Here is a recipe that you can multiply at will for holiday entertaining. Like many good restaurant dishes, the secret to this one is advance preparation. Everything can be made ahead and kept warm, with the shrimp being grilled at the last minute.
I have shamelessly stolen the idea for this dish from one of Knoxville’s best restaurants, JC Holdway, located on Union Avenue.
If you are accustomed to the shrimp and grits, often featuring a heavy cheese sauce, that are offered up by chain restaurants, you are in for a treat. Adding cheese is anathema in the South Carolina Low Country where shrimp and grits likely originated. While this version differs from the traditional recipe, it nevertheless captures the richness of the original. The recipe seems complicated, but with a little prep, it comes together quickly.
2 servings, easily multiplied
6 large shrimp, unpeeled
For the shrimp stock reduction:
1 tablespoon chopped onion
¼ cup chopped celery with leaves
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
For the grits:
1 cup yellow corn grits (I used Yelton’s)
1 ½ cups water
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
For the seafood hollandaise sauce:
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons shrimp stock reduction
¼ cup butter, in pats
1 teaspoon basil vinegar or lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
Peel and devein the shrimp, leaving the tail segment intact and reserving the shells. Place the peeled shrimp on a plate and keep refrigerated.
In a small saucepan combine the reserved shrimp shells, the onion and the celery. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer gently 1 hour. Strain the shrimp stock through a fine sieve, discarding the solids, and return it to the pan. Over gentle heat, reduce the stock to 2 tablespoons. Watch carefully as it reduces to prevent burning. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Measure the cooled reduction carefully. If you have less than two tablespoons, add water.
Combine the seasoning mix ingredients in a small bowl. Reserve.
Bring 1 ½ cups water and ½ teaspoon of salt to boil in a large saucepan. Add the grits, stirring well. Immediately reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons butter. Remove from the heat and keep warm.
In the top of a double boiler, place the egg yolks and shrimp stock reduction. Set the top over the bottom half, which should have 2-3 inches of water. Water should not touch the top half, or the eggs will curdle. Turn on the heat and bring the water to a boil, whisking. Adjust the heat so the water just simmers, and continue to whisk until the mixture thickens. Add the butter, one pat at a time, whisking to incorporate before adding another pat. Remove the top half of the boiler and whisk in the vinegar (or lemon juice) and white pepper. Keep the sauce warm.
To finish the dish, spray a grill pan with cooking spray and place it over medium-high heat. Take the shrimp out of the refrigerator, sprinkle them with the seasoning mix, using as much or as little as you prefer, and place them on the hot pan. When the bottom side begins to turn opaque, flip the shrimp with tongs and cook them on the other side. Three or four minutes should be sufficient, depending upon the size of the shrimp.
Place a dollop of grits on a heated plate. Set three of the grilled shrimp on top of the grits. Surround the grits with hollandaise sauce.
Notes: Chef Joseph Lenn at JC Holdway garnishes this dish with pickled tomatoes and microgreens. I happened to have pickled tomatoes I made last summer, but you could also use a dollop of salsa, or some canned tomatoes spiked up with a little vinegar and spices. Garnish with any fresh herb you happen to have. I used parsley, but tarragon or chives, both in season here in autumn, would also be good. Look for "stone ground" yellow corn grits. Several small suppliers in North Carolina make excellent products. Yelton's is my favorite, but use whatever good quality grits you have available.
Here in Tennessee, frozen seafood is usually better than "fresh" which is typically frozen seafood thawed by the store. I buy raw, unpeeled wild harvested North Carolina shrimp. It comes individually frozen in bags. I divide up a bag among smaller containers so I have shrimp in the freezer whenever I want it.