Necessity, and forgetfulness, is so often the mother of invention. Seldom is this more of a truism than when you're cooking on the job, when it isn't your job, in an occupation that doesn't afford you a normal lunch hour. I had the best of intentions. I'd gone shopping the day before. Beautiful Gulf brown shrimp; picture-perfect bell peppers; Anson Mills grits. I was prepared. Then, I realized I hadn't bought the grits. At 5 p.m. When I had to be at work by 5:15. No time to make a grits run.
Fortunately, I had some cauliflower. Yeah. Cauliflower.
I can almost hear you collectively scratching your heads. I honestly can't remember where I came up with the idea. If I had to guess, I'd say I read something about it, once upon a time, at either Ideas in Food or Studio Kitchen. I turn to these sources for inspiration pretty regularly, so it wouldn't be a surprise to find that this seed germinated thanks to one of them.
The idea went like this: Cauliflower is kind of tasteless (unless roasted), much like grits. If I prep and cook them like grits, I just might have something. How right I was.
The first step was by far the most tedious, rendered more so by the fact that the work load that night forced me to do prep at my workstation instead of our tiny kitchenette. Ever taken an entire head of cauliflower down to crumbs by knife? Didn't think so. Me either, until that night. A food processor would've made this a snap. Instead, I was chopping cauliflower for literally 45 minutes, until it achieved a texture similar to that of uncooked grits; gritty.
From there, it was pretty classic technique. To the NoLa trinity of onion, green bell pepper and celery, I added the finely chopped cauliflower and a ridiculous amount of heavy cream (searching for the elusive creaminess of proper grits, without proper grits). That mixture cooked for a good hour, until the cauliflower took on the tender-firm character of properly cooked grits.
The shrimp, not quite U10s but not far off, were sautéed with garlic and scallions. To plate, two shrimp on top of a mound of cauliflower "grits" seemed the perfect amount. Garnish with additional scallions and chopped parsley, just to make it look pretty. My crew raved about it, as did my wife and kids when presented with the leftovers. Cauliflower "grits" reheat a lot better than the real deal.
Honestly, if I could have this instead of grits, I wouldn't miss those nixtamalized corn bits one bit.