My absence has been for a good reason- in my mind. In my last post, I mentioned that my favorite Airman Josh was to be home for a two-week stint. My time was better spent enjoying his company than typing on the computer. But now he’s back in Florida so I am back with a ton of new recipes.
Before Josh came home, I wanted to perfect a recipe for our new favorite food- Cheese grits. More specifically, the Grits a Ya Ya from our favorite Pensacola, FL restaurant Atlas Oyster House. Not only did I recreate a dead-ringer for my Ya Ya love- I opened up Pandora’s box. And by Pandora’s box, I mean, I need to buy new pants because my waist-line is in for a rude awakening.
This recipe is for the fearless. Not because it is difficult to make, but because it is truly scary how much cream and butter is in this recipe, which is why it is so good. It’s velvet on velvet. Creamy gruyere cheese grits smothered with velvety smooth Ya Ya sauce an topped with lemon and green onion shrimp. It’s just insane.
You are probably wondering; what is Ya Ya sauce and why does this lady talking about it? It’s basically a thinner white gravy, but where traditional Southern white gray is made with sausage, milk, flour, and heavy on the pepper, Ya Ya sauce starts with bacon fat. That’s right. And did I mention that the grits begin that way too? But we’ll get to that later. Back to the sauce.
Ya Ya Sauce begins by rendering the fat from 4 slices of bacon that have been diced into 1-inch pieces. Once the bacon is crisp, remove it and add butter to saute mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and spinach. Then you hit em’ with a splash of white wine, add your bacon and and half and half and wait for it to thicken up. There are a few other steps in between, but you can see why I’m completely obsessed with it. It’s just about all my favorite things wrapped into one thick delicious sauce. It’s missing coffee and chocolate, but as much as i love the two, they’d be the uninvited party guests to this Ya Ya bash.
When Josh and I first tried the Grits a Ya Ya, neither of us talked. We just looked at each other and literally could not believe how good it was. People always talk about Southern comfort food being the epitome of American dining, but this truly is Southern love in a bowl. If nothing else, Josh will be keeping me around as long as I know how to make this recipe.
Southern Shrimp Cheese Grits with Ya Ya Sauce
Ingredients for the Cheese Grits:
8 Slices of applewood-smoked bacon
1 Quart chicken stock
1 Cup heavy cream
1-2 Cups whole milk (depending on how thick you like your grits)
2 Cups Grits (Do not use instant grits. I used Bob’s Red Mill Polenta Corn Grits)
1/2 Cup butter
1/2 Pound shredded gouda cheese
1/2 Cup grated parmesan cheese
Ingredients for the Ya Ya Sauce:
4 Strips applewood-smoked bacon
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 Large shallot, minced
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 Cup (+ 8oz for the chef) white wine
1 Cup sliced portobello mushroom
2 Cups julienne fresh spinach leaves
2 Cups half and half
Salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste
Ingredients for the Shrimp:
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Pound cleaned shrimp
Juice of 2 lemons
3-4 Scallions diced
Salt and pepper
Directions for the Cheese Grits: In a medium sized pot, render the fat of 8 slices of bacon that has ben chopped into 1 inch pieces. Once crispy, remove the bacon. Add the chicken stock to a boil. Once boiling, add your grits and stir like constantly until it thicken up. Then, add in half and half. Reduce to simmer and stir occasionally, adding in milk as you go to suit your preferred thickness. Let cook for 40 minutes. Then add in butter and cheeses and stir until everything is combined. While the grits is cooking, begin on your Ya Ya Sauce and Shrimp. the bacon you removed from the pan will be added to the Ya Ya Sauce.
Direction for the Shrimp: Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit. In a boil, add shrimp, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and scallions and massage until all the shrimp of coated. Arrange shrimp on a baking sheet and drizzle with remaining liquid and scallions. Bake for 15-20 minutes, just until the shrimp turn pink.
Directions for the Ya Ya Sauce: In a medium size sauce pan, render the fat form 4 slices of bacon. Once crispy remove from pan and put it aside with the crispy bacon from the grits. Then add butter and olive oil and caramelize the mushrooms and shallots on medium-low heat. Then, add in garlic and cook for 20 seconds. Add in your white wine to de-glaze the pan. Then, add in half and half. Once it just begins to boil, turn heat to low and add in julienned spinach and bacon. Cook for about 20 minutes until it thickens up. Add salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste. I typically only to 4-5 dashes of hot sauce.
Assemble: Add your grits in a bowl, smother it with Ya Ya Sauce and decorate with some shrimp. Serious Southern cooking, seriously good.
If you’ve never had grits, if you’ve never been down to the deep South, if you couldn’t imagine eating anything with this much butter and cream. I beg, you, give this recipe a try. Your mind will be blown! And so will your pant buttons…. but that’s why they have gyms. Life is balanced like that.