Follow these key steps for a perfect iteration of this time-honored Lowcountry recipe.
Shrimp and grits is one of the most iconic Southern dishes, served across the region from mom-and-pop diners to haute restaurants. Some versions are elaborate and detailed, requiring a long list of ingredients and techniques, but to get to the heart of the dish, it pays to look back at its Lowcountry provenance.
The earliest versions were simple and straightforward, little more than freshly seined shrimp stirred into the day’s first bubbling pot of white corn grits (that were called hominy according to local parlance.) The dish was known, appropriately, as breakfast shrimp. Over time, the versions made in Charleston home kitchens during local shrimp season evolved into quick sautés of shrimp in bacon fat with accents of lemon and green onions, spooned over a pool of buttered grits, and served more often for supper than breakfast.
Shrimp and grits didn’t start popping up on restaurant menus until the 1990s when a Craig Claiborne piece in the New York Times brought them to national attention.
There are great shrimp and grits recipes to follow (and some overwrought clunkers to avoid), but the secret to the best shrimp and grits ever is to remember that it’s difficult to improve on the original, so pay close attention to the two essential and elemental components: the shrimp and the grits.
Related: How to Make a Classic Shrimp Boil
Use wild-caught shrimp purchased from a reliable vendor that can answer all of your questions about sourcing and freshness. Fresh shrimp are often flash frozen while the boat is still out on the water, so frozen or recently thawed shrimp can be of very high quality. Shrimp keep best when left in their shells until just before use, and should be firm and unblemished with no fishy odors. Keep them safely chilled right up until they hit the pan.
Most people prefer the robust corn flavor and aroma of coarse stoneground grits. Real grits need to simmer for few minutes longer than parboiled quick grits, but they are not difficult to prepare, and instant grits are not a worthy option. Some cooks prefer white grits because that’s what they grew up with, while others contend that quality and freshness of the grits are more important than their color. Stoneground grits are wholegrain, so store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer for no longer than one year. Grits love salt, pepper, and butter, so season them well.
How to Make Shrimp and Grits
Recipe: Lowcountry Shrimp and Grits
This wonderful take on shrimp and grits comes from Robert Stehling of Charleston’s Hominy Grill, a restaurant known for impeccable Lowcountry dishes. Many visitors consider these shrimp and grits to be a destination dish. The shrimp portion of the recipe comes together quickly in a skillet, which honors the spirit and expediency of the original breakfast shrimp.
Make sure the grits are ready to serve and that all of the ingredients are prepped and ready to go before you start the shrimp topping, which takes only 3 minutes from start to finish. Some people advise having the eaters sitting ready at the table before adding the shrimp to the skillet, to ensure the shrimp don’t languish for so much as a second, which can push them over the edge from perfectly succulent to disappointingly tough. Not even bacon and hot sauce can redeem overcooked shrimp.