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I spent a year going to a public middle school in New Orleans where I was fed cheesy grits for breakfast every other day. It’s a Southern thing thang, grits cooked with lots of butter and cheese, and saucy shrimp with bits of bacon on top, a flavor bomb exploding in your mouth. It has been a long time since I’ve had authentic shrimp and grits, being half a Houstonian now. And the other day, I stumbled upon a bacon jam recipe, so a new idea was teeming in my head. If bacon goes well with shrimp, a little bacon jam shouldn’t hurt, right? And yes, I was so right.
A few things about shrimp. The easiest way to cook shrimp is to buy the frozen, peeled and deveined version. But trials and errors have taught me that fresh shrimp with heads and peel and everything else taste so much more flavorful and seafood-y than the ready-to-make ones. So for that extra burst of shrimp happiness, I went the extra mile of getting whole shrimps and peeling and decapitating them myself. By the way, the orange gooey goodness that ooze out of shrimp heads when you de-head them is the stuff that gives shrimp its most intense flavor. Don’t judge it by its looks, and try to preserve as much of that shrimp juice as possible. You can discard the heads afterward, or you can fry them and make stock for your shrimp congee (recipe to come). Foodies never waste a thing!
So I put quotation marks around grits because I’m halfway cheating here. But trust me it’s for the better. Instead of using grits, which is mashed corn bits, I used cream of wheat, or mashed wheat. The texture is exactly like grits, creamy and light, but it’s finer than grits, which makes for a smoother taste paired with shrimp. You can find it in any grocery store, and it’s also a very southern thing. —Kim Zhou
Cook the bacon on a frying pan until brown and crisp. Set aside on paper towel to blot out grease. Cut bacon into small pieces or tear it with your hands.
Caramelize onion over medium heat (this takes about 8 minutes) until onion is soft and brown and sweet to taste.
Add garlic and tomatoes. Season with vinegar, brown sugar, paprika and chili powder. Simmer for another 8 minutes for all the flavors to mix. Add kahlua and stir mixture. It will slowly thicken over 3 minutes.
Add bacon bits and stir around. Simmer for 3 minutes until jam is thick and caramelized.
Add cooking wine to shrimp in the pan. Pan sear shrimp with canola oil for 2-5 minutes, until shrimp turns pink throughout (that can happen very fast). Salt and pepper to taste.
Add bacon jam to shrimp and mix thoroughly on low heat, for 1 minute. Turn heat off.
In a separate pot, boil 3-4 cups of water. When water is boiled, add cream of wheat bit by bit and stir constantly. Keep stirring while water is boiling for 4 minutes until cream of wheat has thickened into almost a paste. Turn heat to low, simmer cream of wheat for another 4 minutes while stirring occasionally. It should thicken some more. Turn off heat when you’re happy with the consistency.
Serve bacon jammed shrimp over cream of wheat. Enjoy every bite!