Scott’s Smoked Jalapeno Shrimp & Grits
Many of my meals begin with an ingredient.
This Christmas a 24 oz. jar of “Smokin’ Dave’s All Natural Smoked Jalapenos” turned up under the tree. The thought of opening a 24 oz. jar of these babies and having them sit around in the fridge for months gave me pause. But, seizing the, um – jalapeno – by the horns, I opened the jar this week.
Amazingly rich and smoky, these jalapenos packed in vinegar were really HOT.
So, having returned from Charleston and the low country of South Carolina with a bag of stone ground yellow corn grits and a couple of cases of Blenheim’s Hot Ginger Ale, I decided to work up a version of the classic southern Shrimp and Grits.
The Day Before
Shrimp Stock for the Grits:
I shelled four pounds of medium shrimp, reserving the shells to make stock and sprinkled the shrimp themselves with some lovely Smoked Spanish Paprika from Penzey’s (a favorite spice vendor out in Ohio) and a mix of Cajun spices (cayenne, salt pepper, powdered garlic and onion-the usual) and set them in a sealed container in the fridge.
I drained all the liquid from the shells in a colander, heated up some oil in a saucepan and roasted the shells, a quartered yellow onion (with the skin on), the rough ends of a stalk of celery, black pepper, a pinch of salt, and six or seven bay leaves. After tossing them around until the shrimp shells had developed some good color and the vegetable started to wilt a bit, I took the pan off the heat.
After it cooled for a few minutes, I filled the pan with cold water and returned it to a low flame. Be sure to skim the broth as it comes to temperature. The proteins from the shrimp will cause the top to scum up and if left unattended that will cloud the broth. Better to get rid of that stuff as it develops. Skim every 10-15 minutes. Lowest heat you can imagine. At least an hour, more if you’ve got time.
Using this Shrimp Stock, I made up the grits a day early.
2 c. stone ground yellow grits
8-9 c. Shrimp Stock with water added as necessary.
Pinch of salt
Fresh ground pepper
And later: 2-3 c. of grated cheese (I used a Grafton White Vermont Cheddar)
When done: fold in 1 c. minced drained, smoked jalapenos
I cooked them down slowly on top of the stove, grated a couple of cups of sharp cheddar cheese into them. When they were done, I mixed in about a cup of drained, minced Smoked Jalapenos. Laying out a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet with sides, I spread the grits evenly across the pan. I misted a piece of plastic wrap with oil and covered them up and allowed them to cool and set over night. Tomorrow, once cool and set, with a quick misting of oil, these will be cut into squares and reheated/crisped up in a 475 degree oven.
Day Of The Dinner
With The Shrimp:
While walking around the grocery store the next morning, I decided the dish needed:
3 bunches of scallions
2 beautiful red peppers (they were on sale)
1 lime, and
2 pretty, nice-sized red onions
I cut the sheet pan of grits into squares roughly 3 or 4 inches on a side, carefully lifted them out of the pan and set them apart on a cutting board, patting them dry with paper towels while being careful not to break the square’s edges or corners.
I preheated my cast iron griddle on an upper rack in a 475 degree over, leaving it for about a 1/2 hour more, once the oven reached temperature.
Once at temperature, I misted the top of the grits squares with oil and opened the oven.
I misted the griddle and quickly set the grit squares on it, enjoying their sizzling, leaving about a 1/2″ between squares. I figured on two squares per serving. I was planning on feeding six of us. Twelve squares. And a couple left over.
Closing up the oven, and figuring on leaving them alone in there for at least 30 minutes, I turned to the shrimp prep work.
The Shrimp Prep, Part II The Vegetables:
I cleaned and cut up the red onions and peppers into medium sized pieces and set them in bowls.
Cleaned the scallions and cut the greens into about 3″ long pieces, setting them aside.
Just before the grits were done, with the assembled guest standing around in the kitchen, I began the top of the stove work by preheating two large cast iron frying pans, (so the shrimp wouldn’t be too crowded and steam each other).
I divided the red peppers and red onions between the two pans dry, tossing them into the hot pans without adding any oil or fat. This allows the vegetables to char, rather than fry or sauté and is a wonderful way to add smokiness to any dish. Tossing them in the pans after a few minutes of letting them sit still and char, I removed them before they’d really wilted to a large preheated bowl and covered them with a pan lid, to keep warm and finish cooking through.
Time for a Beer and Conversation:
Squinting at the grits in the oven, looking for crispness and color, I decided to hold up for a moment and let the grits crisp up a little more before proceeding. I turned off the cast iron pans and opened a beer, joking around with our company, testing Barb’s appetizers. Yum. Barb? Guest spot on the blog???
The Shrimp III:
When the grits had the color I wanted and with everything else ready, I heated the pans up to scorching heat again and added a small pat of butter to each pan and some olive oil to keep it from burning. Swirling that around the pan bottoms, I added the shrimp, gave the pans a shake to distribute them and let them sit.
The idea here is to sear some part of the shrimp without moving them. If you start shaking the pan immediately, they’ll steam each other. If you move them about, they won’t sear. You must realize that you can’t get them seared all over without terribly over cooking them. So what you’re after here is to sear some part of each shrimp. After a few minutes, turn them and shake them up. Then leave them alone for a little while.
I then added a splash of rum and flamed the shrimp to get them all hot and finish their cooking. I added the red onions and peppers back into the pans and squeezed half of a lime over each pan and turned them off.
We put two squares of crispy grit cakes on each plate, one lapping on top the other. A couple spoonfuls of shrimp and vegetables were strewn over the top and headed for the table. Where a secret ingredient was waiting.
The Secret Ingredient: A Homemade, Sweet, Smoked Jalapeno Hot Sauce
The thought of using only an ounce or two of those Smoked Jalapenos-and being stuck with a nearly full open jar on the refrigerator door-was unappealing to me. So, the morning before the meal, I decided to make a Sweet Smoked Jalapeno hot sauce to go with the meal.
I reserved the smoky vinegar from about half the jar of Jalapenos, seeded them (being careful to wear a latex glove on my non-knife hand), cut them into strips and then minced them, red and green together.
I poured the reserved vinegar into a heavy sauce pan, added a lot of sugar and also a fair amount of corn syrup (not an ingredient I normally have or use, but…) and I began cooking the mixture over low heat. Watching it thicken, I added more vinegar from the jar. More sugar (it was really spicy). Some white vinegar. Then more corn syrup. A tablespoon of kosher salt….
Just when I figured I had the mix about right, I added in the minced peppers and brought it all back to a boil.
I scalded some small canning jars and lids and then canned the sauce. We opened a jar for the table and a generous scoop of this stuff over all the shrimp and grits had members of the party figuring there must be bacon in the dish. It was really smoky! And the heat, balanced by the sweetness, set of the dish in a way that cried out for the cooking blog. So, here it is.
My stepson, Jesse Ackemann, came by in the late morning to pick up some things and visit. We had a nice red onion, red pepper, and feta frittata for breakfast with the end of the last batch of sourdough bread. And, the lucky fellow got sent home with a jar of hot sauce.
Timing is everything in life. Just ask Jesse. Or drop by sometime. You’ll see.