There are a handful of pseudo-cliches I could start this posting with, like “you can take a girl out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of a girl”, and “once a redneck always a redneck,” and “roots run deep” – but I couldn’t possibly do that, could I? Instead, I’ll straight up admit it: I love shrimp and grits. It’s a classic dish o’ mine, stemming from a season working at Jim Shaw’s on Vineville after college, where they serve their grits as a side dish, but where the perfect compatibility of shellfish and hominy first entered my consciousness. A few years later, in the Florida pan-handle, I enjoyed the Boss Grits at Boss Oyster, the first time I’d seen OTHER stuff thrown into the bowl – like bits o’ pork and a sweet white sauce. Tonight’s dinner is a variation on this theme: succulent shrimp and seared scallops atop cheddar grits with sauteed Serrano ham and my favorite ouzo cream. The meal is warm and satisfying, steaming and buttery, fragrant and briny, unctuous and sweet: a perfect plate, in less than 30 minutes. If you’ve never married grits to sea critters before, I urge you to correct that discrepancy in your gastronomic resume. You’ll be glad that you did.
Cheddar Grits with Shrimp, Scallops, Serrano Ham, Chives, and Ouzo Cream Sauce
1 cup grits
4 1/2 cups water, salted
4 tbs butter
1/4# slab Serrano ham (about 1/2″ thick)
4 large shrimp
2 large scallops
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup cream
1/2 cup Ouzo
3 tbs chopped fresh chives
sea salt, cracked black pepper, Adobo seasoning, paprika
I wish I had a flat grill, but alas. Instead, I’m crafty. I push all my cooked ham to one side of my pan, which I slide off the burner and balance on the raised edge of my stove – which is at the same height as the burner itself. This leaves an exposed half of my pan directly over the heat, and allows my pork to stay warm but without the element underneath. When you have a crappy kitchen, you learn to improvise.
On the exposed surface of the pan, which is still glistening with porkypaprika-y goodness, I layer my shrimp (which I’ve peeled to just the end of the tail) and my scallops, which I’ve sprinkled with salt and pepper. I let them sear for about 3 minutes on each side, until the shrimp is perfectly opaque, and my scallops are seared to a crispy golden brown exterior.
Meanwhile, my grits are cooked perfectly, so I toss in 1 tbs butter and all my shredded cheddar cheese, which I mix in well. I also add a dash of Adobo seasoning – which has garlic and pepper in it as well as salt. This I blend well until all the cheese is melted.
At the last few moments, I remove my proteins from the pan, and put them aside on a warm dish. I put the pan back on the burner, add my last tablespoon of butter until it melts, then in goes my sweet sweet ouzo. I let this reduce for about a minute over high heat.
A steaming mound of warm, sharp cheddar grits are surrounded by a pool of fennel scented rich cream. Mounded on top of this tempting pile are the buttery shrimp, sweet seared scallops, and salty crispy-edged tidbits of Spanish jamon, scattered with the mild oniony tang of snipped chives. Wholesome, delicious, and heart-warming. What better for a weeknight dinner after a long day’s work?