Spicy Shrimp with Tomatoes and Cheddar Grits deliver the down-home Taste of Tremé

by Terry B on November 14, 2012

Adapted from a recipe in Todd-Michael St. Pierre’s Taste of Tremé, this dish combines seafood, peppers and Creole seasonings on a bed of creamy grits—comfort food with a kick, quintessentially New Orleans. Recipe below.

New Orleans is one of our favorite cities for food. Everything tastes of history, blended cultures and spices. Lots of spices. Some of them hot, of course, but more often just big flavored. And from the diviest dives to the fanciest white tablecloth spots, you have to work hard to find a bad meal.

It’s been too long since we’ve been back to New Orleans. Fortunately, Taste of Tremé: Creole, Cajun, and Soul Food from New Orleans’ Famous Neighborhood of Jazz, delivers. Published just last month, it is stuffed with doable recipes, from breakfast right on through to dinner, dessert and cocktails.

Taste of Tremé is also packed with the flavor and soul of the city. Author Todd-Michael St. Pierre shares some history of Tremé, his favorite NOLA neighborhood and the oldest African-American community in the nation. St. Pierre says of the area “music is always in the air and something wonderful is always simmering on the stove.”

He sprinkles in plenty of local flavor in his writing too, with phrases that would sound disingenuous coming from a non-native (for the record, St. Pierre is a native). His Creole/Cajun spice mix, used in recipes throughout the book, is called Suck da Heads and Pinch da Tails Creole Spice. The Holy Trinity (Wit or Wit-out da Pope) is finely chopped onion, celery and green bell pepper, with or without garlic, the foundation of many south Louisiana dishes, from red beans and rice to gumbo and jambalaya.

When I first started flipping through Taste of Tremé, these colloquialisms and others threw me a bit—much like hearing them on the street in New Orleans when you first arrive on a visit. Soon, though, they had me smiling, happy to be transported to a city I love. There are a number of dishes in this book we’re looking forward to trying. Something with shrimp seemed like a good place to start.

This recipe had me at grits. I grew up in St. Louis, about as far north as grits reliably get on breakfast joint menus. And I have a lot of family in the South. So the creamy texture and buttery, salty taste of grits (to those of you who put sugar or syrup on grits, stop it) is a road trip welcome home sign for my mouth.

It helps to think of grits as kind of polenta (they’re both ground corn) or even risotto, filtered through southern kitchens. All are slow cooked to a creamy finish that, unlike rice or pasta, doesn’t need a sauce or gravy. In fact, they often serve as the slightly saucy base for other foods. St. Pierre warns that a “true grits connoisseur will scold you if you suggest that they use instant grits or what are commonly called ‘quick grits.’” On the day I had for shopping, quick grits were all I could find—Chicago may be too far north for the real thing. If you can find old-fashioned, slow-cooking grits, do so. Otherwise, the quick grits are pretty good. However, don’t use the instant grits—even I wouldn’t do that.

Spicy Shrimp with Tomatoes and Cheddar Grits
Serves 3

For the shrimp:
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper (or other pepper—see Kitchen Notes), finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
3/4 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon Creole/Cajun spice (see Kitchen Notes)
2 to 3 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped

For the grits:
3 cups water
a generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup grits
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (I used extra sharp)

A quick note: Time the cooking of the grits and the shrimp so they’re both done at the same time, based on the kind of grits you use.

Cook the shrimp. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium flame. Add bell pepper, onion, jalapeño pepper and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Be careful not to brown or burn the garlic. Add Creole/Cajun spice and shrimp, stirring to combine, and cook for 2 minutes, turning the shrimp halfway through. At this point, the skillet will seem alarmingly dry. Don’t worry. Add the tomatoes and cook for an additional 3 minutes, stirring frequently. The tomatoes will release their juices; use them to scrape up any browned bits and incorporate them into the dish.

Meanwhile, cook the grits. Bring the water to a rapid boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and then slowly stir in the grits. Return to a boil and then reduce heat to low so the grits just simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until grits are smooth and thickened—30 to 45 minutes for old-fashioned grits, 5 to 7 minutes for quick grits. Don’t go crazy on the thickening—like polenta, they will continue to thicken as they cool. Remove from heat and stir in the cheddar until it completely melts into the grits.

Assemble the dish. Spoon grits into individual shallow bowls. Top with vegetables and shrimp and serve.

Kitchen Notes

Pick a pepper. The original recipe calls for a tabasco pepper. I went with the more readily available jalapeño, which is also lower on the heat scale than the tabasco (but I didn’t seed my pepper, as the recipe called for with the tabasco). You could also use a Serrano pepper, if you want more heat.

Creole/Cajun spice. St. Pierre’s Suck da Heads and Pinch da Tails Creole Spice sounds like an excellent mix (and authentically, it uses onion powder and garlic powder, two regulars in New Orleans cookbooks, even when the recipe uses fresh onion and garlic, as does this one). I used this recipe for Emeril’s Creole Seasoning, a slightly stripped down version. (I switched teaspoons for tablespoons, reducing my total mixture to 1/3 the original recipe and still have plenty left for other uses.) In a pinch, you can use store-bought Creole/Cajun spice.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

randi November 14, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I personally don’t care for shrimp, much to my families sadness but this book really caught my eye. This would be a perfect Christmas gift for my hard to buy for Dixieland Jazz musician father. He LOVES to cook dishes like jambalaya and gumbo. So glad you posted this. Thanks!

JoAnne November 14, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Emeril says you should layer the onion and garlic, using fresh garlic and garlic powder, fresh onion and onion powder. Works for me!

Terry B November 14, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Randi, there at least two gumbo recipes in the book, maybe three. Plus plenty of other recipes that should warm your father’s Dixieland heart.

Thanks for the tip, JoAnne! We now have both onion and garlic powder in the house, so I think it’s time to play with them.

angela@spinachtiger November 15, 2012 at 12:43 pm

I have to pin this. I order shrimp and grits everytime it’s on the menu. I live in Nashville not New Orleans, so it’s usually alright and one place makes it fantastico. I like your picture and your recipe and this is on the list to make Thanksgiving week (after we’re sick of turkey) and need a new flavor profile.

angela@spinachtiger November 15, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Often I see it made with cayenne pepper. What do you think of using cayenne instead of jalapeno?

Terry B November 15, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Thanks, Angela! Regarding the cayenne pepper, the Creole spice mix I used did include it, as do most. For me, the jalapeño adds a bit of color and another peppery taste to the dish (the aroma when the bell pepper, jalapeño, onion and garlic hit the skillet is amazing!). But one of the great things about cooking is improvising and trying different things. I’m sure it would be delicious without it too. Some celery, sliced thin, might be an interesting addition too.

kitty November 16, 2012 at 2:18 am

wow!
We don’t usually cook seafood but I am sorely tempted, now.
Is there a good time of year to have shrimp, as there is with clams and oysters? or are they about the same year-round?

Terry B November 16, 2012 at 5:15 am

That’s a good question, Kitty. Shrimping season—the actual fishing for shrimp—in the Gulf seems to run from August through December from what I’ve found. But most shrimp you buy have been frozen, making that timeframe flexible. And there are also shrimp imported from southeast Asia, making them available year ’round. On a semi-related topic, Marion just read on the Whole Foods website that turkeys harvested as early as February can be kept at 27ºF and sold as fresh around Thanksgiving.

Marion November 18, 2012 at 4:04 am

BTW, Kitty, to us that waaaaay stretches the idea of “fresh” – seriously, this is what stores call fresh?

Dr. M November 18, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Just leaving New Orleans today. We loved it here, the food was amazing and I bought a cookbook to bring some of the delicious food home with us. This will be a nice addition!

Audrey November 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Thanks for sharing this! I can’t wait to make it. It sounds amazing!

Fork and Whisk November 20, 2012 at 5:10 pm

This looks good, especially with the cheddar grits. Yum.

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