Cooked cornmeal is ubiquitous from East Africa (where it’s called ugali) to Barbados (where it’s called cou cou and served with flying fish), to Italy (polenta). It’s a global dish, so I was inspired to play with the flavors of a traditional Lowcountry shrimp and grits with the help of the French-Indian spice blend vadouvan. Originating in the French colonial territory Puducherry, in Southern India, vadouvan is a fantastic blend to keep on hand. It has a softer approach to curry with ingredients like dried shallots, bay leaves, and fennel seeds, which add a warm sweetness that compliments the shrimp beautifully. When you use a bit of butter to cook the shrimp, the pan drippings become a fragrant, golden sauce.
Smoked mozzarella is used in place of bacon and smoked sausage (which is often thrown into traditional shrimp and grits). It’s infused in the creamy grits to enhance the spices without overpowering the dish. Using both milk and chicken stock also give the grits a silkiness and richness. The shrimp need little else besides the vadouvan and a pinch of salt—the shallots and minced jalapeño are just an added bonus.
Vadouvan Shrimp and Grits
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken stock
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup stone ground grits
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ cups smoked mozzarella, grated
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 ½ teaspoons vadouvan
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded, deveined and minced
Chopped scallions and parsley or cilantro (for garnish)
How to Make It
In a saucepan, bring the milk and chicken stock up to a boil. Lower to a simmer, season generously with salt and pepper, and whisk in grits. Cover and cook at a low simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and add in 3 tablespoons of the butter and the smoked mozzarella, whisking to incorporate fully. Taste and adjust seasoning. Keep covered and warm.
Make sure the shrimp are dry and toss with the vadouvan and season with some salt. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Add shrimp in a single layer and cook for a minute and a half. Flip shrimp, lower heat to medium-low, and add in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, along with the shallots and jalapeño, tossing to combine. Cook for another 2 minutes.
Serve grits hot and spoon shrimp mixture on top, letting some of the pan juices drip onto the grits. Garnish with some chopped scallions and parsley or cilantro.