Shrimp and Grits, technically the child of the South Carolina Low Country has been adopted by Southerners as their own. You will find shrimp and grits in homes and on menus from Florida to Misssissippi, and of course here in Tennessee. I bet most Southerners would put it on a grand list of Southern classics without even realizing its specific geographic origin.
And I imagine there are as many recipes for Shrimp and Grits as there people who cook it. You’ll find it in simple cafes and in upmarket restaurants. I have seen versions with mushrooms, burgundy wine, yellow tomatoes or hot chili peppers. I have seen grits flavored with all manner of things. When I was planning weddings, there was one venue whose most popular item was the Shrimp and Grits bar. Martini glasses with your choice of plain grits or cheese grits, covered in gravy and shrimp, with bacon, onions, herbs, hot sauce and the like that you could sprinkle on top.
I started making shrimp and grits as a dinner for myself, nothing fancy, no real recipe and it often depended on what I happened to have in the fridge. But when I decided to make it company-worthy, I tinkered around until I hit on this version, which is what I think Shrimp and Grits ought to be. It may not be truly authentic or the way you’ve had it at your favorite restaurant, but it is good. So I hereby claim these Shrimp and Grits for Tennessee, but hope you’ll share them with the world.
It’s important to use good grits and good shrimp. You need stone ground grits, not instant or quick-cooking. I hear there are many brands available, but my preferred version is Delta Grind, made in Mississippi on an old grist mill and available online. If there is a good source close to you or online, please share it with us. I buy fresh Gulf shrimp when I can (I freeze extras when it’s available in abundance) or buy frozen Wild American shrimp from reputable stores if I have to. Personally, I never use Asian farmed shrimp. The taste is not as good and they are questionably raised.
Shrimp and Grits
For the Grits:
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup ( ½ stick) butter
1 cup stone ground grits (I use Delta Grind)
2 ½ teaspoons salt
Several grinds of black pepper
For the Shrimp
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (I prefer fresh Gulf shrimp or frozen wild American)
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon regular mustard powder
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon salt
A few grinds of black pepper
Dash of cayenne pepper
6 strips of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
¾ cups chopped green onion, white, light green and a little dark green (from a big bunch)
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
2 Tablespoons flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 quarter of a large lemon
Finely chopped parsley for garnish
For the Grits:
In a deep-sided large pan (grits tend to spatter), stir the broth, cream and butter together over medium high heat until the butter is melted and it all comes to a low boil. Stir in the grits, salt, and pepper and reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 30 – 45 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. The grits should be tender and the liquid absorbed. You may add a bit more broth if needed. When cooked, the grits can be kept covered for an hour or so, then slowly reheated over low, stirring in a little broth.
For the Shrimp:
Mix together the paprika, mustard, smoked paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne. Pat the shrimp dry if necessary and place on plate. Sprinkle the spice mix liberally over both sides of the shrimp, turning over to get a good coating. Leave the shrimp in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.
When the shrimp are ready, sauté the bacon pieces in a wide skillet over medium high until crispy. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels using a slotted spoon. Pour the bacon grease into a small bowl. Spoon 2 Tablespoons of grease back into the pan and heat over medium high. Sear the shrimp briefly – just a few seconds per side – to seal in the spice mixture. You do not want to cook the shrimp. Remove the shrimp to a plate (you can scoot the bacon to one side and use the same plate). Reduce the heat to medium and add more bacon grease to the pan so that you have about 4 Tablespoons, then drop in the green pepper and the green onion. Sauté until the pepper and green onion are soft. As they release some liquid, you can scrape the tasty brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
While the vegetables are cooking, drain most of the juice from the tomatoes into a measuring cup. You can just hold the top of the can askew and drain out what you can – no need to dirty a strainer. Add enough chicken broth to make one cup of liquid and set aside.
When the green vegetables are soft, add the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes are heated through and start to soften. Break up any large pieces. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir to coat. There should not be any white flour visible. Pour in the broth and tomato liquid and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat a little and let the mixture bubble away until it is nice and thick, stirring to avoid scorching. Squeeze over a quarter of a lemon (making sure you’ve removed seeds) and stir. Add the shrimp to the sauce in the pan, cover and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked through. You can add a bit more broth if you like a saucier version.
Spoon the grits into shallow bowls and spoon over the shrimp and sauce. Sprinkle over the crispy bacon pieces and chopped parsley. Serve immediately.
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