Shrimp and Grits. 8″ x 8″ watercolor pencil, gouache and ink. Sharyn Dimmick.
All of my friends like to write and eat. Well, some of them like to sing and eat and some of them like to talk and eat, but all of them like to eat. Lisa Knighton, whom I met at a retreat with Natalie Goldberg, is a fitness trainer who likes to eat healthy, fresh, local food, to bake cakes and to tell stories. Just see how many stories she starts to tell you in this post. Lisa hales from Athens, Georgia, and has come to “The Kale Chronicles” to teach you how use wild-caught shrimp and that Southern staple grits in the entree shrimp and grits. By the time you read this, you’ll be wanting to make them for supper (Let me just apologize in advance for the funky spacing in Lisa’s post — even re-typing it won’t fix it — I tried).
Who knows the first time I was fed grits. Probably would have to count all the times my mother ate corn grits when she was pregnant with me.
Daddy makes his grits with water, on the stove top in a small, metal pan. The corn grits bubble for 20 minutes, at least. He tells me: “Take a quarter cup of grits. Sometimes I measure the water and other times I don’t.”
Grits ain’t groceries.
Mama says that when she was a little girl her father was responsible for making her breakfast. “Each morning, before school,” she says, “My daddy would serve grits and sunny-side-up eggs. And as he put the grits on my plate, he said ‘Grits ain’t groceries.’”
Grits may not be groceries — meaning grits were staples — always in the southern house and made fresh at the nearest grist mill, often ground from the family’s very own corn. Grits are always eaten, at least in my family, with salt and black pepper and a spoonful of softened butter.
Another food I grew up eating was shrimp. Big Daddy, my daddy’s father, used to own an oyster bar, just off the main square in downtown Blakely, Georgia. At Christmas time, instead of turkey and such, Daddy, Uncle Charles, and boy cousins old enough to operate oyster knives shucked croaker sacks full of fresh oysters pulled from Apalachicola Bay on the Gulf of Mexico. Also, we ate tender Gulf shrimp, most often boiled and served hot with a small side bowl of cocktail sauce. I don’t ever remember sitting down for a Christmas meal: my cousins and I stood about eating the seafood as quick as it was prepared.
April begins shrimp season in Georgia. These days we bring shrimp home to Athens from the salty Atlantic waters near Darien, Georgia in McIntosh County. When we travel back from visiting this lowland county, situated along the Altamaha River, a place made infamous by Melissa Fay Greene’s 1991 work of nonfiction, Praying for Sheetrock,
we always have the blue cooler iced down and full of these sweet, wild-caught Georgia shrimp.
When I set out to make grits, gourmet grits, I turn to Nathalie Dupree, author of cookbooks of the American South. When Natalie lived in Georgia I once had the good fortune to attend an afternoon party at her home in the pretty town of Social Circle. Her large dining room table was decorated with food she’d prepared, but all I remember was the big helping of warm cheese grits I ate, scooped from a large, hollowed-out round of Parmesan cheese. I’ve adapted the shrimp and grits recipe I offer from Nathalie Dupree’s Shrimp & Grits Cookbook
. I’ve also provided links to two places located here in the South where you can order yellow grits
, or white grits
. I encourage you to select wild caught shrimp
for this recipe.
Shrimp and Grits (serves four)
First, bring all of your ingredients to room temperature before cooking.
2 cups water
1 cup milk (1%, 2%, or whole — just know that the fattier the milk, the creamier the final taste)
1 cup half and half (have another 1/2 cup water or half and half on hand to use when the mixture begins to thicken).
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup grits (white or yellow will do — just know that white grits are more refined and smooth, and yellow grits are rustic, coarser.)
1 pound of shrimp, peeled, heads removed.
1/4 to 1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup fresh shredded mild to medium cheddar cheese
1/2 to one cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
salt and fresh-ground black pepper
Get out your biggest, sturdiest cooking pot. I use a 4-quart with a heavy bottom. Once the grits begin to bubble, you are going to want to have plenty of room in the pot for the mixture to gurgle and bubble without it going over the sides. To the pot, add the water, milk and half and half, then bring all to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Add the grits and garlic, and stir well and often since you do not want this mix to clump or stick.
Bring the grits mixture to a slight boil, then reduce the heat. Add salt and pepper. Again, stir often, cooking about 15 minutes. Then add in extra water or half and half here (the mix should not be runny though) and the desired amount of butter and cheeses, letting this mixture cook for another 5 to 10 minutes: keep it creamy and loose and stir well so that the cheeses do not stick. Taste the grits then. You will want a soft texture, nothing gritty or hard.
When you have the grits like you want, add the shrimp and stir, coating the shrimp well. The hot grits and cheese will cook the shrimp and they’ll be ready in about two to three minutes, as soon as the shrimp turn a pretty pink.
Serve in large bowls alongside glasses of sweet tea.