Grilled Shrimp with Fresh Corn “Grits,” Spicy Fried Kale and Chili Oil

“I lived in the South for four years and got to enjoy all the wonderful stuff down there,” says chef Dave Van Morrelgem of Upstairs in Montclair. “Here’s a variation on a classic dish of the Carolina Low Country. It uses fresh corn in place of actual grits, and is delicious.”

Grilled shrimp with fresh corn grits, spicy fried kale and chili oil.
Photo by Laura Moss.

“This recipe is for a large appetizer portion (about 5 shrimp per person). It can be doubled as an entrée.  If deep-frying the kale is too messy or not possible, simply sauté it in olive oil, garlic and chili flakes.  Most of the dish can be done ahead of time, except for cooking the corn and grilling the shrimp, which should be done immediately before serving. The kale can be fried up to 2 hours before serving.”

Serves: 4


1 to 1 ½ lbs. U16-20 white shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cloves garlic
2 tbs. fresh picked thyme leaves
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
3 ears fresh sweet corn, husk and silk removed
3 tbs. unsalted butter
Juice of ½ lemon
1 tbs. kosher salt
2 tbs. chipotle flakes or other dried chilies
4 tbs. Canola oil (+3 cups for deep-frying)


1.    To marinate the shrimp: put garlic, 1 tbs. thyme, olive oil and pepper in a blender and purée until no large pieces of garlic remain. Pour over the shrimp and toss to cover. Place in refrigerator.

2.    For Chili oil: In a small sauce pan put the 4 tbs. canola oil and 1 ½ tbs. chipotle and set over low heat. Do not let the oil come to a boil (the chilies will burn and become bitter). Let the chilies steep for about ½ hour or until the oil turns red. Set aside to cool, then strain out the chilies.

3.    For crispy kale: remove stems and soak in cold water for ½ hour. Remove from water and dry the leaves in a salad spinner. When they are dry, take 2 or 3 leaves at a time and roll them up like a cigar. Slice the kale into 1/8 inch strips. Lay the kale on paper towels to dry.  It is going to be fried so you want all the water out of it.

4.    In a small bowl mix the kosher salt and the remaining chipotle flakes. Set aside.

5.    In a deep fryer or sauce pan warm the remaining canola oil over medium heat to 325 degrees.  Working in small batches, fry the kale until it stops bubbling (about 30 to 45 seconds). Remove from the oil with fine mesh strainer or spider and place on paper towels to drain. Season with chili salt to taste.

6.    Working with a course box grater over a large bowl, grate the corn, being careful not to get any of the cob. Watch your fingers. Remove all the kernels from the cob. You should end up with about 2 cups of grated corn.

7.    Place the de-kernelled cobs into a pot large enough to hold them all. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for about an hour. Strain and reserve the liquid.   Note: You will have more corn stock than you will need. Extra can be used in a corn chowder or in place of vegetable stock.

8.    In a large sauté pan put the grated corn, 1 cup corn stock, butter, lemon juice and the remaining thyme leaves. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 10-15 minutes or until corn turns golden yellow and thickens. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

9.    On a hot grill or grill pan cook shrimp about 45 seconds per side or until shrimp are cooked through. Don’t overcook.

10.    In the center of a wide bowl or plate place ¼ of the grits. Arrange shrimp around the grits and place ½ cup of the fried kale in the center of the shrimp. Drizzle the chili oil over the top. Repeat for the other 3 plates

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