Sunday, February 7, 2010
Bill Neal’s Shrimp and Grits Recipe
I’ve been in a Carolina frame of mind lately. Never mind that Chapel Hill was hit with eight inches of snow over the past couple of days, generally, at this time of year, the weather is easing up, and in the next month, spring arrives, with its colorful azaleas, heather, and rhododendrons dotting the campus and the lawns of the recessed houses that line Franklin Street. I spent four years in North Carolina while I was in college, and making this recipe sent me right back to that time, to Chapel Hill, and to Crook’s Corner, the restaurant that popularized Bill Neal’s now famous shrimp and grits.
As I was cooking, I remembered things in non-sequiturs: I remembered hearing the story from my roommate, Ericka, who, while working at Crook’s Corner, dumped a pitcher of ice water on the head of her ex-boyfriend as she served him and the girlfriend he left her for, and I remember my later boyfriend, Timothy, telling me about the Mexican cooks there who would eat whole jalapeños with their morning coffee, something I think of every time I toast red chiles to put on my cheese toast for breakfast. Coffee and jalapeños may be another perfect combination, the morning version of red wine and chocolate.
I remembered taking off in the middle of the night to visit the primate research center at Duke forest in my roommate’s Alfa Romeo convertible because she left us the keys, and because our friend Mike thought we should, and driving to Durham to eat at Wimpy’s Grill for lunch with my then boyfriend George, which may have been the trip that began my interest in traveling distances for the tastiest whatever-it-is I’m craving.
I remember seeing bands at the Cat’s Cradle, crashing frat parties, working at Pizza Hut and the Carolina Coffee Shop, eating black bean chili nearly everyday at Rosemary Street Cafe (and Pepper’s Pizza on the off days), having crushes on boys in bands, and boys in class, and boys playing hacky sack in The Pit, and studying about biology (but not too intently), and hoping I wouldn’t fail genetics. I remember house parties where the Pixies and fIREHOSE were playing on the stereo, and The Veldt and Dillon Fence were playing live, and I remember feeling trepidatious going into Schoolkids Records to buy a cassette tape (tape!) because the people working there were intimidating in the New York Kim’s Video kind of way.
I remember my purple plastic dinosaur key chain, and the red plaid mini-skirt I used to wear with fishnet stockings and pointy buckled shoes, and only top-lid black liquid eye-liner for makeup -- real deal 80s wear. I remember borrowing a silky antique robe, and, while wearing it, making nutritional yeast crusted tofu sandwiches for lunch with Michael, my boyfriend, the long-haired boy who worked at the vintage clothing store Time After Time. And I remember sweet iced tea, and Time Out’s disgustingly appealing Bucket O’ Bones that we used to eat after nights at Molly’s, and boys nodding to me with respect when we passed on the street, and everyone’s sugary hellos, and, coming from the North, being surprised when people answered “yes ma’am”, and “no sir”, to the professors in class, and sounded smart even with their Southern accents.
I thought I was so grown up then. And now, I make Bill Neal’s shrimp and grits for the first time in years, and at 40, I’m cooking in my supposed grown-up kitchen. Now, a non-grown-up grown-up, I am aware that I haven’t figured anything out, and I’m simply relaxing into the absurd and unpredictable voyage, with a warm bowl of shrimp and grits and these wonderful memories.
Bill Neal’s Shrimp and Grits Recipe
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups water
One 14 1/2 ounce can chicken broth
3/4 cup half and half
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup stone ground grits
3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon tabasco sauce
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
3 slices bacon
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup flour
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup scallions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon tabasco sauce
Bring first 4 ingredients to a boil, in a medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in grits; reduce to simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, according to time on package. When the grits are done, stir in the cheddar cheese and next 4 ingredients, stirring until cheeses are melted. Cover and set aside, but keep warm.
While the grits are cooking, fry in bacon in a large skillet, until crisp. Set aside on paper towel and reserve 1 tablespoon of drippings in skillet. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, and set aside. In the bacon drippings, saute the mushrooms about 5 minutes, or until tender. Add the scallions and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes, until the shrimp begin to brown. Stir in the chicken broth, lemon juice, garlic, and hot sauce, and continue to cook 2 more minutes, stirring to loosen brown bits from skillet. Divide the grits into 4 large, shallow bowls, ladle the shrimp mixture over the grits, and top each with crumbled bacon. Serve with lemon wedges.
Note from Banu: I wanted to keep the shrimp looking beautiful, so I cooked them separately in a little butter and olive oil, and then added them to the top of the grits and mushroom sauce mixture. Also, I found that 2 tablespoons of lemon juice was a little much, so I'd decrease this amount, or add it slowly, to taste.