Bar Bites: Cheddar and Beer Battered Shrimp

Photograph: Marvin Gapultos

Plop a plate of crispy fried shrimp in front of most anyone (myself included), and chances are that the shrimp will be quickly devoured with no questions asked. When it comes to fried shrimp, there's usually little thought in either the batter or the shrimp itself. As many a county fair has shown us, if something is encased in batter and fried to a crisp, it must be good, right? Well, not necessarily. I've had my fair share of bland shrimp smothered in a fluff of doughy, greasy batter.

So, taking some elements from the Southern favorite of Shrimp and Grits as inspiration, I decided to work some extra flavor and texture into my version of crispy fried shrimp that leans heavily on the use of beer, cornmeal and cheese.

To start, a quick brine in beer, salt, sugar, and hot sauce (I like Frank's) not only helps to ensure succulent shellfish, but also injects some great flavor and spicy kick into the shrimp.

After their beer bath, the shrimp are then dredged in cornstarch and dipped into a batter that is my (very, very loose) interpretation of grits (did I mention this was a loose interpretation?). Although cream, grated cheddar cheese, and flour add a little heft and body to the batter, the beer and cornmeal help to create a wonderfully crisp and gritty texture—but gritty in a good way. And a final sprinkling of extra cheddar right after the shrimp emerge from the fryer creates a gooey strata of melted cheese.

Finished with a spritz of lemon, and a shake or two of more hot sauce, and you may consider doubling the recipe of these crispy cheesy shrimp for next time.