Shrimp and grits is one of those iconic Southern dishes that stir something deep inside those who grew up with them. Originally from the oceanic South—Georgia, the Low Country coast of the Carolinas and Gulf Coast states all have their versions—this homey bowl of awesome was historically a simple fisherman’s breakfast: Grits, with some bacon and a few shrimp tossed on top.
If you’ve ever eaten it, you can understand why shrimp and grits has burst from the seaside shrimp shanties. The grits are soft, buttery, and often cheesy, with a savory, bacon-studded sauce surrounding them, and lots and lots of shrimp. Maybe some parsley or green onions for color and crunch.
My recipe is an amalgam of all my best experiences with shrimp and grits. If it has a direct inspiration though, it would be the rendition I ate in 2011 made by Chef Linton Hopkins of the Atlanta restaurant Holeman & Finch. I never got his recipe, and I make no claim to have the One True shrimp and grits recipe, but I can vouch for how this one tastes.
And while it may seem obvious, shrimp and grits all starts with the grits. Please, please, please try to get coarsely ground white corn meal for this. When Elise and I tried to find real grits (stone ground are best), or even coarse ground white corn… or any white corn, for that matter, we struck out here in Sacramento. Other than Mexican masa harina, it’s all yellow corn in these parts. And I’ve heard more than one Southerner threaten violence when the topic of making grits with yellow corn comes up. (Here are the white grits we use.)
The best grits come from hominy, a large-kerneled, white corn that has been alkali processed just like that Mexican masa harina. The key difference is that in grits the corn be coarsely ground, ideally by a stone grinding wheel. It actually makes a huge difference in flavor. Good grits come out smooth, delicate and flecked with bits of the corn hulls that makes for a radically different experience compared to its Italian cousin polenta (which I also love).
Keep in mind that almost all cooks who make shrimp and grits have their own variation on the dish. This one is mine, and I hope you like it.
- 4 1/2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup stone-ground white grits (see recipe head note)
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded
- 4 slices bacon
- 1 cup chopped white or yellow onion
- 1 cup chopped green pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 3 green onions, chopped (white and light green parts only)
- 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
- Juice of a lemon, about 1-2 Tbsp
1 Fry the bacon in a large sauté pan until crispy. Remove the bacon and chop. Pour off all but about 3 tablespoons of the fat. Turn off the heat.
2 Bring the water to a boil in a medium pot. Add the salt. Slowly pour the grits into the boiling water while you stir with a wooden spoon. Stir and pour gradually so you don't get any lumps. When all the grits are incorporated, turn the heat down to a low simmer and cook the grits, stirring often, for 35 minutes.
3 Reserve about 1/3 of the shrimp whole and cut the rest into 3-4 pieces each. Set aside.
4 When the grits have cooked for 35 minutes, turn the heat to high under the saute pan and when the bacon fat is hot, saute the onion and green pepper over medium-high heat until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the bacon, garlic cloves and shrimp and toss to combine. Let this cook another minute.
5 Add the chicken stock and let this boil down for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, stir the cheddar cheese and butter into the grits. The dish might not need any more salt, but add some if you'd like.
6 To serve, spoon out some grits in individual bowls. Add to the shrimp the green onions, parsley and lemon juice to taste. Add salt if it needs it. Spoon some shrimp over the grits and make sure at least one whole shrimp is on everyone's plate. Serve at once.