Shrimp and grits, sometimes called breakfast shrimp, is a southern specialty dish found mainly in the low country of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Although called breakfast shrimp and traditionally made as a breakfast dish, shrimp and grits is enjoyed at lunch, supper, dinner, or anytime company comes over. Below, we’ll take you through the history of this down-home, comfort dish and finish with a recipe, so you can make it at home yourself.
What are grits?
Grits are made from boiled cornmeal with seasonings added for flavor. Depending on the occasion and the seasonings used, grits can be savory or sweet, although usually they are made savory. Although popular in African American cuisine, grits were originally made by the Native Americans who shared it with the European colonists who arrived in the Americas during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Origins of grits
The original grits came from a recipe created by the Native American Muskogee tribe. The Muskogee were a tribe of the southeastern woodlands in America. They would often grind corn in a stone mill and used it as a staple of many of their dishes. When the white colonists arrived, they borrowed this tradition, and soon grits was a staple of southern white American dishes.
The dish came from a Native American Muskogee tribe’s 16th-century recipe for Indian corn or maize. The Muskogee, of the southeastern woodlands, would grind the corn in a stone mill, giving it a “gritty” texture. The colonists and settlers enjoyed the new staple with the local Native Americans, and it became an American staple dish.
Grits are made by adding boiling water or milk to the ground cornmeal and cooking for about 20 to 45 minutes. The cornmeal absorbs the liquid as it cooks, expanding into a mush, similar to porridge or oatmeal. Once the grits are done cooking, they are flavored with sugar or spices and served, often with butter, grated cheese, bacon, sausage, or gravy.
If you have leftover grits, or if you want to make grits for this purpose, you can place the cooked grits into a glass bowl or loaf pan and chill them in the refrigerator. Once they are chilled, you can slice them and fry them into small cakes either plain or with breading. These cakes can then be enjoyed with any of the same dishes and toppings you would put with non-fried grits.
Although similar to polenta, as they are both made from cornmeal, you should not confuse the two. For one, their origins are very different, with grits coming from Native Americans in the 1500s and polenta coming from northern and central Italy. Secondly, their preparation is different, yielding different flavors and textures. However, they are similar enough that if you are wondering what to eat with your grits, you can think of what would go well with polenta, and it will likely work.
Shrimp and Grits
Shrimp and grits is a classic southern recipe full of savory goodness. Although delicious, the recipe is quite easy to make. The recipe below should take about 15 minutes of prep with about 25 minutes of cooking and will be ready to serve in about 40 minutes. It yields 4 servings.
- 4 cups of water
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup stone-ground grits
- 3 tbsps. butter
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 6 slices bacon, chopped
- 4 tsps. lemon juice
- 2 tbsps. chopped parsley
- 1 cup thinly sliced scallions
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
Instructions for Grits
Fill a pot with water and place it on the stove until it comes to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add salt and pepper, then add the grits and cook, stirring, until all the water is absorbed. This will probably take about 20 to 25 minutes.
Once your grits have absorbed the water, remove them from the heat and stir in the butter and cheese.
Instructions for Shrimp
Before cooking, rinse the shrimp and pat it dry. Fry the chopped bacon in a large skillet. Once the bacon is browned, remove it and drain the skillet well. Add the shrimp to the skillet and cook it in the remaining bacon grease. Cook the shrimp until it turns pink, at which point you’ll add the lemon juice, chopped bacon, parsley, scallions, and garlic. Sauté it all together for about 3 minutes.
Putting it all together
Spoon the grits into a serving bowl, then add shrimp with its spices and bacon. Mix it all together and serve it while it’s still hot.
In the end…
Shrimp and grits is a classic southern dish, most often enjoyed in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. But that doesn’t mean you have to travel to the South to eat it. With this simple recipe, you can cook up some delicious shrimp and grits for yourself or guests. Serve them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and enjoy this unique southern treat.