Friday, October 29, 2010

Let's Kick It Up A Notch: Louisiana-Style Barbecue Shrimp & Cheese Grits

Ok, so obviously I'm on a N'awlins kick. I'm in the Big Easy right now, and I have to say that it hasn't been very easy to find the vegan eats here. Last night I ate dinner with coworkers at NOLA, one of Emeril Lagasse's restaurants here. Now, seeing that Emeril has his "Emeril Green" show on the Planet Green network, where he has done several vegetarian episodes, including a Vegan Soul Cookin' episode with Bryant Terry, and a Tofu, Tempeh, and Seitan episode, I felt pretty optimistic that they would be able to handle a vegan request there. When I asked our server if there were any vegan options, he very happily said "No problem, I'm going to have them do something for you!" He had such a great attitude about my request, and I was literally on the edge of my seat in anticipation at what they were going to bring out...

And then it came. A plate of grilled vegetables. Some squash, zucchini, asparagus, eggplant, a slice of tomato, and some grilled onion. Now, to their credit, I will say that it had some hot Cajun spices, so at the very least it was more flavorful than it looked. But still... it was just a plate of grilled vegetables. Not exactly an inspired dish, and not exactly what I hoped for from chefs of the caliber employed by Mr. Lagasse. It was sad. I was sad.

It was even more disappointing because I've eaten at NOLA before, so I know how good his food can be. I especially enjoyed his famous shrimp & grits, which at the time I had the sense to order without the bacon, although I obviously didn't have the sense at the time to know that shrimp is one of the most environmentally destructive types of seafood that one can consume. Which takes us to this veganized version that I made before leaving home, which is good for you and good for the marine life as well.

Now I will tell you that I've been highly skeptical of vegan seafood substitutes. Vegan sausages, vegan chicken, mock duck... I love it. But seafood... maybe it's because seafood was the last thing I quit eating before becoming vegan, and so the taste memory is much more recent in my mind.  I also thought the delicate texture of seafood would be harder to replicate successfully. But still, I was curious, and definitely intrigued by the array of vegan seafood items on display at a recent trip to May Wah. I was feeling adventurous. I was ready to conquer vegan seafood.

So what's the verdict on vegan shrimp? Personally, it's more of a novelty for me. As someone who used to enjoy eating seafood, I liked the "fishy" flavor, but the texture was a little...strange. You might also notice that I opted for the shrimp balls instead of the more realistic looking prawns, and I did that for a few reasons. But mostly just because balls are funny.

Feel free to make this recipe with the faux seafood of your choice, or even with tofu, tempeh, seitan or mushrooms. Just take note that this recipe is hot stuff! Like, your tongue burning kind of hot. Like, need a cold beer kind of hot. Fortunately, the rich, creamy, cheesy grits are a bit of a foil for the heat of the barbecued shrimp, but still, don't say I didn't warn you.

Louisiana-Style Barbecue Shrimp and Cheese Grits
makes 4 servings

For the shrimp: (adapted from this recipe)
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
16 oz. frozen vegan shrimp
about 1/2 batch of Wendy's Seitan Chorizo, diced*
2 large stems of fresh rosemary, left whole, but bruised with the back of your knife
3 Tbsp. of vegan Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp. Tabasco sauce, or to taste
1 large lemon, juiced and quartered
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. paprika
1/3 cup beer (ale)
4 Tbs. vegan butter, room temperature
Sea salt and pepper to taste
*Ok, so a vegan Andouille sausage would be the more authentic choice, but basically I wanted a spicy sausage to add, and Wendy's Seitan Chorizo is awesome, so I used that.

For the grits:
2 cups water
1 cup non-dairy cream (I used MimicCreme)
1 Tbsp. vegan butter
3/4 cup grits
1/3 cup Daiya cheddar cheese

1. First prepare the grits. Bring water, cream, butter, and some salt and pepper to a boil. Add grits, reduce heat, simmer uncovered for 5-7 minutes until grits are thickened. When grits are thickened, stir in cheese. Cover and keep warm while you prepare the shrimp. If grits get too thick, feel free to add some additional cream or water to achieve the consistency of your choice.

2.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high. Add garlic and brown, but do not let burn.

3. Add the shrimp, chorizo sausage, whole rosemary, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, lemon juice, lemon quarters, basil, oregano, thyme, paprika, cayenne,  and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 3-4 minutes, then add beer, scraping up any bits that may be stuck to the bottom.

4. Cook another few minutes, adding the butter 1 Tbsp. at a time, stirring to incorporate fully. (The original recipe called for EIGHT Tbsp. of real dairy butter... even using vegan butter, I started to get grossed out after 4 Tbsp. That is plenty of butter, vegan or not.)

After the butter is fully incorporated, taste the sauce and adjust any seasonings to taste. Remove lemon quarters and rosemary and serve over the grits.


  1. Emeril you best watch your back because Leinana is comin' to getcha, BAM!

    This dish looks fantastic! And because you recommended them, and only because you recommended them, I will try the shrimp balls. I have a good friend who loves the May Wah shrimp, but they freak me out. The texture, the calorie count, the enormity...all very freaky. The shrimp balls look more manageable.

  2. That's a real shame, I hope you find some awesome vegan options while you're there.

    And mock seafood does not appeal to me but I never liked seafood as an omni, but your meal looks absolutely delicious!

  3. Wow, this dish is so creative. Which section do you find the shrimp balls in? I've seen the veggie fish, etc... but not shrimp balls.

  4. @theveggie - I got the shrimp balls from May Wah in the frozen seafood section, with the veggie fish. You can also order it online if you're not in NY. They were fun to try, but I doubt I'll use them on a regular basis!

  5. YAY! I love the shrimp balls! Dan agrees with you - but I like them. I'm actually having some tonight in Shrimp Gumbo.

    You're recipe looks great!

  6. Annie - I actually thought about you when I made this!

  7. This looks amazing! Gotta love any food that incorporates balls. I love the colors in the photos you took - I feel like I can actually smell all that goodness cooking up!

  8. I've wondered about these seafood substitutes. Being a southern girl, I love the sound of shrimp and grits!