As newly minted and proud North Carolinians, we’ve been anxious to experiment, taste test, and put our own spin on many classic Southern, but specifically Carolina dishes. Of course, topping this list is understanding the great Carolina BBQ debate, and trying our hand at a few of these recipes. While Nate’s been drooling over the idea of parking a big ol’ smoker in our backyard and wasting a Saturday afternoon roasting a hog (or pork butt I’ve learned, depending on what side of the Tarheel state you reside), free time like that has been in short supply since we moved late last year. However, while browsing produce one Saturday afternoon at our favorite local farmer’s market, we stumbled across a seafood stand called The Shrimp Connection and were immediately intrigued. With the tagline, “Radically Fresh Seafood,” and several rows of coolers displaying pictures of various shellfish and seafood, we knew we were in for a treat. By late Saturday afternoon though, most of their stock was gone (a good sign!), so we settled for a few crab cakes and were on our way. The crab cakes turned out to be delicious and as we savored each bite, we thought about what we’d be purchasing and enjoying next from this local delight.

With the name, The Shrimp Connection it should be obvious right – shrimp! And what better way to use local fresh-caught shrimp than in a classic Carolina dish – shrimp and grits. Lucky for us, Nate recently picked up a bag of locally made stone ground grits with the idea of making them for breakfast one weekend. When I went to purchase the shrimp that next Saturday, I told the friendly proprietor I wanted to prepare shrimp and grits like a “real Southerner.” He replied, “Ma’am, there are some really good recipes out there, but a lot of not so good recipes too. We’ve got a really good recipe on our website. Why don’t you check it out?” While I’m not a fan of being called Ma’am just yet – give me until I hit 40 at least – I did admire the man’s Southern graciousness and marketing skills by shamelessly plugging his website.

I conceded to the plug and searched the site for the recipe, but came up empty-handed. Now I was nervous. I was going to have to do a blind Google search for an “authentic” recipe in hopes I didn’t get one of the “not so good ones.” I wanted to make the dish as close to the classic as possible. I wasn’t nervous about preparing the shrimp – we cook shrimp a lot and in a variety of ways. It was the grits that had me in a tizzy. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what grits were (I know, and I was still allowed to buy a house in the state!) or how to prepare them. What if my first attempt at this dish was a total disaster? You know, so bad that the locals give you a, “Well honey, bless your heart for trying.” I may be new to the South, but I know what that really means. This Yankee transplant was determined to find a real recipe and learn a little more about these grits. I’m a pro at cooking risotto… How different could it be, right?

What if my first attempt at this dish was a total disaster? You know, so bad that the locals give you a, “Well honey, bless your heart for trying.” I may be new to the South, but I know what that really means.

After some research, I found several articles lauding the shrimp and grits at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill and a recipe at saveur.com referring to it. As noted in Eater.com, this celebrated restaurant is often cited as the birthplace of the dish, its popularity stemming from the use of fewer, fresh ingredients. That’s all I needed to read – the likely creator of the dish, and the use of a few fresh, delicious ingredients – I was ready to take on the challenge.

I stayed fairly true to Saveur’s recipe, in particular, their instructions for preparing the grits. While some recipes call for milk or cream as the cooking liquid, this recipe uses all water (a must for these lactose-intolerants!) and minimal butter (The Paula Dean-style use of butter thankfully could be avoided!). I also omitted the mushrooms feeling they’d give the dish a “beefy” taste. I really wanted the flavors of the grits, shrimp, and sauce to shine through. Also, the recipe says it serves four, but don’t kid yourselves, if you’re going back for seconds – and trust us, you will –  the recipe serves about 2 ½. We’ll definitely be using this dish as a show-off meal when entertaining. You know, because that’s what I do now as a southern lady, I entertain. I’d say double the ingredients if preparing for four people.

(For the full ingredient list and recipe instructions, check out the printable recipe card, below.)

After trying out the recipe at home back in May, I’ve ordered it at several local restaurants for comparison. (The dish at Flatiron in Davidson is pretty darn delicious!)  I was impressed that the look and flavors of my creation were on par with the high-end restaurant fare I sampled. However, I haven’t quite mastered those grits.  At serving time, mine looked and tasted perfect – tender, creamy, and a little bit gritty from the corn.  By the time I reached the last spoonful at the bottom of my bowl though, they were lumpy and a little dry. Were they undercooked? Should I have soaked them in water the night before?  I’m determined to get them right, so if your a southern grit connoisseur, send me your suggestions.  In the meantime, I’ll keep up my recipe research by taste-testing across the Piedmont.

A Southern Newb's Shrimp and Grits

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Serving Size: 4 Servings

A Southern Newb's Shrimp and Grits

I may be new to the south, but I’m on a mission to master some definitive Southern dishes. First on the list – a Carolina classic – shrimp and grits!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white or yellow stone-ground grits
  • ¾ cup grated Cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Pecorino cheese
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • Sea salt and fresh black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 -6 slices bacon (4 slices for the recipe, 2 that will be stolen by my boys for snacking!)
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ½ cup – 1 cup good quality white wine (seriously eyeballing it here!)
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • Juice from one lemon, plus lemon wedges for serving
  • ½ tsp. hot sauce

Instructions

  1. In a 2qt. saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Reduce heat to low and whisk in the grits. Cook uncovered, whisking frequently for 30-40 minutes, until the grits are tender and creamy. Whisk in the cheeses, 1 tbsp. butter, and season with salt to taste. Cover and set aside while you prepare the shrimp.
  2. In a 12” skillet (preferably one with a fitted lid), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer bacon to a paper-towel lined plate to cool, then chop (I like to cook the bacon as whole strips in the pan then chop after they have cooled). Remove the majority of bacon fat/grease from the pan and return to medium high heat.
  3. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Add a little more olive oil to the pan (just enough to cover the pan), then add shrimp and cook, turning once, until shrimp are bright pink, about 2 minutes. Add a splash of the white wine here too! Generally, as soon as you get through turning all the shrimp, you can go back and remove them in the order they were turned. Transfer shrimp to a bowl.
  4. With the skillet’s heat still on medium, medium/high, add the garlic and another splash of wine. Let the wine cook out for a couple seconds, then add the chicken broth. Scrap up all of those awesome flavor bits from the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon and cook broth until it reduces by half (a few minutes).
  5. Add the shrimp back to the skillet, with the lemon juice, hot sauce, and half of the scallions, stirring frequently for a minute or so until the sauce thickens. Remove skillet from heat.
  6. Ladle the grits into the shallow bowls (enough to cover the bottom of the bowl); top with shrimp and lots of the sauce. Garnish each bowl with bacon, scallions, parsley, and lemon wedges.
  7. Don't feel bad about going back for seconds!
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