Almost everything you cook can be made better. There’s always a higher-quality ingredient or a more time-consuming technique that can transform a good dish into something great. The question is, do you want to put the time, money or both into the dish if it’s already good?
It depends. How important is the meal? Are you entertaining your prospective in-laws? Or is it a Wednesday night dinner, made after a long day at work? Like I said, it depends.
Let’s take shrimp and grits. This classic Southern dish isn’t hard to make, and it doesn’t need to take a ton of time — or does it? In this case, the decision to put in extra time revolves mostly around the question of grits.
Grits are coarsely ground dried corn that simmer with water, milk or both until they’re creamy and delicious. Think polenta, only a bit lighter in texture.
Grits come in a few forms: stone-ground, quick or instant. Which will it be?
No self-respecting Southerner would ever put a spoonful of instant grits in their mouth. They are fast to make, but have a less interesting texture and flavor. But if you are new to grits or short of time, they will work.
Quick grits are also ground fine, although not as fine as instant, and they don’t take too long to make. They can be done in 5 in 10 minutes and the result is good, especially if you’re going to give them a generous swirl of sharp Cheddar cheese. They would work fine on a Wednesday night.
Stone-ground is the ultimate in the grits world. They are coarsely ground and have more texture to them than the alternatives, and they have a rich corn flavor. The trade-off? They take much longer to cook. An hour or more can be spent stirring a pot of stone-ground grits. While those grits will be excellent, you might want to save them for the weekend.
Once you’ve made up your mind on the all-important grits decision, let’s move on to the shrimp, which is much more about quality than time. Good shrimp takes the same amount of time to cook as bad shrimp, and who wants bad shrimp? So here’s some food for thought.
When it comes to shrimp, North American is almost always the better choice. It’s more likely to be sustainably caught or farmed than imported shrimp. Fresh or frozen? The vast majority of shrimp we get here in Minnesota has been frozen before it ever gets off the boat and that’s fine.
Paying a little extra and buying from a knowledgeable fishmonger, one you can trust, is always a good choice, too.
Shell-on shrimp means you can remove the shells yourself and use them to infuse the broth with lots of shrimp flavor that will then be imparted to your sauce. It’s an extra step, in that you have to peel and devein the shrimp and simmer them with the stock. Neither task takes a ton of time, but time is a valuable commodity on a Wednesday night, so you might want to skip it, buy your shrimp pre-shelled and deveined and use plain chicken broth. It’s up to you.
These may sound like a lot of decisions to make for a simple bowl of shrimp and grits, but don’t worry, you’ve already made the most important choice. You’ve decided to get in the kitchen and cook, and that’s one that will always pay off, no matter what day of the week you make it.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @meredithdeeds.