A Classic Southern Dish
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 Best Shrimp and Grits Recipe
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.
The Best Grits to Use
And while it may seem obvious, shrimp and grits all starts with the grits. Please, please, please try to get coarsely ground white grits 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.
What Are the Best Shrimp to Use?
Unless you live along a coast where you know fresh shrimp is actually fresh, you'll most likely be using shrimp that's been frozen. Fresh shrimp in many grocery stores is previously frozen and then thawed. Frozen shrimp is fine for this recipe. Just make sure it's not precooked.
Medium or large shrimp work well for this recipe, and we recommend buying wild caught when it's available. More important than the size of the shrimp is cooking it until it's just cooked through (opaque and firm), not overcooked (rubbery).
Serving Cheesy Grits and Shrimp
Shrimp and grits are best served immediately. You can get the grits going ahead of tie and keep them warm on the stove for an hour or so, if you like. But the shrimp is best made just before serving.
More Southern-Style Recipes
- Shrimp Etouffee
- Shrimp Gumbo with Andouille Sausage
- Shrimp Po Boy Sandwich
- Slow Cooker Jambala
- Hummingbird Cake
Shrimp and Grits
4 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup stone-ground white grits
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded
4 thick slices bacon
1 cup chopped white or yellow onion
1 cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves garlic , 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 tablespoons chopped parsley
Juice of 1 lemon, about 1 to 2 tablespoons
Cook the bacon:
Fry the bacon in a large sauté pan on medium heat until crispy. Remove the bacon and chop. Pour off all but about 3 tablespoons of the fat. Turn off the heat.
Cook the grits:
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.
Chop the shrimp:
Reserve about 1/3 of the shrimp whole and cut the rest into 3-4 pieces each. Set aside.
Sauté the vegetables, bacon, and shrimp:
When the grits have cooked for 30 minutes, heat the sauté pan on medium high. When the bacon fat is hot, sauté 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.
Add the stock, then reduce:
Add the chicken stock and let this boil down for 5 minutes.
Add the cheese and butter to the grits:
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.
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.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 18g||23%|
|Saturated Fat 8g||42%|
|Total Carbohydrate 51g||18%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||14%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 49mg||246%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|