Sunday, June 5, 2016

Cheesy Shrimp and Grits with Tasso

Shrimp and Grits is one of those dishes that I’ve always wanted to try, but somehow just never got around to (I know…seems impossible right? J ). I’ve had a lifelong love of grits thanks to my Army brat cousins; growing up in New England they weren’t exactly a common breakfast item, but the girls brought them to Maine one summer and I came home absolutely hooked. Warm, comforting, doused with plenty of butter, salt, and pepper…like a warm hug for your stomach. What’s not to love?

The addition of spicy shrimp to the buttery goodness of grits might seem a little strange at first, especially to Northern palates. Shrimp and Grits actually started as breakfast food in the Lowcountry marshes of the southern coast of the US; as these states had both of these items in plentiful supply, it would make sense to combine them into a hearty breakfast to fortify a day of farming or fishing or what have you. Over the last few decades, the dish has become standard dinner fare; first in the South, then moving slowly northward to places like…Kansas City. Yes, it was on a trip to KC (sadly, for a memorial for a dear friend) that I finally ordered myself some Shrimp and Grits; after a  4 AM start in Boston and no food until about 2 in the afternoon, I was in desperate need of breakfast and lunch all at the same time. Shrimp and Grits seemed like it would fit the bill; the version I ended up having at the Classic Cup CafĂ© was the perfect introduction: loads of juicy, perfectly cooked shrimp flecked with andouille in a spicy tomato broth over creamy, delicious grits. Kind of a mashup between jambalaya and grits, really; absolute heaven. I left there fortified for my sad task ahead…my stomach, at least, was happy.

Happier stuff…so, when I went to recreate this dish at home I had a few requirements. One was that I really wanted to use some tasso that we had picked up on a road trip a few months back. Tasso is a Louisiana version of ham; Cajun spiced, super flavorful, and a common ingredient in New Orleans versions of shrimp and grits. I also wanted a dish that would fit into my new healthier way of eating; from the basic components I knew it wasn’t something that was going to need a lot of fat or high calorie ingredients to bring the flavors out, a few quick swaps that no one would notice and reasonable portions of cheese and pork and I’d be able to keep the calories and fat under control.  Third is that I really wanted to use my slow cooker; I knew it wouldn’t make sense to slow cook shrimp all day, but I figured the grits at least could come to creamy nirvana in the old crockpot. And did they ever…I have to say, I am SUPER proud of how this one came out on my very first attempt. Sometimes it even looks like I know what I’m doing in the kitchen.

A few last notes…for those who count WW points, I ran this through MyFitnessPal’s recipe builder to get the nutrient totals and then plugged that data into the WW recipe builder to come up with 10 SmartPoints per serving…long story, but ever since the plan change I’ve been more of a calorie counter than a point counter, so I needed the full nutritional data.  If you come up with a different point value I encourage you to use it; always do what works for you. 10 points works for me. I also always encourage you to make substitutions; this dish would be delicious with andouille sausage or even hot Italian if that’s what you have, can find, or like; if you have fresh tomatoes to use up throw them in instead.   Remember, it’s your kitchen!!

Cheesy Shrimp and Grits with Tasso

Makes 8 servings, 1 ½ cups per serving

1 ½ cups old fashioned grits (not instant)
6 cups chicken stock, lowfat if available (I actually used Knorr’s bouillon cubes; the only kind I do use!)
6 ounces tasso ham or andouille sausage, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium red pepper, chopped
Old Bay seasoning, to taste
¾ cup fat free half and half
2 pounds shrimp, shells removed and deveined (large or extra large work best)
1 can fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar, 2%
Chopped scallions, for garnish

Combine grits and chicken stock in slow cooker; cook for 2 ½ hours on HIGH, or 5 – 6 hours on LOW until just about done. 

SautĂ© the tasso in a large frying pan over medium heat for a couple of minutes, or until you can really smell it and some of the fat has escaped out into the pan. Add the onions and pepper and cook for 5 -10 minutes until they start to get soft.  If you are using raw shrimp add them at about 5 minutes in; if your shrimp are already cooked, add them at the end (they only take about 5 minutes to cook). Season the contents of the pan with Old Bay and cook another minute; then add the contents of the pan to the slow cooker along with the cream, cheese and tomatoes. Stir well, and cook on LOW another 30 – 60 minutes until everything is well heated through. Garnish with scallions.