Cajun Shrimp and Grits with Bacon Braised Collard Greens
Prep Time: 10 minutesmins
Cook Time: 40 minutesmins
Cajun seasoned shrimp over cheesy Southern grits topped with bacon braised collard greens make an impressive entree
My brother goes to college at the University of Alabama so I love getting my fair share of southern comfort food whenever I go visit him in Tuscaloosa. Grits and greens are a classic Southern combination, especially when served with shrimp. The salty bacon balances the slightly bitter collard greens and compliments the creamy and cheesy grits bursting with corn flavor and the spicy of the cajun shrimp. To keep the salt of the collard greens from overpowering the rest of the parts of the dish I opt to only season the shrimp with the cajun spices and no additional salt.
Cajun Shrimp and Grits with Bacon Braised Collard Greens
Shrimp and grits are a popular and traditional pairing of porridge-like grits and sautéed shrimp. Grits are similar in consistency to polenta. This classic Southern dish was a modest recipe eaten by fishermen in the “low country” for breakfast and is now synonymous with the south. However, the origins of this dish, like many southern specialties are entertained with slavery. The combination of shrimp and grits is thought to originate in Africa. Because of its humble ingredients it was made by slaves brought to America. There are plenty of variations of this recipe. In my version I serve the shrimp spiced with cajun seasoning and bacon-braised collard greens.
Key Ingredients in This Recipe
If you aren’t familiar with grits they are a type of Southern porridge made from ground corn similar to a polenta. In my opinion they are always better with cheese (I mean, what isn’t?!). Grits are great because they can be used for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Because they are made from ground corn grits are naturally gluten-free.
The difference between cornmeal and grits and polenta is pretty slim so if needed you can just use medium or coarse ground cornmeal and call it a day. The difference is in the type of corn that is used and how fine the grind. Grits can be made from dried and ground corn but it’s typically made from hominy – corn kernels that are dried and treated with lime and coarsely ground. Stone ground grits are the best if you can find them! I recommend them over quick cooking grits.
The terms “jumbo” and “extra jumbo” and “colossal” aren’t standardized terms within the industry. Instead look at the numbers – they estimate approximately how many shrimp are in 1 pound. The shrimp should be peeled and deveined before beginning the recipe. I use 16/20 shrimp in this recipe meaning each person should get 4 to 5 shrimp in the serving.
i season the shrimp with a cajun spice combination consisting of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, cayenne and black pepper. In a pinch you can substitute with a pre-mixed storebought cajun seasoning.
These seasonal winter greens add a brightness as well as a (slightly) healthy aspect to the dish. Collard greens are frequently served braised in Southern dishes. In this recipe I cook them with bacon to infuse them with smokey, salty flavor.
Chicken stock is typically made from chicken bones as well as aromatics and vegetables while chicken broth is made with the meat. How does that affect their flavor? Chicken stock has a much richer, more robust flavor which comes from the collagen released from the simmering bones. On the other hand, chicken broth is much more mellow in flavor. I typically use chicken stock when cooking. In a pinch the substitute the chicken stock with water (though it takes away some of the flavor).
How to Make Cajun Shrimp and Grits
For the Grits
Heat chicken broth. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in the grits and reduce the heat to medium-low.
Cook the grits. Cook the grits until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Break up any clumps with the back of the spoon. Remove from the heat and stir the butter. Next, stir in the cheese 1/2 cup at a time, until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper.
To make the Bacon Braised Collards
Cook the bacon. While the grits cook, in another pan cook the bacon. Heat a medium sauté pan over low heat and add the bacon. Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the fat renders and the bacon is crispy. Remove to a paper towel lined plate using a slotted spoon.
Sauté the collard greens. Leave as much of the bacon fat in the pan as possible. Next, add the onion and garlic and sauté until tender. Add the collard greens and sauté until they wilt.
Simmer the collards. Add the chicken stock and continue to cook, until the greens are tender. Season with salt and pepper and top with the bacon. Remove from heat and set aside. If the liquid absorbs too fast, add more 1/4 cup at a time.
For the shrimp
Heat a pan. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and heat through. Next, add the butter and allow to melt.
Season the shrimp. In a small bowl stir together the paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, cayenne and pepper. Season the shrimp on both sides with the Cajun seasoning mix.
Cook the shrimp. Add shrimp and cook 1 minute per side, until pink and no longer translucent. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside.
Assemble and serve. Ladle the grits into warmed bowls then top with collard greens, sliced heirloom tomatoes and the Cajun shrimp mixture. Garnish with parsley.
Tips and Tricks for This Recipe
Since the cooking times vary among the components in this dish I recommend getting all your ingredients prepped ahead of time so the process moves smoothly.
Swaps and Substitutions
Serve with a side of vinegar-based hot sauce like Crystal for kick up the heat in this dish.
While you can cook grits in water, cooking them in chicken stock adds much more flavor. The chicken stock can also be swapped with vegetable stock.
I add Cheddar cheese to flavor the grits since on their own they have no real flavor. The Cheddar cheese can be swapped for another semi-hard cheese of choice like Monterey Jack based on preference.
Tips for Cooking Grits
Go low and slow. Simmering the grits over low heat allows the grits to release the starches.
Constantly stir. For the first few minutes of cooking, constantly stirring the grits or whisking them helps to prevent any clumps from forming.
Add cream. If the grits clump up or thicken too much while they sit, stir in a bit more stock or 1/4 cup heavy cream to return them to their creamy texture.
Other Recipes to Try
If you enjoy this Cajun shrimp and grits recipe, I recommend checking out some of these:
1large bunch collard greens,about 1 pound, stems removed and sliced into 1½” ribbons
Kosher saltto taste
Freshly ground black pepper,to taste
For the shrimp:
2tablespoonsextra-virgin olive oil
1poundraw jumbo,16/20 shrimp, shelled and deveined, tail on
¼teaspoonfreshly ground black pepper
1heirloom tomato,thinly sliced, for serving
1tablespoonchopped flat-leaf parsley,for garnish
For the grits:
Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Slowly whisk in the grits and reduce the heat to medium-low.
Cook the grits until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, breaking up any clumps with the back of the spoon. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter and then the cheese until completely melted. Season with salt and pepper.
For the collard greens:
Heat a medium sauté pan over low heat and add the bacon. Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the fat renders and the bacon is crispy. Remove to a paper towel lined plate using a slotted spoon.
Leave as much of the bacon fat in the pan as possible then add the onion and garlic and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes. Add the collard greens and sauté until they are wilted, about 4 minutes.
Add the chicken stock and continue to cook, until the greens are tender, about 6 additional minutes. Season with salt and pepper and top with the bacon. If the liquid absorbs too fast, add more 1/4 cup at a time.
For the shrimp:
Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil and heat through. Add the butter and allow to melt.
In a small bowl stir together the paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, cayenne and pepper. Season the shrimp on both sides with the Cajun seasoning mix.
Arrange the shrimp in the pan and sauté on both sides until pink and no longer translucent, about 1 minute per side. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside.
Ladle the grits into warmed bowls then top with collard greens, sliced heirloom tomatoes and the Cajun shrimp. Garnish with parsley.
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