Sunday, February 20, 2011

Test Kitchen: Throwdown's Shrimp and Grits Recipe

My Test Kitchen feature went on hold when I was renovating my kitchen. But after my renovations was complete, I got to work on the recipe you all wanted me to try from Bobby Flay's "Throwdown!" Cookbook.

The cookbook, featuring recipes and stories from the popular Food Network "Throwdown!" series, includes recipes from both Chef Flay and the challenger. When I created the poll using recipes from the book last December, I said I would make the recipe of the throwdown winner for the food item chosen in the poll.

So the winner was the Shrimp & Grits throwdown, with 40% of the votes, compared to Cioppino (25%), gingerbread cupcake (17%) and pumpkin pie (would have been great for the holidays, but only 17%).

The winner of the Shrimp & Grits throwdown was Joe Barnett, who is actually an amateur chef. He doesn't even own a restaurant, like Flay's typical challengers. So pretty impressive that Barnett's recipe beat a restaurant chef like Bobby Flay.

So here's how it went when I followed Barnett's recipe in the kitchen.

Actually, what also kept me from jumping right into making the shrimp and grits recipe was that it called for shrimp stock, and that's not easy to find. So that meant I had to make it myself (the cookbook gives a recipe), but I had to gather up some shrimp shells, which meant I had to eat some shrimp in order to make stock to make a shrimp recipe. I know, crazy. Making seafood stock is pretty easy, it's just getting all the shrimp shells. But after making the stock, I actually liked it and I think I'd make it again (this time I'm saving up the shrimp shells in the freezer.) The stock includes celery, carrots, a bay leaf, white wine, a tomato and of course, the shrimp shells. The tomato gives the stock a nice pinkish color like the shrimp.

Once I got my stock in hand, I started to make the recipe, which includes a special sauce. I started by making a roux of butter and flour, and then cooked it until it got to a tan color. Then I added some of the shrimp stock and heavy cream. Yep, this recipe is not helping my cholesterol. At. All. The sauce, after it thickens, gets finished off with some Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce.
Then I focused on making grits, which was the first time I made grits. The recipe says to make sure to use quick-cooking grits, but not instant. And it calls for a whole lot of cheese. The cheese was a yellow extra sharp cheddar, and it was hard to find extra sharp cheddar that was yellow. So I ended up getting yellow sharp cheddar that happened to be organic. I needed to shred 1.5 cups.

I cooked the grits with more shrimp stock and then added in butter and the cheese. The grits get a pinkish color after adding in a tablespoon of tomato paste. And yes, more heavy cream went into the grits to give it a creamy texture. Then I seasoned it with salt to taste. Even though I just used 1.5 cups of grits, that made a big pot of grits.

For the shrimp, I simply had to marinade it with Cajun sauce, Italian seasoning, sweet paprika and salt and pepper. Then I just had to cook it in a pan with butter.

This was a pound of shrimp and it really filled up my skillet. Once the shrimp was cooked, I just had to pull together the dish with the grits and sauce. But the recipe also called for a bit of country ham to sprinkle on top. I didn't really understand what country ham meant, so I just bought whatever sugar-coated ham I could get for a small amount, because it was really just a garnish.

Here's the finished dish with the creamy grits, piled on with the spicy shrimp and topped off with the cubes of country ham and the drizzling of the sauce. This actually doesn't look like the photo in the book because in the photo the sauce had a more red color. I'm not sure how that happened because the heavy cream softens the look of the sauce. Maybe he used more oil. Anywho, he was able to win however he did the recipe.

The recipe is kind of long, even though it's from an amateur. So I was lazy about typing it here. But the Food Network had a version of the recipe (not exactly word for word like the cookbook, for example it substitutes the shrimp stock for regular chicken stock, but it's nearly identical) on its website, so I was able to pick it up and reprinted it here.

Shrimp and Grits (courtesy of the Food Network website)



  • 1 1/2 pounds (26-30 count) Wild Georgia Shrimp
  • 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning (recommended: Tone's Louisiana Cajun seasoning)
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • 2 cups water
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes (recommended: Knorr)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 cup quick grits (recommended: Quaker)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3 1/2 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar


  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (recommended: Texas Pete)
  • 1 slice sugar-cured country ham


First, peel and devein the shrimp. In a small bowl, combine Cajun seasoning, paprika, Italian seasoning and salt and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the shrimp to coat well and set the shrimp aside.

Next, make your grits. In a medium saucepan, bring water, chicken bouillon cubes and 2 tablespoons butter to a boil. Slowly add the grits, whisking often with wire whisk for 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, cream, and cheese. Keep whisking for another 2 or 3 minutes until the grits become creamy. Don't skimp on the butter and the cream, folks.

Now saute the shrimp. In a large saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add minced garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add in the spice-coated shrimp, and cook only until they're just done and tender. Don't overcook. Remove the shrimp from the saute pan and set them aside in a bowl. You can taste 1 or 2, to see if they're okay.

The roux is next. With all those wonderful drippings from the shrimp in the saute pan, add 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and stir with a wooden spatula to make a roux. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes until roux reaches a medium-tan color, then slowly add the chicken stock and heavy whipping cream. Whisk together and cook for 2 minutes, then whisk in Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Set aside.

And last, a little country ham. Cook 1 center slice of cured country ham in a saute pan, and cut into cubes.

To serve, and this is the best part-place a few heaping spoonfuls of steaming cheese grits onto a place, top with several sizzling shrimp. Drizzle that wonderful roux sauce over top of the shrimp, and sprinkle on a few cubes of country ham.

My tips and warnings about this recipe:
  1. Remember to save all your shrimp shells, because you'll need it to make shrimp stock, which I feel is a vital part of the recipe.
  2. The recipe calls for a lot of ingredients for the sauce, but you end up just drizzling a bit, so don't worry about making too much of it.

Ease of cooking: Other than having to make my own shrimp stock, it was pretty easy going through the steps. I think the hardest part was finding all the ingredients like the right type of Cajun seasoning. But shrimp is always easy and fast to make.

Taste: The shrimp, of course, tasted great and a bit spicy with the Cajun seasoning. But I felt the grits could have been creamier. Not sure if I didn't have enough stock or if I let it sit too long, but it didn't have enough liquid in the texture compared to amazing grits I've had at restaurants. the Sauce tasted OK, but it didn't add anything, IMHO, to the overall taste of the dish. And I really didn't get the sprinkling of country ham.

Overall Grade: B because while everything tasted OK, it wasn't necessarily amazing and it was a lot of steps to do just to make one dish. I think I would have been happy with just making the grits and shrimp without the sauce or country ham. The shrimp was good by itself.

Don't forget to vote for the next Test Kitchen poll at the upper right column when I tackle the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook by the esteemed French Laundry chef and owner Thomas Keller.


Fallen said...

I think sometimes simplicity is the best ingredient to cooking. The dish sounds wonderful but a lot more complicated than was needed ... even to win over an Iron Chef.

It did make me crave a good dish of shrimp and grits however and I sense one coming up this week.

Thanks for the inspiration!

Hungry Dog said...

It sounds delicious--I adore shrimp and grits--but definitely a lot of work. I doubt I would go through all the effort but I always enjoy reading these posts of yours about your experience!

Kim said...

Shrimp and grits is one of my favorite meals! But I agree this recipe was WAY more complicated than necessary.

foodhoe said...

Add me to the list of shrimp and grits fans who prefer to go to restaurants to enjoy the dish...

Peter said...

Just a thought on why your sauce was not as red as the one in the book...
Celebrity cook books are usually written -- in the literal sense -- by a ghost writer working off notes from the chef. What's more, the receipes as they finally appear in the book are often not tested in a kitchen.
For me, it's a reminder: Use the books as a guide and don't be afraid to experiment and see where things take you.
As someone who lives in the East Bay, I really enjoy your blog and the insights it offers.

Single Guy Ben said...

Woah, lots of shrimp and grits lover! One of the better dish locally I've had was at 1300 Fillmore.

Welcome to my blog, Peter! Thanks for reading!

julieako said...

Have you noticed it seems Bobby loses more than he wins? So glad your test kitchen is back!

Single Guy Ben said...

I actually am surprised when Bobby Flay wins, just because he's often making the particular dish for the very first time. I think whenever he wins the judges are just dazzled by his cheffy creativity. BTW, would so LOVE to be a judge for any Throwdown!

Carolyn Jung said...

Country ham is actually quite smoky and salty. Not always easy to find in these parts, though. Your shrimp and grits would make a Southerner proud! ;)

dragonfly said...

Country ham is a sharp, pungent, dry, salty kind of ham that is cured for a long time, like months or a year. It's similar to, or the same as, Virginia ham. Chinese chefs often use it as a topping for certain dishes or soups; it adds a contrasting taste, color, and texture. I can often find a piece in the super market, keep it in the freezer, and shave off a bit when I need a garnish.