Shrimp & Grits

By Christina Collins

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.

shrimp and grits
Don’t judge this dish by it’s bland look- it’s bursting with flavor!

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.

Marsh Hen Mill Grits are the gold star standard for grits and grains in SC

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.

Few can resist the combination of fresh shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce served over creamy grits. It’s good for the soul.

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 with the slightly bite of texture remaining. 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.

Pantry Items

Fresh Caught Local Shrimp

Favorite Shrimp & Grits dish in Charleston, SC

shrimp and grits

Shrimp & Grits

Spicy shrimp & salty bacon are simmered in a tomato & shrimp stock, thickened into a sauce and served over creamy cheddar grits.
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, southern
Servings 3 people

Equipment

  • Slow Cooker

Ingredients
  

Slow Cooker Cheesy Grits

  • 3 cups water, plus extra as needed
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup old-fashioned grits
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese (2 cups shredded – Cabot extra sharomp recommended- always grate your own for better melting)
  • 4 tbsp butter (room temperature)
  • 4 scallions (sliced thin) *optional
  • ½ tsp hot sauce

Shrimp

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1- 1.5 pounds 20 count shrimp – peeled, deveined & shells reserved
  • 1.5 tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 slices thick cut bacon cut into 1/2 inch pieces (Tip! cut very cold bacon long way into 4’s and then dice by slicing the other way) put aside in fridge until ready to use.
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Sriracha tobacco or your favorite style hot pepper sauce
  • 2 scallions white & green parts, thinly sliced diagonally

Instructions
 

Make the Grits

  • Lightly coat slow cooker with vegetable, canola, sunflower or similar type of oil. Combine water, milk, grits, and 1 teaspoon salt together in the slow cooker. Stir or whisk to combine.
  • Cover and cook until grits are tender, 3 to 4 hours on low or 2 to 3 hours on high.
  • Tip! While the grits are cooking, you should prep the ingredients to finish the grits and make the shrimp so you are ready to cook & assemble as soon as the grits are done.
  • Stir grits occasionally and add more water 1/4 cup at a time if grits look to be drying out.
  • Grits are done when they are silky smooth, but still have a small amount of bite to them when tasted.
  • Once the grits are done, set the slower to the "keep warm setting" and start making the shrimp.
  • Right before serving, stir in cheddar, butter, scallions, and hot sauce into grits until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve. (According to the experts at America's Test Kitchen, the grits can be held on the warm setting for up to 2 hours, but I have not tried this. I would be concerned that they would over cook. But it's a good tip should you need to hold them.)

Make the Shrimp

  • In a large sauté pan (I use a Calphalon non stick sauté pan with a lid) over medium heat, melt 1 TBSP of butter. Add the shrimp shells and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally to toast the shells. (You are making the stock)
  • Add the tomato paste and stir it with the shells, cook for 30 seconds.
  • Add 2.75 cups of water, pinch of kosher salt, and bring to a boil.
  • Lower the heat, cover, & simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Set aside to cool slightly and then drain through a sieve and pour the liquid into a glass measuring cup until you have 1.5 cups of stock and set aside. (If you don’t have enough liquid just add more water until you have 1.5 cups.) Discard shells.
  • Wipe out the sauce pan with paper towel and add the bacon & cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until crisp but not burnt. Stir in the shrimp, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and the garlic. Cook for 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate & set aside.
  • Melt 1 tbs of butter in a pan and whisk in the flour, whisking constantly to break up any lumps while cooking for one minute.
  • Whisk in the stock (again breaking up lumps) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer for 5 minutes, until thickened.
  • Return shrimp & bacon to the pan, cover, & cook for 3 minutes, until the shrimp are just cooked through.
  • Meanwhile, while the shrimp cook for the final 3 minutes, return to the last step of the grits recipe and stir in the butter, cheese, scallions, hot sauce and seasoning to prepare for serving. (You only have 3 minutes so you need to move quickly. Make sure all the ingredients are preparred and ready to be stired in.)
  • Return to the shrimp. Turn off the burner and move the pan off the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, hot sauce and then vigorously stir in 1 tablespoon of cold butter. (Cold butter helps emulsify the sauce. Soft butter makes the sauce oily.) Taste for seasoning.
  • To serve, place a generous portion of the grits in the bottom of each shallow bowl, spoon the shrimp & sauce on top, garnish with scallions & serve.
Keyword comfort food, seafood, southern

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