I can't think of any other food that better epitomizes Southern cuisine than grits. From Virginia to Texas, grits is a staple of Southern cooking. Native American in origin, grits has been a part of the American diet since Colonial times. As an everyday food, grits holds universal appeal: It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Ground from corn, grits turns into a porridge after it has been boiled. The most famous grits dish is of course shrimp and grits—a simple, hearty, and absolutely comforting meal.
Fishermen were the first to create the classic pairing. In fact it's not that far-fetched to say that pretty much all good seafood recipes were first invented by fishermen. Characterized as Lowcountry cuisine (covering the coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia), shrimp and grits originated with fisherman in South Carolina. They would simply cook freshly caught shrimp in bacon fat and serve it over grits. It couldn't have been an easier lunch for the crew on the shrimping boats.
This recipe doesn't stray too far from the original. But for the grits, I use quick-cooking, which I know is not necessarily preferred by Southerners, but it takes less time and is just as flavorful. Instead of adding cheese to the grits, I stir in crème fraîche. It adds creaminess and lends some tang, which offsets the richness of the bacon fat. If you prefer, you can add about 4 ounces of grated cheddar. If you're observing Lent, as many people I know are, then skip the bacon and sauté the shrimp in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Enjoy a bowlful of grits topped with tender, flavorful shrimp for dinner any night of the week.
Shrimp and Grits
Recipe adapted from Paula Deen and Friends by Paula Deen.
1 cup quick-cooking grits
fine sea salt
1/4 cup crème fraîche
5 slices applewood-smoked bacon, diced
1 pound medium to large shrimp (about 30), shelled and deveined
4 scallions, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
In a saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Whisk in grits to prevent any lumps from forming. Season with a pinch of salt. Cover and lower heat to a very low simmer. Cook until grits is tender and all water has been absorbed, about 15 minutes. Off from heat, stir in crème fraîche.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet set over medium-high heat, fry bacon until crisp. Remove to a plate, reserving fat in the pan. Lower heat to medium. Add shrimp and sauté until pink, about 3 minutes. Add scallions, parsley, garlic, and lemon juice. Season with pepper. Toss together. Serve shrimp over grits and top with fried bacon and parsley. Yield: 4 main course servings or 8 appetizer servings.