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Knock knock knock.
Some dishes are so good, so rich and so indulgent they transcend the barriers of being thought of as “only for breakfast”, “only for lunch”, “only a side dish”… You get what I mean. This is one of those dishes.
Grits. Used to be people would look at me like I had three heads if I asked if they had grits at breakfast time. Usually Northern types in franchise restaurants while I was on tour with a Broadway show. Granted, it does sound like something you’d pave a crude driveway with, would find in a chicken’s gizzard, or put in the bottom of a hamster cage. Regardless, the wonder of sweet white hominy for breakfast seems to be slowly gaining popularity and exposure.
This concoction is not exactly a waist-trimmer. But blow it off – it’s so damn good if you take it as a casserole to a party, you’ll find yourself back on that guest list till you’re tired of RSVP-ing.
My cousin, Allen Stanton, is running our family grocery store down in Alvin, Texas. My great-grandfather, George Elliot Stanton, turned a feed store into a successful department store in the course of several decades from 1922 till his death on December 7, 1984. He was running across a highway and got hit by a car at 86 years old. That should tell you a little something about Grandpa Stanton.
Allen has molded the store into a superior meat market, winning awards and serving many high-end restauranteurs in the Houston area. (www.StantonMeats.com)
Yes, reader, that is kangaroo, wild boar and other exotic meats including Texas Hill Country venison. Delish.
I popped in on Allen and bought some award-winning pepper bacon. Pepper bacon itself is a treat beyond belief; smoky pork and malabar black pepper? So that set my wheels a-turning on how to incorporate this special ingredient into something truly decadent.
I tested the recipe for mom and Dennis, my step-dad. They cursed me for days as they annihilated the leftovers after I had flown back to New York. It’s not something you should eat every day… but it’s damn hard not to if it’s in the fridge.
So go find your fat pants, set them out and let’s get started.
What you need:
- 1 cup of 5 minute grits (NOT instant)
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 8 slices of pepper bacon, or bacon of your choice (avoid varieties that are sweet)
- 1 lb Gulf Shrimp, peeled and deveined (bigger is better)
- 2 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated (reserve 1/2 cup)
- 1/4 cup butter
- 4 oz ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 tsp sriracha
- 1 tsp worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp (or so) smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon cajun seasoning (Tony Chachere’s brand)
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp chopped parsley
Yeah, I know that is, like, everything in the whole grocery store… roll with me here.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (if you have convection option use that). Line a jelly roll pan with foil. Lay the bacon on the foil so that they don’t overlap. Place in preheated oven for about 15 minutes.
While that bakes, prepare the grits. Bring the chicken stock to a boil, add the grits, cook for approximately 7 minutes. Yes, I know they’re 5 minute grits. Cook them for 7.
Season the shrimp with salt, cajun seasoning, onion powder, and white pepper.
When the bacon is cooked to your liking (it should be crisp but not burnt), remove from oven. Dial the oven down to 350 degrees. Pour bacon renderings into a sauté pan large enough to accommodate the shrimp without overlap. Crank up the heat on the sauté pan, right before the grease smokes add the shrimp. Don’t turn them. Allow a sear to occur (3 minutes). Turn and cook for 2 more minutes. Pull them JUUUUST as they turn pink. DO NOT OVERCOOK YOUR BEAUTIFUL EXPENSIVE SHRIMP! Pull from heat.
Use cooking spray to grease a casserole dish – this is up to you. I used an oval Corning Ware casserole. A 9×13 would do; you need something that will hold around 3 quarts of volume. Use your brain.
Crumble the bacon with your hands. Put it in a large bowl. Add cooked grits, cooked shrimp, cheddar cheese, ricotta, butter, sour cream, garlic, sriracha, worcestershire, and parsley. Stir it all up till just combined; pour in casserole dish. Sprinkle with smoked paprika to your liking (I like at least a teaspoon). Sprinkle with reserved cheese.
Shove with love into the 350 degree oven. Check it at 25 minutes. It’s probably not bubbly yet, but check it. Check it every 5 minutes, but it will likely be ready at 35. Ride the line of having the cheese bubble knowing those shrimp don’t want to be cooked any more than necessary.
Pull it out when you’re satisfied and let it rest for a few minutes. It’s going to be incredibly hot. Also the prevailing scent of cheese, garlic and bacon is going to make you want to stick your whole freakin face in it. Don’t do that please.
The closer it is to room temp the less sloppy it will be. I prefer it just above room temperature – “picnic temp”.
This pairs beautifully with a sautéed asparagus with lemon. The brightness of the lemon and stemmy asparagus cut the richness of the grits beautifully and the textural component works.
In the meantime, I tested this recipe by making it a couple of times and let me tell you how much is left: none.
Adios for now.
The Gentleman Caller
**If you didn’t use pepper bacon, add 1 teaspoon of Malabar or course ground black pepper.
Stanton’s Shopping Center – Grocery Store / Meat Market / Feed Store / Lunch Counter / Hardware Store is located at 219 N. Taylor Street, Alvin TX 77511 – 281-331-4491 www.StantonMeats.com