Red Eye Gravy is traditionally prepared after frying slices of country ham. The ham is removed from the pan and the cooked-on bits in the pan are deglazed with cold black coffee. The coffee adds a pleasant note of bitterness and a nice deep dark flavor. I have taken some liberties and embellished it a bit. I use smoked bacon instead of country ham and then caramelize aromatic vegetables in the bacon grease for added color and depth of flavor in the finished dish. DO NOT become impatient, the key to the deep rich flavor of this dish is the caramelization of the peppers, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms.
Add the bruised thyme, onions and bell peppers to the bacon grease. Sprinkle liberally with salt and black pepper. Stir to coat with the bacon grease and spread the vegetables evenly across the bottom of the pan. Cook until the peppers and onions are nicely browned. Add the butter and allow it to melt. Add the mushrooms, garlic, tomatoes and reserved bacon and another sprinkling of salt and black pepper. Cook until the mushrooms and tomatoes have cooked down and given off their juices.
Deglaze the pan with the coffee and stir to scrape up cooked-on bits. Allow the coffee to cook down until reduced by half, and then add the chicken broth and hot pepper sauce. While the chicken broth is coming to a simmer, begin pulling the thyme sprigs from the pan, scraping the stems with the edge of a spoon to remove the leaves that haven't yet fallen off. Discard the stems.
When the mixture comes to a simmer, mix together the Madeira and cornstarch, and then add into the pan. Cook until thickened to a sauce-like consistency. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt, black pepper or hot pepper sauce. Stir in the peeled shrimp and cook until they just turn pink, about 2 minutes. Serve over creamy grits.