Shrimp and grits is listed on seemingly every menu in New Orleans and, these days, way beyond. It’s a perennially popular brunch and dinner dish, and every chef puts their own twist on it. But I recently tried crawfish and grits at the Garden District home of Jason Goodenough, the former owner of Carrollton Market, and it’s a variation on the dish that everyone should take the opportunity to enjoy.
After closing his restaurant in January 2021, Goodenough now serves as a private chef for visiting VIPs and runs a culinary school called The New Culinarian. He gives tours, conducts cooking classes, and wraps up each session with a dinner cooked by Goodenough and his team at his historic home.
The crawfish and grits was easily the highlight of his five-course meal, which ranged from local crab to strawberry shortcake. Crawfish was once primarily confined to the Gulf Coast, and diners had to nab them during their season. But they’ve become much more widely available, with crawfish boils taking place hundreds of miles from the Crescent City.
Goodenough’s recipe for crawfish and grits has a milder flavor and softer texture than shrimp and grits, whose strongly seasoned sauce can be overwhelming. This variation avoids the tendency of shrimp to go rubbery when overcooked, because crawfish only require warming up in the sauce once all the elements of the dish are finished.
Rather than go to the trouble of boiling them and peeling the tails, Goodenough uses crawfish tails that are already prepped. You can find them in specialty markets, often in the frozen food section, and you can order them from sites like Acadia Crawfish. Even Walmart sells them. But be careful to seek out American crawfish; there are many imports from China. Goodenough urges cooks to buy American crawfish to support an industry hurt by climate change and the economy.
While you might be tempted to use leftover crawfish from a crawfish boil, the seasoning may fight with the flavor of his dish, so it’s better to start from scratch. Meanwhile, don’t make the mistake Goodenough once did as a young chef in Philadelphia.
“I used to dump the tails in a strainer and rinse them before use,” he says. “When I moved to New Orleans, I discovered this is a huge no-no. The crawfish are processed and bagged with their fat. The stuff in the bag helps add tons of flavor, depth, and intensity to the sauce.”
Goodenough’s recipe includes instructions for making shrimp stock. You can either do this ahead, if you’ve had shrimp for another meal, and freeze it, or make it fresh as you’re preparing the dish. He advises waiting to add the crawfish until you’re satisfied with the flavor of your sauce and the creaminess of the grits.
“Back in the day, I did add the tails earlier and reduced the sauce with them in it,” he says. “By the time the viscosity was right, the tails were like rubber pellets.”
Even though his completed dish calls for 25 cloves of garlic, the flavor mellows out during cooking. I’m garlic-averse, due to a finicky tummy, and I gasped when I read the ingredients. It definitely does not taste garlicky, and I did not have a garlic hangover. Unlike some cooks, who swear by adding butter to make grits creamy, Goodenough smooths out his grits with a little water. That’s helpful if you are making grits ahead of time in order to concentrate on the final steps.
Courtesy of Chef Jason Goodenough
For the shrimp stock:
- 1 lb. shrimp shells and heads or whole shrimp in shells
- ½ yellow onion, julienned
- 1 stalk celery, cut diagonally
- 1 small carrot, thinly sliced
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 sprigs fresh tarragon
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 quarts water
- vegetable oil
Using a large saucepan or Dutch oven, saute the shrimp shells in vegetable oil in batches over medium-high heat (2-3 minutes), making sure not to crowd the pan. Reserve. Once all shrimp shells are caramelized, add fresh oil to the pan on medium-high heat. Add the vegetables and cook until almost burned—6 to 8 minutes—stirring regularly.
When the vegetables are caramelized, return shrimp shells to the pan and add the tomato paste. Stir thoroughly to ensure everything in the pan is coated, then continue stirring until the color of the paste lightens.
Add the water, the tarragon, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and reduce to a high simmer. Cook one to two hours until liquid reduces substantially, ideally to about 1-2 cups. Strain into a container, using the back of a spoon to squeeze liquid out of the solids, and reserve.
The reduced shrimp stock tends to get very salty due to the brininess of the shells. Add some water if that happens.
For the grits:
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 cups water
- ¾ oz. fresh thyme
- 15 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
- 1 cup high-quality stoneground corn grits
- 2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 stick (8 oz.) unsalted butter
Put cream, water, thyme, and garlic into a saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil and immediately turn off the heat. Let the mixture steep in the pan for at least 10 minutes, but ideally close to an hour. Strain, discarding solids, and return the liquid to the saucepan. Bring liquid back to a boil and slowly add the grits while whisking constantly.
Reduce the heat and simmer the grits about an hour, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon. If grits appear to get too thick, add a little bit of water; there is a lot of variation in absorption between brands of stoneground grits. Once the grits are cooked through and tender to the bite, stir in the grated cheese and butter. Check seasoning; adjust as needed.
Grits can be cooked ahead and reserved. To reheat, add some water over low heat and stir regularly until they come back together.
For the crawfish:
- 1 lb. Louisiana-farmed Crawfish Tails
- 1 green bell pepper, cored and chopped
- 3 medium shallots, minced
- 2 stalks celery
- 10 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 cups shrimp stock
- 6 Tbsp. butter, separated
- 1 lemon, juiced
Preheat a skillet over medium heat. Add two tablespoons of the butter. When it has melted and the foam has subsided, add the pepper and celery. When they are translucent—about 3 to 4 minutes—add the garlic and shallot. Let cook approximately two minutes, until soft.
Add the stock and reduce the mixture until it is close to a syrup and VERY intensely flavored. Add crawfish tails and the remaining butter. Cook 4-6 minutes until tails start to curl up. Finish with lemon juice.
To serve: Scoop the grits into a bowl or onto a plate. Spoon the crawfish and sauce on top.