I’ve been having one helluva summer, folks! I am simply dripping with friends this year, and I’m loving every minute of it! That also means I’ve been out of the house, and away from the kitchen, for some time – hence my AWOL status of the last few weeks. But last night we enjoyed a breezy summer’s evening on ye ol’ roof deck, firing up Little Red – our trusty, 10yr old Meco electric grill – to do all the heavy lifting. The nice cool wind allowed us the soul-warming pleasure of some stick-to-the-ribs home cooking: a bowlful of steaming, creamy Monterey Jack cheese grits bathed in a spicy roasted poblano pepper cream studded with bacon, zucchini, shiitake mushrooms and tender shrimp all grilled to juicy meaty tender deliciousness. Shrimp and grits – taken up a notch.
Jack Grits with Grilled Shrimp, Zucchini, Shiitake Mushrooms and Bacon Poblano Pepper Cream
10-12 large tiger shrimp
4 slices bacon
2 poblano peppers
1/2# shiitake mushrooms
1 small zucchini
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup grits
EVOO, white balsamic vinegar, sea salt, cracked black pepper, crushed red pepper
snipped chives for garnish
This dinner relied on quart sized zipper bags as much as it did Little Red, since I wanted to do some quick prep indoors before moving completely outside to finish the food on the grill. I started with my poblano pepper by trimming it into 8ths and removing all the seeds. Do yourself a favor, dear reader: handle hot peppers with gloves. Their heat is communicable and tactile – believe me when I say you touch your eyes and other orifices with fingertips more often than you realize, and pepperfingers BURN.
I placed each veg in a quart sized zipper bag of its own, and doused them with EVOO (about 1/4 cup), sea salt and cracked black pepper. For the zucchini, I added a glug (2 tbs) of white balsamic vinegar and a shake-a shake-a of crushed red pepper flakes.
After I peeled them, my shrimp were plump, quivering, pink sweet little morsels of temptation just shy of perfection. But I wanted a *perfect* presentation for this meal, so I sliced them shallowly up the length of their crest to devein them, then trimmed with my paring knife those little edges which the incision created. It’s not necessary to devein shrimp – I usually don’t – but it does look nicer.
Once the grill was nice and hot, I put my bacon directly on the rack on one side, and my sliced peppers – skin side down – on the other. I closed the lid, and let it go for about 10 minutes. I’d never actually made bacon on the grill before, but Little Red has always surprised me with its versatility. so I thought “What the hell?”
When both the bacon and peppers were finished, I removed them from the grill. The bacon I set aside, but the peppers I put into a paper bag so the skin could steam off them somewhat, making it easier for me to remove later.
I next filled the grill with the remaining ingredients. I had 3 cups of water in my small saucepan, which I sat directly on the rack, and then I laid out my zucchini sticks and mushrooms over the rest of the surface. These sizzled for about 15 minutes (I flipped the veggies about halfway through) while the water in my pot heated up.
In went the grits. These were quick cooking — 5 minutes – but since the heat on my grill isn’t too too hot, I just kept checking back to see when the grits were thickening – stirring every once in a while, and flipping my veggies so they’d get nice grill marks on each edge.
I assembled the rest of the stuff I’d need: the shrimp, which had been chilling in the fridge; some snipped chives; some black pepper; another small pan for the sauce; and cubed Monterey jack cheese. I chucked this all onto a cutting board and walked it to the deck.
After about 15 minutes, the grits were nice and thick, so I dumped the cheese into them and gave it a stir. In the other saucepan, I added my cream and my skinned and chopped poblano peppers, which I sort of macerated with my wooden spoon. I piled all my zucchini and mushrooms on the coldest part of the grill surface to make room for the shrimp.
Then, there was shrimp. Using tongs, I carefully placed them as close to the heating coils as possible, then I closed the lid for 5 minutes before turning them once, and cooking an additional 5 minutes.
As the sun set on the horizon, the flavors in this bowl burst onto my palette with each complex and wholesome bite. The velvet cheesy grits were a warm corn cushion upon which a luxurious bath of spicy unctuous porky cream undulated, while tidbits of hotwetcrunchy zucchini, chewy crispy-edged mushrooms, toothsome garlicky shrimp and bites of braised grilled salty bacon danced deliciously on my tongue. Everything I loved seemed to live on each forkful I brought to my lips, and I devoured each sensuous bite like it was my last. If not cooking for a while makes me feel the sweet sweet pleasure of accomplishing dinner so much more acutely, perhaps I should take breaks more often? For now, I leave you with this relatively simple but super-scrumptious recipe for your next dinner on the deck. Let me know how it turns out!