This Christmas, Santa gifted me my first bag of Southern grits.
OK, really it was my niece Stacey, who picked up the grits on her travels through the South.
The speckled white grits came from family-owned Logan Turnpike Mill of Blairsville, GA, which contracts with local farmers to grow the corn, which is stone ground, utilizing the whole grain. The mill also grinds the corn at a low temperature to maintain nutrients and flavor. It is shipped the same day that it is ground. To keep it fresh, store in the refrigerator or freezer.
I’ve made polenta many times before. But never grits. Polenta and grits are both made from stone-ground cornmeal, but often from different types of corn, according to online sources. As a result, polenta cooks up typically coarser and denser in texture, while grits are softer and more thick porridge-like.
Mixed with water, they both cook up similarly on the stove-top in about half an hour or so, with frequent stirring to maintain a smooth, creamy consistency.
The grits inspired me to hunt down the famed “Shrimp & Grits” recipe from Hominy Grill in Charleston, SC, which I had the pleasure of dining at many years ago. It’s an adorable, family-run cafe, where shrimp & grits is always on the menu. And if the coconut cake is available, it’s a must-order, as well.
Some shrimp & grits can get rather involved with a load of hot pepper or barbecue sauce. What I like about the Hominy Grill version is its simplicity. It’s easy to prepare. The grits are enfolded with plenty of cheese, but not so much that the corn flavor gets lost. The shrimp get sauteed in a flash with mushrooms (I doubled the original amount, using 8 ounces of creminis), bacon, garlic and scallions. It doesn’t make for an overly saucy topper, so the grits remain the star of the show.
Whether you grew up in the South or not, and whether you’re new to shrimp & grits or have eaten it for years, this recipe definitely makes for a bowl of deep comfort.
Hominy Grill’s Shrimp & Grits
For the grits:
1 cup stone-ground grits, such as Anson Mills or Logan Turnpike Mill
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
3/4 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon vinegar-based hot sauce, such as Tabasco, plus more to taste
For the shrimp:
3 slices bacon, chopped
Peanut oil, if needed
1 pound large (16-20 count) shrimp, cleaned and peeled
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 ounces button or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon vinegar-based hot sauce, such as Tabasco
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced, plus more for garnish
Cook the grits: In a medium saucepan, bring 4 1/2 cups water to a boil. Whisk in the grits and salt, reduce the heat to low, and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the grits are thickened, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheeses, butter, pepper, and hot sauce. Season with additional hot sauce, salt, and pepper, if desired.
Cook the bacon and shrimp: In a medium skillet over low heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Drain on paper towels, reserving bacon fat and adding peanut oil if necessary so you have 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons fat
Toss the shrimp with the flour until lightly coated, shaking off any excess. In the skillet with the reserved fat, cook the shrimp over medium-high heat until they begin to turn pink, 1 minute or less. Add the mushrooms and bacon, and cook 1 additional minute. Add the garlic and cook, stirring for 30 seconds (do not let the garlic brown). Stir in the hot sauce, lemon juice, and scallions and remove from the heat. Divide the grits among 4 shallow bowls and top with the shrimp mixture. Garnish with additional scallions.
Note: Since this entire dish cooks in a short time, make sure everything is prepped in advance.
Adapted from a recipe from Hominy Grill
More: Preserved Lemon Polenta