Shrimp and Grits are a favorite dish in the “Low Country” of South Carolina and particularly in Charleston. For decades, shrimp and grits have been considered a basic breakfast for coastal fishermen and their families during the shrimp season (May through December). Simply called “breakfast shrimp,” the dish consisted of a pot of grits with shrimp cooked in a little bacon grease or butter.
During the past decade, this dish has been dressed up and taken out on the town to the fanciest restaurants. Not just for breakfast anymore, it is also served for brunch, lunch, and dinner. One of the most popular dishes in Charleston is Creamy Grits with Shrimp. Every restaurant seems to have their own version of this favorite dish. The following recipe is my version of this famous shrimp dish. This recipe is a variation of a highly popular Shrimp and Grits tailgating dish served at tailgating feasts throughout the South. It tastes even better with glasses of Sancerre wine.
History of Grits:
To a Southerner, eating grits is practically a religion, and breakfast without grits is unthinkable. A true grit lover would not consider instant or quick-cooking grits; only long-cooking stone-ground grits are worth eating. Outside of the southern states, the reaction to grits is mixed. Grits are served as a side dish for breakfast or dinner and are traditionally eaten with butter and milk. three-quarters of the grits sold in the United States are from a belt of coastal states stretching from Louisiana to the Carolinas, known as the “Grits Belt.”
Grits (or hominy) were one of the first truly American foods, as the Native Americans ate a mush made of softened corn or maize. In 1584, during their reconnaissance party of what is now Roanoke, North Carolina, Sir Walter Raleigh and his men met and dined with the local Indians. Having no language in common, the two groups quickly resorted to food and drink. One of Raleigh’s men, Arthur Barlowe, recorded notes on the foods of the Indians. He made a special note on corn, which he found “very white, faire, and well tasted.” He also wrote about being served a boiled corn or hominy.
When the colonists came ashore in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, the Indians offered them bowls of this boiled corn substance. The Indians called it “rockahomine,” which was later shortened to “hominy” by the colonists. The Indians taught the colonists how to thresh the hulls from dried yellow corn. Corn was a year-round staple and each tribe called it by a different name.
In the Low Country of South Carolina and particularly Charleston, shrimp and grits has been considered a basic breakfast for coastal fishermen and families for decades during the shrimp season (May through December). Simply called ‘breakfast shrimp,” the dish consisted of a pot of grits with shrimp cooked in a little bacon grease or butter. During the past decade, this dish has been dressed up and taken out on the town to the fanciest restaurants. Not just for breakfast anymore, it is also served for brunch, lunch, and dinner.
In 1976, South Carolina declared grits the official state food:
Whereas, throughout its history, the South has relished its grits, making them a symbol of its diet, its customs, its humor, and its hospitality, and whereas, every community in the State of south Carolina used to be the site of a grist mill and every local economy in the State used to be dependent on its product; and whereas, grits has been a part of the life of every South Carolinian of whatever race, background, gender, and income; and whereas, grits could very well play a vital role in the future of not only this State, but also the world, if as The Charleston News and Courier proclaimed in 1952: ‘An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, [grits] should be made popular throughout the world. given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of [grits] is a man of peace.’
- 1 pound extra-large raw shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), peeled and deveined*
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/2 cups hot stock (shrimp, chicken, or vegetable)
- 1/4 cup butter
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 cup stone-ground grits**
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 6 bacon slices
- 2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons green or red bell pepper, finely chopped
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine cream, water, and hot stock; bring to a gentle boil. Add butter, salt, and pepper. Slowly add grits, stirring constantly (so that the grits do not settle to the bottom and scorch), until all are added reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally (be carefully not to scorch mixture), or until the grits are tender.
Grits should have absorbed all of the liquid and become soft and should have the same consistency as oatmeal (moist, not dry). If the grits become too thick, add warm stock or water to thin. Remove from heat.
Sprinkle shrimp with lemon juice, and additional salt and pepper to taste; set aside.
In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, cook bacon until brown but not crisp. Remove from heat and pat dry with paper towels; set aside until cool. Coarsely chop bacon when cool.
Reserve 4 tablespoons bacon great in the frying pan. Add onion, garlic, and green or red bell pepper; sautè 10 minutes or until the onion is transparent. Add shrimp mixture and bacon; sautè approximately 3 to 5 minutes or until shrimp turn pink, are opaque in center (cut to test). Remove from heat.
NOTE: Shrimp should always be cooked quickly in order to preserve their sweet, delicate flavors. They are very quick to cook, and the flavor can easily be ruined by overcooking. Most shrimp cook in as little as 3 minutes - when they curl and turn pink, they are done. Properly cooked shrimp are firm with a gentle curve shape (like the letter "C").
To serve, spoon hot grits onto individual serving plates and top with shrimp mixture.
To add flavor, place the shells of the shrimp in a saucepan and cover with water. Simmer over low heat approximately 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain the broth, discarding shells. Add shrimp broth to hot stock.
** If using quick-cooking grits (not instant), reduce cream to 1/2 cup and reduce stock to 1 cup.
More Grits Recipes: