Welcome to season two of Eating Wild!
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to bring you another round of bi-weekly columns focused on incorporating the local and bountiful wild ingredients of Southeast Alaska into everyday meals. My aim is to produce easy, delicious and creative recipes that speak to the unique heart of what it means to live in a coastal community in the Tongass National Forest.
I have a couple of recipes planned. Expect to see: devil’s club buds, spruce tips, nettles, seaweeds, beach asparagus, fireweed shoots, wild mushrooms, berries galore and whatever else I can get my hands on. If you have requests, questions or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
To kick things off, I’m starting with just about my favorite food on the planet — Alaskan spot prawns. Sweet, fresh, a little bit of a pop in the bite, succulent, I could go on and on about our local fresh wild shrimp, and especially if we’re talking spot prawns. I feel genuine sorrow in my heart for the billions of souls on this planet who will never get to experience the divine joy of eating barely cooked fresh shrimp with a little bit of good horseraddishy cocktail sauce and a squeeze of lemon.
Can you believe that we Southeast Alaskans are some of the only people in the world lucky enough to have regular access to this amazing culinary treasure? I just gave myself the shivers even thinking about it. All of our local wild shrimp are amazing, fresh or frozen, and they make any dish magical. Playing around with ideas on how to combine delicious things in my fridge in new and interesting ways, I stumbled on this no-carb take on shrimp and grits, one of the greatest American breakfasts of all time.
Have you ever sat down at a classic American diner counter for breakfast and watched a short-order cook at work? Let alone listened to them rattle off what orders they’re preparing in their baffling slang? It’s an art. And one that I don’t even remotely pretend to have mastered. But what I do know from watching great short-order cooks is that, even more so than at other meal times, serving up a great hot breakfast is all about timing.
What follows is a delicious dish that comes together very quickly. But that means you need to think like a short-order cook. You’ll want everything diced, measured, set-out, and ready to go. If you want to get fancy, that’s called your “mis-en-place” (pronounced mizz ‘n plass), meaning “everything in its place.” It’s basically what you see when you watch a cooking show where they have all the ingredients set out, measured, chopped, whatever and ready to dump right into the pan as soon as they’re needed. You want your pans you’re going to use in place on the stovetop, with whatever the first ingredient is already in the pan, even to the point of getting your eggs out of the fridge and ready to crack as soon as it’s frying time. For me, mis-en-place is especially important when I’m cooking breakfast with a fuzzy pre-coffee brain.
So now that I’ve scared you, this is actually a straightforward, but impressive, super delicious, bright, zippy, fun breakfast! And did I mention that it shows off our local shrimp like a champ?
It’s also easily adapted to other seafood and other times of day. See my note at the bottom about subbing in rockfish and cooking this recipe for dinner. It would also be delicious with scallops.
Cajun Shrimp and Squash “Grits”
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 60-70 minutes
4 slices bacon, diced
1 pound wild Alaskan shrimp, shelled
1 red bell pepper, diced
White part of green onions, thinly sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 teaspoons cajun spice or ½ tsp cayenne and ½ tsp paprika
¾ cup chicken stock
½ lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 medium spaghetti squash, roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup chicken stock
¼ cup half and half
½ cup grated parmesan
A pinch of smoked paprika (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Green part of green onions, thinly sliced
Either do your squash ahead of time (even days ahead of time) or just before cooking your “grits.” We frequently have a container full of roasted spaghetti squash sitting in our fridge since it’s such a great, healthy no-carb staple.
To roast, carefully cut squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and pulp and rub the inside of the squash with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast cut-side down at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, or until you can easily pierce the skin with a fork. When you remove it from the oven and flip it over, you should have a beautifully caramelized squash. Let cool for a few minutes and then use a spoon to scoop out all the squash, either directly into your saucepan to make the “grits” or into a container to keep in the fridge for later.
In a large skillet over low/medium heat cook your diced bacon until crispy. Remove bacon bits and set aside, but keep the bacon grease in the pan. Cook shrimp in bacon grease for about 2-3 minutes or until the shrimp are just getting firm, pink and opaque.* Remove shrimp and set aside. Add red pepper and and the white parts of the green onions to the skillet and cook until just starting to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add the chicken stock and spices and scrape up all the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Let simmer until reduced by half, about 6-7 minutes. While reducing, follow the directions below for your squash “grits.” Once your sauce has reduced and your grits are ready, return shrimp and bacon to your sauce and toss until the shrimp are fully heated through. Finish with a squeeze of lemon. Turn off the heat and let sit while you either fry your eggs in a separate pan or get your plates ready.
*Don’t overcook your shrimp. They’ll get another shot of heat towards the end of the recipe and you can always give them a little more time in the sauce if you feel like you didn’t cook them quite enough. Fresh shrimp need almost no time at all to cook.
In a medium/large saucepan over low heat melt butter and whisk in ½ cup chicken stock, ¼ cup half and half and ½ cup grated parmesan. Once smooth, dump in spaghetti squash and stir over low heat until fully coated. Add salt and pepper to taste and toss in a pinch of smoked paprika for fun (if you have it). It’s OK to let this simmer a bit as long as you’re keeping an eye on it and regularly stirring.
The whole plate
Put a big dollop of “grits” on each plate and top with the shrimp and sauce, a fried egg on the side, and scatter diced green part of the green onions over the whole thing. Serve with your favorite hot sauce.
Substitute rockfish or scallops for dinner
We’ve also had this recipe for dinner, subbing out rockfish for the shrimp. For rockfish, skin, cut into individual portion sizes, pat dry with a paper towel and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Once you’ve removed your bacon bits, turn the heat up to medium/high and once it’s sizzling, add your fish. Give the pan a shake to help keep the filets from sticking. Let it cook on the one side for two or three minutes, then flip.
Cook until when you look at the side of the filet you see a good solid band of opaque on both the top and bottom. Remove the filets from the pan and set aside on some paper towels. Turn the heat back down to medium/low and proceed with the rest of the recipe. Follow almost the exact same process for scallops. Again, you’ll have a chance to look over the fish/scallops and give them a little more cooking time in the sauce at the end if needed.
• Erin Anais Heist is a food blogger in Juneau. Readers can contact her at foodabe.com, or on Instagram or Twitter at @erinanais. “Eating Wild” recipes publish every other week.