leah Eskin
Chicago Tribune

Grit is grainy and annoying, as in: What’s that grit on the countertop? It’s grating, as in: Scrubbing the countertop makes me grit my teeth. It honors pluck: That girl’s got grit. Perhaps it could also pinpoint one speck of the breakfast mash and Southern side ground from white corn: grits.

But there is no scenario that calls for a single grit. Grits are served in stunning heaps. It takes grit to conquer a bowlful of grits. They’re meant to go big, or go in the leftover bin, where they congeal into a slab that can be stashed, sliced and sizzled — sometime.

Why not sidestep the middle meal and skip straight to the endgame? Cooked, cooled, cut and crisped, grits make a compact cushion for eggs, sausage or spicy shrimp. One that takes grit to resist.

Shrimp and Grits

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

21/4 cups milk

Kosher salt

1/2 cup white grits

1 ounce grated white cheddar

Canola oil

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 ounces ham steak, diced in 1/4-inch cubes

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Cajun spice mix (or paprika and cayenne)

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails on, rinsed and patted dry

1/2 cup fresh corn kernels

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup chicken or shrimp broth

1/4 cup snipped fresh chives

Prep: Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with parchment, leaving an overhang.

Whisk: In a large saucepan, heat milk and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil. Sprinkle in grits, whisking constantly. (Wear mitts: Grits can spatter). Reduce heat to medium, and whisk thick, about 10 minutes. Pull pan off heat; whisk in cheese. Scrape grits into prepared pan; set aside to cool, 10 minutes or more.

Crisp: Pull out parchment and slice slab into 4 squares; halve each, yielding 8 triangles. Set a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add a little oil. Working in batches, crisp all triangles, about 1 minute per side. Drain on paper towels. Set two triangles in each of 4 shallow bowls.

Brown: Melt butter in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Tumble in ham, and let brown, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, scoop out ham; toss with 1 teaspoon cornstarch and either 3/4 teaspoon Cajun seasoning or 1/4 teaspoon each salt, paprika and cayenne; set aside.

Simmer: Tumble shrimp, corn and garlic into the skillet, still over medium heat. Stir 1 minute. Pour in wine and broth and cook, stirring, until shrimp is curled and pink and corn turns tender, 2-3 minutes. Return seasoned ham to pan. Increase heat and cook 1 minute. Add more seasoning, if you like.

Serve: Spoon shrimp and sauce over grits. Scatter on chives. Enjoy.