Sunday, March 22, 2015

True Grits

So about a month ago, I was at a fantastic talk on craft distilling at the American History Museum. While there, I met Sam and Steve, who work at the gristmill and distillery at historic Mount Vernon. We got to talking about whiskey and cornmeal, and I told them about the 5th grade FoodPrints lesson I recently taught about food and the early American colonists. (Okay, so my 5th grade classes did NOT include a whiskey discussion, but we did grind our own flour for making waffles, and did shake cream into homemade butter. I kept hoping that nobody would ask what settlers used all of those inedible apples for....)

About a cocktail and a half into our museum chat, I found myself kindly invited out to see the mill and distillery in action. So last weekend, I went. My fellow Slow Food DC board members oohed and ahhed, as I did, at local grain being ground by a giant water wheel contraption and our first president's whiskey recipe being made at the (ahem, only legal) woodfire-powered distillery. We even got to sample some of the rare rye whiskey. (Don't worry, I wasn't driving.)

I was beside myself when Sam handed me a bag of the pancake mix (that Steve had raved about), a bag of cornmeal (also roundly praised), and, my favorite, a bag of stone ground grits. I used the cornmeal to make a batch of cornbread with 5th graders this past Friday, and then whipped up another batch of cornbread for our Slow Food DC annual potluck yesterday -- both were delightedly devoured, and the slow foodies remarked on the lovely flavor and texture. But let me tell you what I've been daydreaming about for the past 36 hours: the DELICIOUS shrimp and grits I made for a dinner party with my friends Sheffy, Aimee, and Griffin on Friday night. Oh, lord, it was a good meal. For your mouth-watering pleasure, I offer you this recipe, adapted from Saveur....

Irresistible Shrimp and Grits


  • 1 cup George Washington's Gristmill grits (seriously, they're the best!)
  • 4½ cups chicken broth
  • Olive oil
  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp (about 30), peeled and deveined
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • 1-2 handfuls shiitake mushrooms, washed, patted dry, then thinly sliced (I like the ones from North Cove Mushrooms, at the Dupont farmers' market)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¾ cup grated cheddar
  • ¼ cup freshly shaved parmesan
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced


In a medium cast iron pot, bring 4 cups chicken stock to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and whisk in grits. Cook, whisking frequently, until grits are tender and creamy, 30–40 minutes. Open the wine....

Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium/large skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a paper towel–lined plate; set aside. Reserve cooking fat in skillet.

Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Over medium-high heat, add shrimp to skillet and cook, turning once, until bright pink, about 2 minutes. Transfer shrimp with a slotted spoon to a dish that you can keep warm in a 200F oven. It's probably time to get another glass of wine....

Lower burner heat to medium, then add mushrooms to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender (about 5 minutes), then add garlic and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute).

Raise heat to high, add remaining 1/2 cup of chicken broth, and scrape bottom of skillet with a wooden spoon. Cook until broth reduces by half (about 3 minutes).

Return shrimp to skillet along with remaining butter and cook, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens, (about 1 minute).

Stir 1 TBSP butter into grits, along with parmesan. Sprinkle cheddar on top, then use a blowtorch (if you're Griffin) or a creme brulee torch (if you're fainthearted like me) to melt the cheese. Have a fire extinguisher nearby. And make sure at least one person is sober enough to use it.

Divide grits between 4 bowls; top each with shrimp and sauce. Garnish each bowl with bacon and scallions. You can also have lemon wedges and hot sauce for garnishes, but I forgot those. (I blame the delicious wine Sheffy and his wife brought.)

I've yet to try out the pancake mix -- haven't had an overnight guest in a number of months, and haven't had a pancake-worthy one in longer than that -- but maybe I'll bring some with me when I head to Charlottesville to visit friends and family in a few weeks. Seriously, who wouldn't love a guest who brings her own pancake mix?

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