If you've ever been to the South (yes, with a capital S), then more likely than not you've heard of the wonder that is shrimp n' grits. Like most of their cuisine, it's based on simple hearty flavors....with lots of butter. No no, that's not doing it justice (not being from the South myself). There's such a richness of tradition in southern cooking that it's hard for a poor non-southerner like myself to describe it accurately. Many of its iconic dishes are based on what used to be the food of the poor- what was left over or what could be acquired cheaply. Grits, rice and beans, ham, collard greens, all these things started out as what you could make easily and cheaply. No longer. Give those people a few hundred years and you get one of the best (and perhaps most definitive) cuisines of the US.
For me, nothing represents the best of Southern cooking like shrimp and grits. Ostensibly simple, it involves a base of grits (for an explanation on this, see earlier posts lamenting its absence in England), topped with a hearty portion of shrimp/prawns and sausage cooked in a special blend of seasonings. The dish is one of my all time favorites. But alas, re-creating it authentically over in England is a bit far-fetched. So I resorted to the usual grits substitute: polenta and worked with what I had in terms of sausage (hunter's sausage in this case) and shrimp (all I could find were the tiniest little things I had ever seen). If I ever make this recipe again (more than likely), I would search high and low to find sizable prawns, the tiny things I could find did not do the trick. Regardless though, it was absolutely delicious and still had a tinge of the authentic to it. The sweet currants in the polenta with the spicy/savory sauce for the protein were a great combination. A great twist on the old Southern standby.
For the prawn/sausage marinade:
4 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pound large, peeled, and deveined prawns
2 links, hunter's sausage, sliced thinly
For the polenta:
1 cup polenta
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup currants
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
For the topping:
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons capers
Hot sauce (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (204°C). Butter an 8 x 10-inch (20.3 x 25.4 cm) baking dish. Oil a rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. Set the pans aside.
2. To make the marinade: Combine the tomato paste, honey, lemon juice, olive oil, hot sauce, garlic powder, and a pinch or two of salt in a medium bowl. Toss the prawns and sausage with the marinade. Set the bowl aside, giving it a stir every few minutes.
3. For the polenta: Bring 3 cups cold water to a boil in a medium stainless-steel pot. Add the polenta. Cook seven minutes, stirring often. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes.
4. In a large bowl, mix the corn (completely thawed if frozen), currants, honey, butter, and thyme. Stir in the polenta, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Add polenta mixture to the buttered baking dish. Spread evenly with a spatula, and place in the oven to bake for 35 minutes.
6. Spread the prawn/sausage mixture evenly onto the oiled baking sheet. After the polenta has baked for 25 minutes, add the prawns to the oven, alongside the polenta. Place both pans on same rack if possible; otherwise, place the baking sheet on the lower rack.
7. Bake the prawns for five minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, and flip all of the prawns over. Return to the oven and bake an additional five minutes, until the polenta is slightly browned and the prawns are pink and firm.
8. Remove the prawns and the polenta from the oven. To serve, scoop individual servings of the polenta onto plates. Lay a few prawns over each serving, then top with crumbled feta, fresh parsley, and capers. Drizzle with a few lashings of hot sauce, if desired.