I've been cooking shrimp and grits since childhood. I'm a purist: the simpler it is, the better. I focus on the quality of the grits and the quality of the shrimp. It all comes together in an incredibly flavorful, satisfying dish you can eat for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Hope you enjoy.
Prepare the grits: Combine the grits and the water in a large mixing bowl. Allow to soak overnight at room temperature (optional). The next day, skim the top with a fine-mesh strainer to remove and discard the chaff. Strain the grits, pouring the soaking water into a stockpot.
Bring water to a low simmer; carefully add the grits in several additions, whisking constantly until the grits are emulsified with the water. When the grits come to a boil, lower the heat even further. Use a spatula to scrape down the grits from the side of the pot. Gently crumple the bay leaves in your hand before adding them to the grits. Cover the pot and simmer at a very low heat for 45–60 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping the sides of the pot. Add water as necessary to achieve the right consistency: not too runny, not too thick. (Note: Prep your shrimp at this time and use the heads and peels to start the tomato-shrimp broth—see Steps 4 and 6.)
When the grits are fully cooked, they should be soft, fluffy and creamy. Stir in the butter; season with about 1 teaspoon salt, white pepper, and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice to taste. Stir well to combine. Reserve, covered.
Dice bacon and set aside. Remove stems from cremini mushrooms and quarter (or cut as necessary to achieve uniform size); set aside. Remove the shells and heads from the shrimp; reserve for stock. Gently slice down the back of each shrimp and devein with tweezers or a toothpick, being careful to preserve any roe. Gently rinse each shrimp in a small bowl of lightly salted water.
Add 2 tablespoons lard to a large sauté pan over medium-high heat; when the lard shimmers, add the bacon. Turn heat to low and allow bacon to render, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mince shallot; add to bacon. Thinly slice garlic; add to bacon and shallots. Cook until garlic and shallot are softened, 1–2 minutes. When bacon is finished cooking, strain most of the fat from the pan. (Discard the fat or reserve for another use.)
Make tomato-shrimp broth: Add 2 tablespoons of lard to a saucepan over medium-high heat; when it shimmers, sear the shrimp shells and heads for 1–2 minutes. Add the preserved tomato, tomato paste, 2 bay leaves, and vegetable stock. Simmer for 2 hours, covered. Strain the stock into a bowl, pushing the solids down to extract as much liquid as possible; discard the solids. Pour the stock back into the pot and reduce by half over high heat. Add 2 cups of the reduced shrimp stock to the bacon pan (freeze the rest for later use) and bring to a simmer. Add the mushrooms and 2 lightly crushed bay leaves and simmer for 2 minutes.
Turn the heat to low and add the shrimp in a single layer over broth. Lightly season with salt and cook at a very low simmer until shrimp are just cooked, turning them over halfway through, about 1½–2 minutes. (Do not overcook.)
Assemble the dish: Stir the warm grits to even out the consistency; spoon into a bowl. Top with shrimp, mushroom, and bacon mixture, including broth. Season with smoked paprika and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Garnish with freshly minced parsley. Serve.