Prep time: 90 minutes
Active prep time: 90 minutes
Special equipment needed – None
Special skills needed – Peeling shrimp
Inspired by Emeril Lagasse
Sometime about 8 or 10 years ago, I went to a fantastic restaurant in New Orleans called NOLA. It was my favorite place to eat then and it remains my favorite to this day. Emeril owns several restaurants there and NOLA is his more casual location. On that night, I had a shrimp and grits dish that established my benchmark for what shrimp and grits should taste like. I’ve since ordered shrimp and grits at a dozen different places and none have lived up to the one I had at Nola. I left that meal, years ago, with a mission to recreate that dish. As it turns out, Emeril is a pretty cool guy, and he put the recipe online for everyone to use. The great thing about Emeril is that he churns out a new version of shrimp and grits about twice a year. The bad thing is that the recipe that I love so much is buried under all those newer versions and I can’t find it. I’ve made this dish a few times a year since then and I’m sure that my recipe has drifted over time from the original. Below is my attempt to recreate that dish from memory and I hope I’ve done it justice, as I believe it is as good as shrimp and grits can be. I know the original did not contain bacon, but nobody ever asks for less bacon.
Note: Quality matters a lot with these shrimp. They should be gulf shrimp if at all possible and they need to be super fresh. If they are starting to turn black or the heads are not bright pink inside, pass on them. Don’t use any shrimp imported from Asia. Farmed Ecuador shrimp are OK in a pinch. Regarding size, the bigger the better. Sometimes you can get away with a substandard shrimp, but not here.
3 lbs Whole head-on jumbo shrimp
1 Tablespoon Emeril’s Essence for shrimp
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
1 Medium onion - Chopped
4 Cloves garlic - Minced
1 1/2 Cups water
1 teaspoon Emeril’s Essence for sauce
2 Bay leaves
2 Lemons - Quartered
¼ Cup Worcestershire Sauce
¼ Cup Dry white wine
1/2 lb Bacon
1 Cup heavy Cream
4 Tablespoons butter
Salt and Pepper to taste
Prepared Grits – Recipe to follow – Start the grits when you strain the sauce, or prepare them in advance and warm them up when the shrimp are done.
Peel the shrimp and retain the heads and shells for later. Rinse the shrimp in cold water, drain and put them in a large bowl. Toss them with a tablespoon of Emeril’s Essence and put back into the refrigerator.
Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic for 1-2 minutes. Add the water and let it come up to temp for 3 minutes, then add the retained shrimp shells and heads. Evenly sprinkle the teaspoon of Emeril’s Essence over the shells, and add the bay leaves. Add the lemons, gently squeezing each one as you drop it in.
Add the wine and Worcestershire. Stir gently to mix, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a reasonable simmer. It shouldn’t be a raging boil, but it should be bubbling a bit. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. You will start to smell the nutty aroma of the shrimp shells cooking, along with lemon and wine.
While the sauce simmers, chop the bacon and fry it in a large pan, big enough to handle the shrimp. Cook the bacon until crispy and then remove it from the pan and place it in a bowl on some paper towels to drain. Dump out all but about 2 tablespoons of grease from the pan.
When the sauce is done simmering, strain it into a small sauce pan, pressing out as much liquid as possible from the shells. Return the strained sauce to the heat and boil rapidly for ten minutes to reduce by about ½. Add the cream and butter, reduce heat to low. Salt and pepper to taste.
Heat the reserved bacon grease in the pan you used to cook the bacon and add the shrimp. Cook until they done, turning as little as possible to get a good sear on each side.
They are done when they are fully white and orange and don’t have any grey or translucent spots on them. When in doubt, take them off early. They’ll continue to cook for a bit. Pour the sauce over the shrimp.
Place a hefty scoop of the grits in a bowl, top with the shrimp and some sauce, then cap that off with a sprinkle of bacon.
2 cups of real grits – not instant grits
3 cups milk
3 cups water
1 ½ teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon White pepper
4 Tablespoons butter
1 lb Grated white cheddar
In a Dutch oven or thick bottomed pan, bring the milk, water, salt, white pepper, and butter to a rolling boil. Add grits, reduce heat some, but keep a boil going. Stir constantly until the grits start to thicken. This could take 5 to 20 minutes depending on the grits you are using. The package should give you some indication of the cook time. When the grits reach a consistency like mashed potatoes, add the grated cheddar and remove from heat. Stir until the cheese melts and then taste and adjust salt as necessary.