Have you ever had one of those moments where you’ve been doing something one specific way (or eating a dish in one particular fashion) for, say, four years only to find out that it’s not the standard way to do it?!
I recently had one of those moments in a big way. It involved a fantastic Southern dish called shrimp and grits.
The short version of the story is that I worked in a Southern-themed restaurant for awhile and they served shrimp and grits there. I’ve also had the dish on occasion in a DC establishment, Georgia Browns. These are the only real experiences I’ve had with shrimp and grits. I figured I’d try to remake it like they served it (which was very good by the way).
When I set the plate down in front of Betsy, she more or less told me to jump off a cliff if I thought that what I was serving her was real shrimp and grits. Turns out, and you will not see me admit this in writing very often, she was right.
You see, this is traditional shrimp and grits and it is unbelievably delicious:
The version that I’d had in the restaurants had shrimp. And grits. But instead of the lovely thick sauce pictured above, they were served with more of a broth. It was a tasty broth and actually lightened up the dish a bit, but I guess it wasn’t what shrimp and grits traditionally is.
So this is how you make the real stuff.
1) Peel and clean the shrimp but leave the tails on. Toss shrimp with your seasoning.
2) For grits, cook according to package but I recommend using at least one cup of cream to get the grits very creamy. Once your grits are thick, whisk in the cheese.
3) If your grits ever get to thick, just whisk in a few tablespoons of milk.
4) Add butter to a skillet over medium-high heat. Once melted, add shrimp. Cook shrimp for 3-4 minutes per side depending on the size. I used 16-20 count and they cooked in about 6-7 minutes.
5) Once the shrimp come out fo the pott, add butter straight to it and scrape up as many bits as possible. Add scallions and garlic and stir. Cook for a minute or two to soften the veggies.
6) Add flour to the pan and whisk together. Cook for a minute or two until the flour starts to turn a very light tan color. This is the roux for the sauce.
7) Next add clam juice or stock to the pan and stir slowly.
8) Once the juice has cooked down and is simmering, add cream, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Continue to whisk until it has the consistency of a light gravy.
9) Plate this dish with a bed of the grits, add some shrimp on top, and finish with the sauce. Garnish with chopped scallions and/or hot sauce.
Loosely based on this recipe. I changed many things though.
Prepping the shrimp
The original recipe called for a Cajun seasoning for the shrimp. If you have a good Cajun seasoning you can definitely use that. I just mixed up a quick spice mix with these guys.
If your shrimp aren’t already cleaned, peel them up to the tails. Then use a paring knife to slice up the back and wash out the vein. Then toss them with your seasonings.
Cooking the Grits
This meal actually comes together really quickly. Before you start cooking the shrimp, get your grits going. You can prepare the grits according to the package if you are using instant ones or just assume about a 3-1 ratio of liquid to grits. Use at least one cup of cream to get the grits very creamy.
Combine all your liquid in a sauce pan and bring it to a simmer, then slowly add your grits while whisking. Continue to whisk it and after a few minutes it should thicken up. Then you can whisk in your cheese!
You can keep this over low heat while you prepare the other parts of the dish. If you notice it’s getting to thick, just whisk in a few tablespoons of milk and it should loosen up.
Cooking the shrimp
Shrimp are very easy to cook. Just remember that they cook pretty fast and overcooked shrimp are not the best.
Just melt your butter in a skillet over medium-high heat and once it’s melted and hot, add your shrimp to the pan. Leave them untouched on one side for 3-4 minutes, then turn them and cook for the same amount of time on the other side. The exact cooking time will vary based on the size of your shrimp. I used large (16-20 count) shrimp and they cooked in about 7 minutes.
They should look like this.
Making the sauce
The sauce for this dish is really what makes it decadent. I must admit that I loved the thicker sauce over the broth version that I tried.
After the shrimp come out of the pan, you’ll have some bits of seasoning still in the pan. Leave all that in there! That’s flavor. Just add your butter for the sauce straight in and scrape up any little bits. Once the butter is melted, add the scallions and garlic and stir. Let them cook and soften for a minute or two.
Then you’ll need these things. I used clam juice which has a great flavor. You could honestly use any stock you wanted though.
Next, add your flour to the pan and combine it with the butter, scallions, and garlic. Cook it for just a minute or two. It should start to turn a very light tan. This is your roux for the sauce.
Next add your clam juice or stock slowly and stir. It will steam and hiss but should stay pretty thick. This is right after I added my clam juice.
Then add your cream, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and you should be good to go. It should have the consistency of a gravy basically. If it looks too thin, let it simmer for another minute or two. If it looks too thick, add a bit more liquid (stock, milk, or cream).
To plate the dish, you want a big serving of cheesy grits.
Then add 6 or 7 shrimp to each plate.
Then add some sauce on top and garnish with scallion greens and a few dashes of hot sauce.
I really liked this version of the dish. I know the original also has ham on it, but that seemed a bit like overkill to me. It’s plenty flavorful as is.
If you’re curious, this was my other version of the dish that I didn’t think was quite as good.
So there ya go! Shrimp and grits. Am I from the South? No. Did I possibly screw it up the first time I made it? Yea.
Did I finally do it justice though? I think so!