Shrimp and Grits is a classic summer dish in the south. Chock full of flavor and spice, it is hard to go wrong with this combination, but it was not well known until the 1980’s. Shrimp and grits was originally from the Southern low-country, specifically coastal South Carolina and Georgia, where it was called “Shrimps and Hominy”. Some Charlestonians would eat it every morning for breakfast during the shrimp season, June-October. There is record of a similar dish from the Gullah (or Geechee) community in the low country. Outside of these areas, however, there was little mention of this decadent dish. That is until Bill Neal of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill came along. Neal was dedicated to discovering and sharing regional dishes of the South such as etouffees and muddle, or fish soup from the NC coast. Shrimp and grits was the dish to transform Crook’s Corner into what it is today—a fine dining destination—and it is still the most popular dish the restaurant offers. Now, because of Neal, Shrimp and Grits has become a very important dish to serve in Southern-style restaurants. Each chef has a specific way that they like to make it and the competition is high. “It’s been a remarkable journey for a once-obscure breakfast dish that’s now an icon of Southern fine dining.”
We are right in the middle of peak shrimp season in North Carolina and Papa Spud’s source for local seafood is Haag and Son’s in Oak Island, NC. John Haag has been in the fish business for over 30 years, so I decided to call him up to learn some shrimp facts. The shrimp that you will get in NC now is brown shrimp from the Pamlico Sound. Every year shrimp follow the same migration patterns from the rivers to the sound to the ocean. When the shrimp are the in the sound they grow very quickly due to the warm water temperatures and abundance of food. Brown shrimp are highly prolific, each female lays 500,000- 1 million eggs and they all live only about 14 months. On July 4 the shrimp were around 40/50 and now they will be about 21/25—which means that there are 21-25 shrimp per pound (so they’re huge). Right now each boat that goes out to the sound has been pulling about 10,000 pounds of shrimp a week. The brown shrimp season will begin to wind down by the end of August and the White Shrimp will take their place. Now is the perfect time to enjoy some North Carolina caught shrimp in any way you can.
Carolina Grits & Company is located in Rocky Mount, NC. They sell Yellow Country, White Country, and Geechee Grits, all stone cut and whole grain. When grits are stone cut as opposed to stone ground, there is less heat produced while they are being milled which “preserves the flavor and allows them to cook to a larger size.” Whole grain means that no germ or bran is removed during the process. Carolina Grits & Company is the only known grits producer that mills their grits in this specific way. The owner, Ron West, learned everything he knows in South Carolina, where grits are the official state food, and has been in the business since 2005. The stones for their stone mill are pink granite and specially dressed, only found in quarries in Western NC, so every step of this process is as local as you can get. Inside a mill there are two millstones, the one on the bottom, the bedstone, is stationary and the one on the top, the runnerstone, actually turns and mills the grain. Both stones have grooves and furrows etched into them so that when they turn against each other the patterns create a scissor and cut the grain. Back when Grist Mills (often mistakenly called ‘grits mills’) were common, each miller had his own pattern on their stones and would show the pattern as their trademark or logo. There was once a sense of pride that went along with being a miller, and West is bringing that back with each bag of grits he sells.
The only difference between yellow and white grits is the color of the corn that is milled. The country grits are delicious, traditional grits that take about 45 minutes to cook. You’ll find some serious disagreements about how to best flavor grits, but my preference is adding butter, salt, pepper (sometimes a little cayenne for an extra kick), and cheese. Geechee grits, on the other hand, are larger and have a much longer cooking time, often cooked in a slow cooker overnight. They are a specialty that originates from the sea islands from North Florida up to the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. The Gullah, or Geechee, community descends from West African slaves brought over specifically for their knowledge of rice cultivation. Because of their specialized skills they were left largely to their own devices when they weren’t working which allowed them to continue their cultural way of life. The Gullah are the most authentic African culture that exists in America, today. They speak their own language, a creole of English and many different African languages. For more information about this important community watch this fascinating video about the Gullah Culture
The Geechee Grits produced by Carolina Grits & Company have become a chef favorite around North Carolina and are absolutely worth the wait for their long cooking time.
Shrimp & Grits:
Fresh, wild-caught shrimp from our NC coast. Stone-ground grits from Carolina Grits. It’s easy when the ingredients are this good! Satisfying southern dish that you’ll want to make over and over again!
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
• 1/2 cup stone-ground grits
• 1 cup water
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
• 2 strips of bacon
• 8 ounces shrimp, peeled and deveined
• 2 ounces white mushroom, coarsely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 1/4 cup chicken broth
• 1/4 tsp. hot sauce
• 1 green onion, sliced
1. In a medium saucepan, bring water and milk to a boil over high heat. Turn heat to low and whisk in grits. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until grits are creamy. Stir in parmesan cheese, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in additional hot water if grits get to thick. Add additional salt to taste.
2. While the grits cook, cook bacon in a skillet over medium high heat until crispy. Transfer bacon to paper towels, but keep bacon fat in the pan.
3. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Add shrimp to the skillet with the bacon fat, and cook over medium heat, flipping them once, until they are bright pink, about 2 minutes. Remove shrimp from the skillet, and set aside.
4. Add mushrooms to the skillet and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute.
5. Increase heat on your skillet to medium-high, and add the chicken broth. As the broth sizzles, scrape the surface of the pan with a wooden spoon. Cook broth until it reduces by about half, about 3-4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat, add shrimp, and a dash of hot sauce. Stir shrimp in the sauce.
6. Serve grits in a bowl, topped with a few shrimp. Crumble the bacon over top, and garnish with sliced green onions. Enjoy!