Shrimp and grits originated in South Carolina, but this dish is beloved throughout the South and Mid-Atlantic. In South Carolina, shrimp season is closed from mid-December through the end of April, so this is a spring/summer dinner.
Chef Iggy makes shrimp and grits with 21-24 count shrimp, which means there are 21-24 shrimp per pound. So two pounds of shrimp means about 12 shrimp per person. You can serve larger shrimp – if so, leave the tails on for a convenient handle.
We make these shrimp and grits with grits ground from heirloom Bloody Butcher corn. The grits have a reddish color and toothy texture that modern grits don’t always have. For the best flavor and “grits-ness,” look for stone-ground varieties of grits from local mills. If you can’t find it locally, you can also mail order from Woodson’s Mill in rural Roseland, Virginia.
This recipe serves 4.
1 cup stone ground grits
4 cups water
2 cups whole milk, or combination of skim milk and cream
1 onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
8 ounces Tasso ham or Andouille sausage, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter, divided
1/4 white wine
1 tablespooon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1 clove garlic, minced
2 pounds shrimp, 21-25 count, shells removed
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh parsley or chili threads for garnish
Bring 4c water to boil in a large saucepan. Sprinkle in the grits and stir briskly with a whisk to break up any lumps. When water is simmering again, turn heat to low. Cook slowly over low heat, stirring frequently, until the grits are thickened to the consistency of cooked oatmeal. This can take half an hour or more – don’t rush it.
Once the grits are thick, add the milk one cup at a time, stirring. This is basically like making risotto, in that you want the grits to absorb the extra liquid slowly.
After all the grits are added and have thickened again, taste them and add quite a bit of salt (up to 2 teaspoons). It might seem like a lot but grits are bland.
If the grits are still hard in the center, add a bit more water and cook slowly. Cook until they are soft and creamy – an hour or more in total time. When they are done, turn off the heat and cover the pan. The grits can sit for up to half an hour. Just add more water and reheat if they get too thick while sitting.
For the shrimp: In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and add the sausage or ham. Cook until warmed and then add onions, pepper and celery. Season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook until the vegetables have softened.
Deglaze the pan with the 1/4 cup wine, and then add 1 cup water. Simmer until the sauce thickens slightly. Then add the cornstarch/water liquid and stir. Turn off heat and hold to serve.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining oil and garlic, then sautée briefly. Add shrimp with a pinch of salt and stir or toss until pink.
Spoon warm grits into a shallow bowl or soup plate. Top with 10-12 shrimp, then sauce with the gravy. Make sure each plate gets plenty of ham and vegetables. Garnish with chili threads or fresh parsley.
The perfect Southern side dish for shrimp and grits is a cooked green, like braised kale or sautéed spinach.