Throughout my life I have lived in many places, and in each place I have always tried to connect with the culture, especially through the food.
I was born in New Mexico and the southwest is in my bones—my all-time favorite meal, one that just feels like home, is pork tamales and pasole. But there are more. I can still taste my first fish taco, California orange, and fresh cilantro from my time in San Diego. Pennsylvania introduced me to pork and sauerkraut, proper cheesesteaks and dippy eggs. In Delaware there was Grotto’s pizza and chicken n’ dumplings. In Africa I was introduced to the staple la pate (translation “dough”—made from very finely milled corn) and a number of sauces. My favorite was a sauce made from okra, onions and garlic macerated by hand and stone into this green, oozy sauce—which I lovingly called snot sauce. Here in New Hampshire I have discovered lobster, fresh horseradish, cider donuts, and of course, real maple syrup.
But down south is where there is food I resonate with the most. I fondly remember making my first pot of collard greens (a story for another time), discovering real Carolina barbecue (with slaw of course), the wonders of a true chicken biscuit, and of course my favorite, a southern classic … shrimp ‘n’ grits.
I had my very first plate of this enchanting dish at Hominy Grill in Charleston, SC. From the first bite I was instantly in love. It was one of those dishes that you want to both savor every bite and scarf down at the same time. It was overwhelming. I found myself unconsciously audibly “umming.”
In reality, much that feeling was wrapped up in all of the sensations of that trip. Regardless, shrimp ‘n’ grits deserves the accolades of a delectable cultural dish from the low-country—a true taste of the south. I was honored to share this with a group of students the other night, and now to share the basic* recipe with you.
*There are dozens of versions of Shrimp ‘n’ Grits. Practically every chef down south has their own version or twist. My advice is always to learn the basic recipe then have fun with it—get creative. Use the flavors you love and you can’t go wrong. Happy Cooking!
Southern Shrimp ‘n’ Grits
Prep time: 15 min
Total Time: 40 min
Yield: 6 servings
For the Grits:
2 cups chicken Stock
2 cups milk
1 cup stone-ground white grits
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups finely shredded white cheddar cheese
For the Shrimp:
2 slices thick cut bacon , but into small strips
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 ½ pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
6 green onions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon hot sauce or more to taste
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
For the Grits:
In a large saucepan, combine the stock and milk and bring to a boil. In a steady, gradual stream, add the grits, stirring consistently. Add the salt and continue stirring until the liquid returns to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, stirring regularly but not consistently, for 20 -25 minutes. When the grits start to thicken, they’ll gurgle and spurt, and they will be molten hot, so make sure you use a long handle spoon. Remove from heat, and cool a spoonful to taste. If the grit is done, you are ready to stir in the cheese, then cover and set aside in a warm place.
For the Shrimp:
Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the grease in the pan.
Mix together the salt, pepper and cayenne and use it to season the shrimp. Ass the shrimp to the pan and sauté for about 1 minute, then flip and sauté for another minute, until opaque. Remove to a plate. Add the green onion whites and the garlic to the pan and cook for a minutes. Add the stock and hot sauce and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile in a small bowl, mix together the butter and flour. When the stock comes to a boil, take the pan off the heat, add butter/flour mixture, and whisk to incorporate. Put the pan back over the heat and stir until the sauce thickens. Add the shrimp to the pan and simmer for 2 minutes, then add the lemon juice. Stir through and remove from the heat.
Serve the shrimp over the grits, garnishing with the crisped bacon and onion greens.
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