Traditional Carolina Costal Comfort Food
I have always been intimidated by cooking grits, let alone shrimp & grits! However, after escaping the northeast for an extended winter break in South Carolina, my love and appreciation for this traditionally southern comfort food grew really deep. During this time, I tasted several varieties of this popular low country dish, and what I discovered was that no two versions were the same.
I had versions loaded with shrimp, ham and sausage, I had a version where you created your own combination such as shrimp + scallops and I had versions with shrimp & whole cherry tomatoes. Some grits were made with cheese, others were made with spices and some were just plain and boring. Realizing there was so much variation and little consistency, I became even more intimidated by trying to create this dish in my own kitchen.
But, having brought back to NY some very special stone ground grits from Marsh Hen Mill in South Carolina, I couldn’t put this challenge off any longer. After deciding on my approach, I got to work. All I can tell you is that I have regrets. Loads & loads of regret. I regret waiting so long to learn to make this dish.
Then, I did something somewhat controversial making the grits. I used my slow cooker. After a great deal of research, recipe reading, reviews and videos, I decided to give this method a try. After all, I didn’t have an hour to stand at the stove and stir. It worked so well that I don’t think I’ll spend another second considering making grits any other way.
Here is what I discovered while on this Shrimp & Grits journey. 1) Keep it simple. 2) Ingredients matter. And 3) Ina usually has the answer. Although in this case, she only had half the answer. The complete recipe from Ina Garten’s “Cook like a Pro” cookbook calls for quick cooking grits. This is not authentic and I wanted the real deal. After all, I had Marsh Hen stone ground grits which are the gold standard of grits in the low country. So I let Ina lead the way on the shrimp knowing I could trust her to nail the flavor. But I turned to America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) for the grits.
The results were stunning. I was truly shocked by the amount of flavor in the shrimp & sauce, and the grits turned out to be silky smooth, while simultaneously delivering a gentle Al dente texture. Everything was seasoned perfectly and it brought me right back to one of my favorite spots- sitting on the dock just outside Charlston, watching the sunset, the fresh scent of the shrimp boats from the day’s catch in the air. When a meal can bring you back to a favorite place, it’s a special thing. This recipe is now in full rotation here at Casa de Collins and whenever I want to go back down south, this is the meal I make to take me there.
Inspired by Charleston, South Carolina
If you are ever in the Charleston area, here are some local ingredients and shops that helped inspire this dish and made their way into my pantry.