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Gulf Coast Smooth Back Pufferfish–An Invasion? Your Experiences Wanted!

by on May.14, 2015, under FLORIDA'S BIG BEND AND EMERALD COAST, TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

smoothback pufferfish

smoothback pufferfish

I’ve been fishing Florida’s Gulf coast for about 60 years, and I’ve never seen one of these puffers.  What we usually see, especially inshore, are the cute little “porcupine blowfish” that are less than a foot long, and are known to cut perfect notches out of soft baits.  However, this year, there seems to be an outbreak of these bigger, heretofore rare in inshore waters, smoothback pufferfish.  They’ve been found in the past month from Tampa Bay to Panacea and are ready and willing to eat jigs, soft baits, live bait, hard plugs, topwater lures and even popping corks.  Structure doesn’t seem to matter either.  They’re over rock piles, oyster bars, mud bottom and grass flats.

I’ve contacted the FWC’s research department (FWRI) and have had no solid response from them about these fish and about the possibility of an “invasion”.  One response from an FWRI Communications Officer was, “I heard back from our biologist and he said that it’s hard to say why there’s a sudden surge in population.  He said that pufferfish can have strong recruitment some years.  As for them being an exotic, they are not  exotic, so no worries there.”  My response was to forward several emails I’d received from my Florida Sportsman Big Bend Fishing4Cast readers, but I’ve still had no response.  Does “strong recruitment some years” mean thousands of fish every 50 years?  Personally, I’d like to know more about the outbreak and what these voracious feeders eat.

Please feel free to send your reports of smoothback pufferfish adventures to me at capttfommy@me.com or as a comment on this post.

Below are some email comments I’ve received so far:

  • Just read this weeks forecast. Both my wife and I caught some of these new puffers on our recent trip. We landed about 4 and had bait demolished by several others. All fish were in the 16″ range. They are very aggressive. We were south of Rocky creek most of the time.

 

  • Read your 05/07 fishing forecast re: Smooth Puffers, have started catching these puffers between Rocky Creek and Pepperfish from about 4’ up to the grass line biggest so far was about 16” caught 3 in one trip before moving on.  Never seen them before this year. Joked with my wife about not being a fugu chef.

 

  • I read your forecast and thought I’d let you know I caught a 18 ish inch smooth back puffer  2 weeks ago in a small creek (Stony Bayou) in the St Marks Wildlife Refuge. I was really surprised, because I’ve never caught one inshore. I didn’t think much about it until I read your reports of the invasion.

 

  • Went out of Steinhatchee today a mile south of the channel in 3 to 5 feet of water and caught 3 of the large puffers. They were even chasing the small trout as I reeled them in. Lost a lot of Gulps to them. They are ferocious.

 

  • I have been fishing the big bend area from Keaton to Mexico Beach for over 30 years and have never caught one of these smooth puffers. On a trip to Keaton, weekend of May 1st, we caught 5 of them. Hope they’re not invasive.

 

  • Recently saw your comments on Florida Sportsman/Puffers and…put the yak in early today (sunrise) at Hagens Cove hoping for trout topwater action. Liked the water/weather conditions (glassy/no wind). Went out about 1 mile 4′ depth.  Between the Puffers and the floating grass (where is all that grass coming from?) couldn’t/didn’t hook up with ANY trout. Them darned Puffers hit just about anything: topwaters, suspending hardbaits, various riggings under popping corks…

 

  • I also have been encountering the Smooth Puffers in and around Ozello. Did not know what they where called, never caught one before. They are as you stated in your article ferocious little buggers. Was catching them on a MirrOdine

 

 

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Kevin’s Redtrout Shootout, Wakulla County, May 30, 2015

by on May.12, 2015, under Keaton Beach to Fenholloway, Shell Point to Lanark, Ochlockonee Bay, St. Marks, Aucilla and Econfina

redtrout

It’s back! The Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear & Apparel Redtrout Shootout will take place May 30, 2015.

Cash rewards will be paid out to the top 10 teams weighing in the heaviest combined weight of (1) redfish and (1) spotted seatrout. With an entry fee of $75.00 per angler and a guaranteed cash purse, you and your crew will want to get registered today!

This unique inshore fishing tournament allows teams to launch their boat at any boat ramp, fish their favorite holes and then weigh their catch in at Jerry’s Bait & Tackle located at 664 Woodville Highway, Crawfordville, FL. Click here for map!

If all that sounds good wait till you hear the rest. We have everything from Banquets & Kick Off parties featuring live music. So be sure to take a few minutes and navigate the website to see what else we have in store for this years edition of the RedTrout Shootout.

Click here today to register!

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Charts, Navigation and Weather Seminar in Panama City Beach Feb. 28, 2015

by on Feb.24, 2015, under CAPT. TOMMY'S BOOK SIGNINGS, TALKS, TRAVELS, Destin and Ft. Walton Beach, Panama City, Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach and St. Joseph Bay

MarineMax, Panama City Beach, February 28, 9:00am – 11:30am
Join MarineMax Panama City Beach and host Bob Fowler as we offer another free seminar at our 11th Annual Charts, Navigation and Weather Seminar. Learn valuable skills for navigating and forecasting when out on the water.

The seminar will feature special guests and multi-media presentations from:

  • Dr. Wil Hugli, Commander with Regional United States Power Squadrons
  • Mark Wool, Warning Coordination Meteorologist NWS Tallahassee for 16 years
  • Emma Weston with NOAA on gathering helpful information from buoys

Take advantage of this FREE seminar and receive a discount coupon from Half Hitch stores! Of course, half-time entertainment will be provided by host Bob Fowler, with a special vocal solo for the occasion.

For more information or to RSVP, visit MarineMax online or contact Cassie Anderson at cassie.anderson@marinemax.com, 850-708-1317.

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Looking For A Simply Devilish Summer Dinner?–Try Scallops Fra Diavolo

by on Jun.24, 2014, under Recipes and Food

Summer means one thing on Florida’s Big Bend—recreational scallop season.  The general madness that comes with crowded marinas, boat ramps and waterways from Bayport to St. Marks bothers lots of folks, but I’ve learned to take all of that in stride and to focus on the dinner table.

Snorkeling for scallops is lots of fun, but coming home tired and waterlogged never puts me in the mood to cook.  Luckily, shucked scallops fare well in the freezer for a few weeks, so tucking a few limits away isn’t a bad idea.  Bite for tender bite, there’s no product of the Gulf tastier than a freshly shucked sea scallop.  And while the adductor muscles are great raw, right out of the shell, most folks would rather have them cooked.

My traditional “down home” method of scallop preparation involves a light dusting of flour and frying in butter.  But here’s a simple upscale recipe for scallops in a spicy tomato sauce with pasta that’s more fit for a hot date than a hot night at the fish camp.

Scallops Fra Diavolo

4 tbs. olive oil

6 cloves fresh garlic, crushed

1 28-ounce can crushed San Marzano tomatoes

1 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. sugar

Crushed red pepper flakes, the “devil’s touch”

1-pound (product of a 2-gallon personal limit) scallops, shucked and patted dry with

paper towels

1-pound linguine or fettuccine pasta

Chopped Italian parsley or basil (as garnish)

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and add the garlic.  When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the tomatoes.  Add the salt and sugar and bring to a boil.  Finally, add the crushed red pepper.  Start with a teaspoon, but depending on your tolerance for heat, more may be required.  Then simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and then cook the pasta for 8 to 10-minutes.  Don’t overcook the pasta, draining it to a colander when it’s still slightly chewy, or al dente.

When you add the pasta to the water, heat the remaining oil over high heat in a skillet and sear the scallops, taking care not to overcook them (into the consistency of rubber pencil erasers).  One or twominutes should do the trick.  Add the scallops to the sauce and simmer another minute or two.

Spoon the sauce over the pasta and garnish with parsley or basil.  Serve with a chunk of crusty bread and a nice white wine.  (Serves 4)

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Smoked Fish and Helen’s Famous Smoked Mullet Dip

by on May.25, 2014, under Recipes and Food

Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em


I suspect the first smoked fish appeared in the diets of early Floridians as the result of a hot cooking fire gone cold.   Likely, a late afternoon thunderstorm interrupted a Calusa chef’s attempt at roasting some mullet and the buttonwood-fueled fire was covered with an umbrella of palmetto fronds.  That effort at keeping the fire alive did just that, but starved it of oxygen and created billows of smoke instead of heat.  As fish flesh isn’t that dense, just the duration of a short squall provided enough time to create a new menu item, one that’s maintained its popularity until this day–smoked fish.

Many species of Florida fish lend themselves to smoking.  While dried fish (cod, in particular) are popular in many cultures, there’s a distinct difference between dried and smoked fish.  Oily fish seem to smoke best as the oil keeps the meat from drying out during the process.   With the exception of southeast Florida, mullet are probably the state’s most popular smoked fish, followed by members of the mackerel family.  Other choices include swordfish, wahoo and cobia.   Smoked fish should be moist and most important, still taste like fish.

There are a multitude of fish-smoking devices available.   The trick to successful fish smoking is to keep the smoker smoking and to keep the fish away from the heat.  I was once advised to “keep the smoker just hot enough to keep the flies off the meat”.  If you want to grill or roast your fish, put it over the fire, otherwise use indirect heat to create smoke.  I suspect there are hundreds of smoking devices on the market and sometimes the simple ones are the best.  A kettle-style cooker works fine, as does a custom built dual-axle smoker wagon.  I’ve used everything from plywood crates to abandoned refrigerators to smoke some pretty good fish.

The bottom line for smoking is simplicity, but there are a few basic “rules” that you might consider.  One, choose your wood carefully.  Dense, hard buttonwood, a mangrove-look-alike, was once popular for smoking wood, but it’s scarce and I discourage using it.  In fact, many local ordinances forbid harvesting it.  Hickory can be used, but I prefer mesquite.  Both are readily available as chunks, and an overnight soak in a bucket of water is all you need to keep them from not     flaming up.  No matter your choice, start some charcoal briquettes away from your smoker and add them just a few at a time to keep the wood smoking.  Second, don’t over-do the seasonings.  I like my smoked fish to taste like fish, not like “Junior-Bob’s Smokehouse Seasoning”.  A light coat of vegetable oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper will do.  Let the smoke do the rest.  And finally, don’t over-cook your fish.  You don’t want it rare, but you do want it moist, and there’s no rule that says you can’t peel a piece off a fillet for a taste test!

Why smoke your own fish?  I smoke mine because I want it fresh, and there’s nothing better than fish that’s  “hot off the smoker”.  I don’t want it cold or warmed-up, and in many cases my smoked fish never gets too far from the smoker before it’s quickly consumed by eager diners.

Consider holding your next summertime party around the finale of a fish-smoking session, serving Helen’s Famous Smoked Fish Dip as an appetizer and a couple of fillets of smoked fish as the main course.    Just add Key Lime Pie and some cold beverages for rave reviews!

Helen’s Famous Smoked Fish Dip


2 cups smoked fish meat

½ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup chopped scallions

¼ cup chopped celery

¼ cup chopped Gherkin pickles or pickle relish

1 tbs Tabasco Sauce

Juice of a lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the ingredients with a fork, taking care not to create a paste.  Chunky is good.  And Helen (my Mom) always insisted that her smoked fish dip only be served with genuine Wheat Thin crackers.

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Stuff Your Peppers With Tasty Jambalaya

by on May.25, 2014, under Recipes and Food

Until I tried this seafood recipe, I considered bell peppers merely a dressy vehicle for serving “Hamburger Helper” to a crowd of hungry kids.  But when stuffed with a shrimp and sausage version of Creole jambalaya, this simple dish reaches new heights and is worthy of a place at even the most upscale dinner table.

While jambalaya’s heritage is Caribbean, it can now be found throughout the American south, often varying in style and taste from one small town to the next.   Some versions are veggie-heavy and tomato-red; others look less vivid—but all are centered about the key ingredients of long-grain rice and sausage.  In my version, onion, garlic, celery and tomatoes set the stage for the sausage and shrimp, but unlike some recipes I’ve seen, I don’t use bell peppers as part of the jambalaya mix.  I prefer to sweeten each spicy bite with a chunk of the “pepper package” as I proceed in clearing my plate.

Basing a meal with rice–or pasta–has always been a convenient way to stretch a little bit of meat or seafood a long way.  However, my recipe relies on plenty of sausage and shrimp.  Use only the freshest shrimp you can find and pick a sausage that suits your palate.  Andouille can be hot and spicy and if your family or guests have less-than-cast iron stomachs, consider using something less fiery.   Specialty sausages made with chicken or turkey also work well, as do chunks of Florida lobster or bay scallops.   But in any case, expect kudos for this filling and tasty entrée.

Shrimp and Sausage Jambalaya Stuffed Peppers

3 tbs. olive oil

1 jalapeno pepper

1 small yellow onion

3 garlic cloves

2 stalks celery

3 tsp. Creole seasoning (Tony Chachere’s is the best.)

2 springs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

2 tbs. tomato paste

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

4 cups chicken stock

1 pound spicy Andouille sausage, thinly-sliced (I buy Savoie’s at Publix.)

2-1/2 cups long-grain rice

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

6 large red bell peppers, tops cut off, seeds and ribs removed

Tabasco sauce

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat, Then sauté finely chopped (in a food processor or by hand) jalapeno pepper, onion, garlic and celery until transparent.  Add Creole seasoning, thyme, bay leaves, tomato paste, tomatoes, chicken stock and sausage and bring to a boil.  Add rice, stir, cover pot and reduce heat to simmer for about 15-minutes.  Add shrimp to the mix and cook about 5 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid and the shrimp are no longer translucent.

While the rice mix is cooking, pre-heat oven to 350-degrees.

Discard bay leaves and thyme stalks.  Stuff bell peppers with jambalaya mixture and apply a splash of Tabasco.  Place in oven, on middle rack, and bake about 30-minutes or until peppers are fork-tender.  At the table, add a sprinkle of Creole seasoning and let everyone dig in!

Serves 6

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Shrimp and Avocado Salad

by on May.25, 2014, under Recipes and Food

Fine dining doesn’t necessarily involve rocket science.  Some recipes have more to do with quality ingredients than fancy techniques, and this cool, refreshing shrimp and avocado salad is a perfect example.  All you really need to be able to do is boil shrimp and perform some basic cutting and stirring.

I’m often surprised by the number of questions I receive regarding problems with boiled foods like rice, grits, pasta, and shrimp.  Rice and grits involve the proper ratio of water to grain. And pasta involves the time-tested technique of pulling a strand from the boiling water and tossing it onto the fridge door to see if it sticks.   Shrimp can be trickier, but my method seems to work well, especially if the shrimp are medium in size.  First, bring a BIG pot of water to a boil.  Don’t add salt and only add some Old Bay seasoning if you’re doing a peel-and-eat affair—not for this recipe.  Add your cold shrimp, and then let the water come back to a boil.  Drain the shrimp into a colander or strainer and immediately cover with ice to chill.  That’s it.  They’re done and ready to eat.

In recent years avocados have become easier to find throughout the year.  Of course, in cooler months there’s no short supply of those bright green and tasty “alligator pears” from the southern part of our state.  The rest of the year the smaller, dark-skinned Haas avocados from California or Mexico will just have to do.  The Haas variety is usually just as flavorful, but often requires ripening in a paper bag (along with a banana, if you’ve got one) for a day or so after purchase at your local supermarket.  Look for the Florida “pears” at roadside stands, where they’re more likely to be ripe, ready to eat, and the product of a local producer’s back yard.

There’s a fairly long list of ingredients for this recipe, but don’t be dismayed.  You don’t need much more than a whisk to pull this one off, and the individual flavors of mustard, chili sauce, garlic and Tabasco all stand out with each bite, not overwhelming the avocado chunks and the shrimp themselves.  And it’s the shrimp that make the dish the highlight of many a summer lunch or dinner.  But what about using Florida lobster?  I’ve got lobster rolls on my mind!

Shrimp & Avocado Salad

6 tbs. olive oil

4 tbs. white wine vinegar

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

2 lbs. medium shrimp (peeled, deveined and boiled)

1 cup mayonnaise

4 tbs. chili sauce

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp. Tabasco sauce

2 large Florida avocados (or 5 or 6 Haas avocados)

4 tbs. fresh dill, minced

4 tbs. chives, minced

salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste

Lemon juice

Whisk the oil, vinegar and mustard.  Add mix to shrimp, toss thoroughly and allow to marinate in refrigerator for 2 hours.  Meanwhile, whisk mayonnaise, chili sauce, garlic, Tabasco, dill, chives, salt and pepper until smooth.  Set aside.  Peel, seed and cube the avocados and sprinkle with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.  When shrimp has marinated, drain, gently fold in avocado cubes and the mayonnaise mixture.  Garnish with dill sprigs and lemon wedges; serve with a dry white wine and crusty bread.  (Feeds 8 at a debutante ball or 4 hungry fishermen)

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Try Trout Piccata–The Lighter Side of Fried Fish

by on May.25, 2014, under Recipes and Food

By the time April rolls around, I’m ready to quit eating heavy cool-weather seafood like fried fish, shrimp and oysters and am interested in lighter fare.  And what better way to impress your family and friends is there than the simple Italian-American dish, fish “Piccata”?  Traditionally, this dish is made with thinly sliced and pounded-flat veal, but any delicate fish like seatrout, flounder or sheepshead are perfect choices in your Sportsman’s Kitchen.

Yes, the fish in this recipe is “fried”, but I prefer using the word “sautéed” to clarify that it’s not battered and boiled in oil, but lightly crisped in just a small amount of butter and olive oil, using only a very light dusting of flour.   Then, it’s served with a pan sauce of lemon juice, dry white wine and capers.  If you’ve not yet tasted capers, this is the perfect recipe to learn about these small pickled berries from the Capparis spinosa bush native to rugged Mediterranean countries.  They’re spicy and tangy, but not so much as to cover up the flavor of the fish.

Keep your meal on the light side with a side of crispy homemade potato chips and some light white or blush wine, remembering that springtime is the time to “lighten up”!

Piscine Piccata

  • 2 fish fillets
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Flour as needed for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • Chopped parsley for garnish

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter. Season the fillets with salt and pepper and dust lightly with the flour. Once the butter foams and begins to brown, add the fish fillets, turn the heat to high, and brown well, turning once, 4 to 5 minutes total.

Remove the fillets to a warm resting place, and add the wine to the pan. Scrape up the browned bits and add the lemon juice along with the capers. Reduce for half a minute, then add the last tablespoon of butter. Check for seasoning and acidity, then return the fillets to the sauce to warm. Sprinkle with parsley and serve. (Serves 2)

Homemade Potato Chips

There are a couple of tricks regarding the successful preparation of homemade potato chips.  First, use a mandolin slicer or very sharp fillet knife to make very thin, even slices.  Second, dry the chips thoroughly before frying in hot, 375-degree, canola or peanut oil.  And finally, don’t overcrowd the pan—cook just a few slices at a time, drain them on paper towels, and season with sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper.

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Cupid’s Crabby Cupcakes (Or…Get Some Tonight!)

by on Dec.27, 2013, under Recipes and Food

Luckily, St. Valentine’s Day 2014 doesn’t fall on a weekend fishing day, giving each of us the opportunity to spoil our sweethearts with a special home-cooked meal.  And what’s better than delicious, easy-to-prepare, crab cakes?

Chefs’ interpretations of crab cakes range from the ordinary to the sublime.  Many consider that if a crab is passed over a lump of doughy bread, a crab cake is created.  Others, like me, insist on fewer binders and lots of crab.  After all, there’s probably no seafood that deserves less “doctoring” than crab.  It’s sweet—just like your sweetie.

I’ve seen recipes for crab cakes made with all varieties of these “beautiful swimmers”, but it’s the common blue crab that tops my list.  Pasteurized blue crab meat, lump or claw, is readily available at supermarkets and specialty seafood shops.  Live blue crabs, yours for the boiling and picking, are often available at coastal fish houses.  And if you’re in the mood to catch your own, a dip net and a chicken neck tied to a string tossed from almost any Florida seawall will soon provide you a bucket of crabs.

I’m convinced that one of the reasons that crab cakes served in restaurants have a considerable amount of bread and binders is due to ease of cooking and presentation.  Cakes with lots of crabmeat tend to fall apart and get messy, for the chef and the establishment’s reputation.  Some restaurants refrigerate their crab cake mix prior to cooking, and then dust the cakes with flour or breading before dropping them into a deep fryer.  The result is usually a fried crab-flavored bread ball.  Others, who emphasize that there is crab in the recipe, make patties and more properly sauté them in a little bit of oil or butter.  These taste better, but depending on how much crab meat is included, almost always fall apart on their trip from the skillet to the plate.

In my personal quest for the most tasty and photogenic of all crab cakes, I’ve found that baking them in muffin pans helps maintain a consistent shape and crisp exterior, even with a high crab-to-binder ratio.  Lightly packing the crab cake mix into a hot pan will give you a head start on a crispy exterior.  If you still have Grandma’s cast iron muffin pan, use it.  If not, the heavier the pan, the better. You’ll notice that the recipe included here has very little bread, just a few spices and veggies, one egg and a bit of mayonnaise to hold it all together.  Don’t overwork the mix, taking special care to fold the ingredients together rather than mash them up into a paste.

Crab-picking time (or crab-shopping time) aside, my Cupid’s Crabby Cupcakes are a quick fix, even on a weekday night.  Served with a simple green salad and a glass or two of dry Pinot Grigio blush wine, you’ll be the hit of your Valentine’s Day festivities.

Cupid’s Crabby Cupcakes

1 pound lump crabmeat

1/4 –cup minced scallions (green part)

2 tbs. chopped parsley

1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning

1/4-cup plain breadcrumbs

1/4-cup mayonnaise

1 large egg

Canola oil spray

Pre-heat oven to 400-degrees and then heat muffin pan, lightly greased with canola oil, for 10 minutes.  As the pan heats, gently mix remaining ingredients in a large bowl, using a rubber spatula.  When the pan is hot, quickly spoon the crab mix into the individual compartments, lightly compacting it with the back of your spoon and taking care to keep the top level.  Bake the cakes for 30 minutes, and then cool for 5 minutes before removing and serving.  Makes 4 cakes.

Spicy Sweetheart Sauce

1/4-cup mayonnaise

1/4-cup sour cream

2 tbs. finely chopped chipotle chiles*

1 tsp. finely chopped garlic

2 tsp. chopped cilantro leaves

Juice of a small lemon

Mix ingredients in a small bowl, cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, allowing flavors to blend.

*Best found canned, in adobo sauce, in the ethnic foods department of your local Publix Supermarket.

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Shrimp ‘n Grits–To Cheese or Not To Cheese?

by on Dec.27, 2013, under Recipes and Food

To Cheese…or Not To Cheese?

In his or her kitchen repertory, any southern cook should have the successful preparation of grits.  Not fancy grits, but just plain grits.  Many don’t, and I suspect that’s due to the fact that they can’t boil pasta or cook rice either.  All are simple chores, and the success of many a meal depends on mastery of those subjects.   Essentially hominy (corn kernels processed using an alkaline solution like lye), grits come in several variations.  At most groceries, you’ll find all sorts—coarse and fine-ground, yellow and white–even “instant”.  “Real” grits need to cook slowly for about 20 minutes and I avoid “instant” grits at all costs.

In many parts of the American South, grits are considered breakfast food.  In fact, northerners often confuse grits with cream of wheat and apply sugar and milk. More likely you’ll find them an accompaniment to eggs, bacon and sausage in our southern states, but in Florida, much to the initial surprise of my Eastern North Carolina-native wife, we eat grits with fish and seafood.

In recent years, shrimp and grits has become a standard menu item in many establishments and homes.  The dish is simple to cook and a hearty main course on a cold winter night.  And it can be varied with regards to whether or not to include cheese or the type of meat to include.  Cheese can add richness to the grits, but some chefs feel it overpowers the taste of the shrimp.  Others go to great trouble to include elaborate combinations of cheddar, Parmesan and even cream cheese.  The choice is yours, but I’ll stick with simplicity and use extra-sharp cheddar—if I use cheese at all.   As for meat, “salty” is the key.  It’s hard to beat store-bought bacon, but you can easily substitute Cajun-style tasso or Italian pancetta to give your version of shrimp and grits a regional or continental touch.

Shrimp and grits can easily become a standard main dish at your dinner table, taking simple ingredients to new heights.   Serve with a salad or slaw and a buttered biscuit and you’ll find that, along with compliments about the meal, guests and family will be asking for a repeat performance.

Basic Shrimp  and Grits

6 cups water

1 tbs. salt

1/2 tbs. freshly-ground black pepper

1-1/2 cups yellow grits

1/2-stick butter

2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese (optional)

2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined, lightly dusted with flour

1-pound bacon

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 cup thinly sliced scallions

4 garlic cloves, finely minced

In a large saucepan, bring the salted water to a boil.  Then, add grits and pepper and stir for about 30 seconds.  Turn down heat to a simmer and cook until the water is absorbed.  If the grits are too thick, add some more water (or milk) and continue to cook, about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat; stir in butter and cheese.

Fry bacon in a skillet until crispy; drain and crumble.  In the reserved grease, sauté shrimp until pink, just a minute or two, and remove to a holding plate.  Don’t overcook your shrimp! Then, add parsley, garlic and scallions to the hot bacon grease and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until the scallions are transparent.

Spoon grits into a serving bowl.  Stir in all the other ingredients, serve immediately– and enjoy.

Serves 4 to 6

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