M: Shrimp and Grits is high on my list of dishes I think of as uniquely Southern. My first exposure came from the recipe box of the late Bill Neal of Crook’s Corner restaurant, just up the way in Chapel Hill. It immediately became one of my favorite meals. Convenient in these parts, as it seems like every restaurant with even a glancing Southern theme has some version of it on the menu. It has become shorthand for “this is a Southern establishment”, right up there with variations on pulled pork, fried green tomatoes or scratch-made biscuits on the table. They all seem to have their own twist, some hitting the mark, some fancy to a fault. I think I’ve enjoyed most of them to one degree or another, but some venture so far out you wonder about the common ancestry. Shrimp and Grits is generally traced back to fishing communities in South Carolina (notably Charleston), where nearby grist mills churned out plenty of grits to accompany the day’s catch. But how does a simple fisherman’s breakfast permeate the Southern restaurant scene? Well, it turns out the best explanation I found comes from the Southern Foodways Alliance’s very own John T. Edge, co-editor of the SFA Community Cookbook, in this October, 2000 article. He assigns the credit (or blame) of the rampant restaurant tinkering with not only shrimp and grits, but also to other traditional Southern foods, to a single event. In 1985, an article from then food editor Craig Claiborne was published in the New York Times heaping high praise on… the shrimp and grits served by Bill Neal at Crook’s Corner Restaurant in Chapel Hill, NC (I did NOT see that coming). Including mushrooms and spiced with nutmeg, the included recipe was a clear departure from the traditional . Mr. Edge suggests this article led to years of restaurant “one-upping” and a new found license to “innovate”. You should really take a minute and go read that article. While I agree wholeheartedly with what he has to say, I do think we’ve seen some return to tradition in many restaurants over the last few years. I hope I’m right about that. Just the same, Crook’s Corner’s shrimp and grits is killer.
What we have with this recipe, however, is a welcome return to the roots of shrimp and grits. This breakfast gravy is blissfully basic. Not much more than shrimp cooked in bacon, onions and stock. ‘Nuff said. While it is more than satisfying exactly as published, it is a blueprint. The submitter rightly calls it a “return to the days when shrimp and grits was a fisherman’s dish” and encourages alteration based on whatever might be in the pantry that day. I stuck to the recipe as written this time and, boy, was it good. I’ll be making this again. And you know, cautionary tales aside, I may innovate a little myself. Depending on what’s in the pantry.
Recipe: Breakfast Shrimp Gravy
Summary: A return to the days when grits were grits and shrimp were shrimp. Just the thing before a long day working the nets. From The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook
- 1 1/2 Lb Small Shrimp, peeled and deveined
- Juice of 1 Lemon
- Hot Pepper Sauce
- 6 Slices Bacon, roughly chopped
- 2 T Onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 c Green onions, chopped (white and tender green parts)
- 2 T Flour
- 1 c Chicken or Shrimp Stock
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- Toss shrimp with lemon juice and a few dashes of hot sauce and set aside.
- Fry bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until browned, but not crisp.
- Stir in onion and cook until soft (about 5 minutes).
- Stir in green onions.
- Sprinkle flour over mix and cook, stirring and scraping bottom of skillet, until flour browns (about 5 minutes).
- Add stock and salt and cook, continuing to stir, until gravy thickens (about 5 minutes).
- Stir in shrimp and accumulated liquid and cook until shrimp becomes opaque (3-5 minutes).
- Serve at once over hot, buttered grits.