We recently returned back from a family vacation to Charleston, SC, where a staple food is Shrimp & Grits; the entire south is called “The Grits Belt,” and every restaurant menu has some version of the historical dish.
This simplistic meal is made of rich, creamy grits and topped with sausage, bacon, tomato, butter sauce, mushrooms, scallions, or even a fried egg.
According to Deep South Magazine, the origins of grits come from the Native American Muskogee tribe’s preparation of Indian corn similar to hominy. Writings from the Gullah Geehee also mention foods that resemble shrimp and grits. The Gullah are descendants of the slaves who worked on the rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia, where many still remain today in rural communities. The Gullah decedents are found at many of the farmers markets in this region making and selling sweetgrass baskets and palmetto roses. Our children enjoyed watching many families make these handmade baskets during our time in Charleston. A young boy making palmetto roses at the Charleston Farmers Market thought Cora was so sweet he gave her a rose one day…she carried that rose the entire day.
As many did during hard times, the Gullah would make the most of local resources from the coast, like shrimp, and cook them many ways. Shrimp & Grits was devised from this culture and I have to say- THANK GOODNESS for terrific southern cuisines. I’ve always appreciated good county cooking that you find from different cultures that find unique ways to cook plentiful agricultural resources like meats and vegetables.
Here is my own take on true, southern-style Shrimp & Grits. I would strongly suggest using Royal Red Shrimp for this recipe, if you can find them. Royal Red Shrimp are sweet and buttery, similar to lobster. I’m very lucky to have a stellar farmers market that has a great vendor named Express Foods that provides fresh and frozen seafood- and never disappoints.
Shrimp & Grits
4 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup white grits
2 T. butter
2 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded
6 slices bacon
1 cup chopped green pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chopped white onion
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 to 1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup chicken stock
3 green onions, chopped (both white and green tops)
2 T. chopped parsley
Juice of a lemon, about 1-2 T.
Start with frying the bacon until crispy. Place bacon on plate and crumble. Keep about 2 T. of the bacon fat in sauté pan, turn off heat.
Bring a pot of water to a boil in a medium-sized pot. Add salt, then add grits and stir well. (I stir my grits slowly into the boiling water so I 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. If you are using quick-style grits you will cook for about 10 minutes or stone-ground grits take around 30 minutes.
Clean and devein the shrimp. Keep about 1/3 of the shrimp whole, but chop the remainder.
Heat the bacon fat and sauté the onion and peppers for about 5 minutes on medium heat. Add the garlic, bacon and shrimp and gently toss together. Let cook for about 2 minutes. (Biggest mistake- overcooking shrimp. Shrimp are cooked when they turn pink.)
Grits should be ready, check and remove from heat. Add the stock to the vegetable and bacon/shrimp sauté pan. Let this mixture boil down for 5 minutes. Add cheddar cheese and butter to the grits and check to see if you need to add salt to the grits.
Ready to serve! Spoon grits into a large bowl. Add green onions, lemon juice and parsley to the shrimp, toss lightly. Spoon shrimp over the grits, serve immediately.