Savor: Shrimp & Grits

BY Teresa Kramer

In 1976 the state of South Carolina passed a bill naming grits as its official state food declaring “a man full of grits is a man of peace.”

This it is believed led to the saying — maybe you’ve heard it — which goes something like this: Grits to a southerner are like water to a fish.

Somehow I missed that memo. Born in Georgia and reared in North Carolina grits were something of an insipid food to me: bland colorless and unexciting. Maybe it was the name that turned me off conjuring imagery of eating sand. Or maybe our paths just never crossed.

“I must be missing out on something ” I said to myself simultaneously wondering if that South Carolina creed applied to women as well. Guess what? It turns out that yes women are included and yes I was missing out.

Somewhere along the line fishermen decided to add shrimp to this coarsely ground corn concoction and created the now famous shrimp & grits dish. As with all things evolution has taken this humble dish to new heights with additions of culinary delights like sausage prosciutto tomato cheese and an array of cream-based sauces. How could this be bad I wondered?

To find the answer I embarked on a local shrimp and grits journey and came back surprised at the results with a very full tummy and as South Carolina’s legislators promised at peace.

Love at first bite

Never in a million years could I have imagined my very first bite of shrimp and grits would turn me into an instant fan. I thank Henry’s Restaurant (on the corner of Shipyard and Independence boulevards) for that treat. Highlights of the dish include grits formed into a cake covered with a parmesan cream sauce shrimp and prosciutto. The result is a rich and creamy dish void of any gritty texture as its namesake implies. “Many of our customers have warned me that if we took it off our menu they would be really upset ” says manager Kathy Cavenaugh who attributes the recipe to her husband Paul. And so the dish remains a fixture on the Henry’s menu.

Southern tradition

The next stop on my shrimp and grits excursion was the Cape Fear Seafood Company in Monkey Junction and what I found was an entirely different flavor. Owner Evans Trawick says his dish comes from a traditional Low Country Charleston-style shrimp and grits recipe with plenty of rustic flavor and he’s exactly right. Cape Fear Seafood Company combines shrimp creamy cheese grits smoked bacon mushrooms shallots green onions and finishes the dish with fresh tomato. “It’s one of those dishes that people keep coming back for. It’s a hearty meal ” says Trawick “a southern tradition that sticks with you.

Kicked up a notch

Nofo chef Sue Shankland says that people keep coming back for their shrimp and grits partly due to the unselfish amounts of cheese added to the recipe. “We add parmesan and cheddar … and lots of it.” This treasured recipe was handed down to Nofo owner Steve Flaugher from Bill Neal of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill — the proclaimed birthplace of shrimp and grits. And for a little extra kick Tabasco is added to the shrimp.

For some folks shrimp and grits are just too good to have only when eating out (count me in on this group from now on). It’s true that sometimes you’ve just got to have your favorite restaurant’s recipe while out on the town with friends and family but other times you want to have that special dish — and the resulting heavenly aroma — in the comfort of your own kitchen which is where I imagine shrimp and grits became the ultimate comfort food in the first place. For those times when home cooking is what’s called for here’s a recipe from Buoy 32’s chef Eric Gephart.

Shrimp and grits

Buoy 32/Chef Eric Gephart

4 cups water
1 cup yellow grits (Gephart says instant grits would be a “grit tragedy”)
¼ stick butter
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
6 slices of bacon diced
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 pound fresh local shrimp peeled
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 cup finely sliced scallions
1 large garlic clove minced
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Pinch salt
Pinch pepper
Pinch nutmeg

Bring water to a boil. Add grits and stir. After about 15 minutes (or desired thickness is achieved) add butter and cheese.

Sauté bacon in a skillet until it is brown but not crisp. Remove approximately ½ of the bacon fat from the pan. Add peanut oil shrimp and mushrooms and sauté for four minutes turning occasionally. Add scallions and garlic. Season with lemon juice. Add a dash or two of Tabasco chopped parsley nutmeg salt and pepper. Dish grits onto a plate and spoon shrimp and sauce on top. Serve immediately.