Andrea Weigl’s go-to shrimp and grits recipe

This is a repost of my 2011 column about my favorite shrimp and grits recipe from local cookbook author Sheri Castle. Folks asked for it on Twitter, so here it is:

There are some recipes your family and friends won’t let you forget. I call them “encore recipes.”

Normally, recipes move through our lives, making frequent visits during certain time frames, but then fading from our repertoires.

My roommates and I cooked vats of Thai chicken with peanut sauce and rice in our college apartment. Salmon with baby bok choy reminds me of the dinner parties I threw in my late 20s. Pulled pork with South Carolina mustard sauce has been the go-to recipe when my husband and I feed a crowd on our porch on summer evenings.

The one dish that spans almost a decade is shrimp and grits. I learned to make this recipe from Sheri Castle, a Chapel Hill cooking instructor and cookbook author. (I wrote about her first book, “The New Southern Garden Cookbook, “ in last week’s food section.)

The key to Castle’s recipe is the cheese grits. She says the “a-ha moment” came when she realized that grits are best cooked in a mixture of half milk and half water. Water alone makes the grits too weak. Milk only makes them too cloying. And unlike in other recipes I’ve seen, Castle’s adds butter, cream cheese and shredded white cheddar to the grits. These are not grits for the diet-conscious. But they are so delicious that I could forgo the shrimp and sometimes do when I want a comfort food fix.

This recipe has never fallen out of the rotation, largely because my family and friends request it so often. I’ve cooked it for my parents back home in Pittsburgh. I have made it for my brother’s family while visiting them in Los Angeles as his Father’s Day dinner. I have used shrimp just caught in the Gulf Coast to make this dish for my best friend, Tesa, while visiting her in Austin.

I suspect this dish is so popular for two reasons: It’s delicious and, to many, it’s a novelty.

For those of us who live in the Carolinas, shrimp and grits is ubiquitous. This Lowcountry classic, made popular by Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, is a constant on Southern restaurant menus. You likely can’t throw a wooden spoon in Charleston, S.C., without hitting a restaurant with its own version. But that’s not true in Pittsburgh, Austin or Los Angeles.

So I have learned not to visit these people without packing this recipe.

Weigl: 919-829-4848;

Twitter: @andreaweigl

Sheri Castle’s Shrimp and Cheese Grits

From Sheri Castle,

2 cups whole or 2 percent milk

2 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

2 small garlic cloves, minced

1 cup quick-cooking stone-ground grits, not instant

10 ounces extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

2 ounces cream cheese

4 tablespoons butter

12 slices bacon, cut into small pieces

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

2 to 3 leeks, cleaned and sliced

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 pound shrimp, peeled, deveined, rinsed and patted dry

Juice of 1/2 lemon, about 4 teaspoons

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Hot sauce to taste

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Bring milk, water, salt and garlic just to a boil over medium-high heat in a heavy, medium saucepan.

Sprinkle in grits slowly, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.

Reduce heat to low and cook grits, stirring constantly, until they are almost thickened, about 4 minutes or longer if needed.

Remove grits from heat and add cheddar cheese, cream cheese and butter. Stir until cheeses and butter are melted and well mixed.

Cover saucepan and keep grits warm over low heat.

Brown bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crispy. Transfer bacon to paper towels to let it drain. When cool, crumble bacon. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons of bacon drippings.

Add mushrooms, leeks, scallions and garlic to the skillet and cook until softened, about 8 minutes.

Add shrimp and let cook until pink, about 3 minutes.

Add bacon, lemon juice, salt, pepper and hot sauce. Sprinkle with parsley. Stir together.

Serve over cheese grits. If grits have become too thick, stir in a little milk or water to thin before serving.

Yield: 6 servings.