Ask anyone. Any menu anywhere I go, if shrimp and grits are on the menu, it IS my order. Every time. Every. Time.
This love affair started relatively late in my life on my very first trip to Charleston, South Carolina. I'd avoided grits all of my life having heard (from northerners, mind you) that they were tasteless, wallpaper paste glopped on a breakfast plate next to eggs and ham.
On the other hand, I'd also heard from southern friends of the glories of grits...especially shrimp 'n grits. Could those northerners who never stepped foot south of the Mason-Dixon Line be wrong about a southern staple? I intended to do some serious investigation.
And so in the midst of a South Carolina visit with friends, we took a jaunt to Charleston and the restaurant that first opened my eyes...and titillated my tastebuds. The site of my grits revelation was the restaurant 82 Queen on, where else(?) Queen Street. (Bet you can guess the street number of the restaurant, too.)
Four of us arrived at the famed restaurant and were seated in the most beautiful walled and wrought iron fenced cobblestone courtyard at the rear of the restaurant. Palm trees and magnolias soared above the gathering of glass-topped, white-painted wrought iron tables and butterfly-backed chairs, while twinkles of floral color peeked from every green oasis around us. We settled in to order brunch.
Three of us ordered BBQ Shrimp and Grits, I have no clue what the 4th (my husband, a non-fish/seafood eater) ordered. It simply didn't matter when I was on a grits quest, I was focused on the quarry.
When the object of my eventual affection was placed before me - along with a beautiful Bloody Mary (it WAS brunch, of course) - I began to suspect those Northern opinions on grits were misguided.
Upon my first taste it was obvious those lying sons-of-the-north were jealous the South had produced such a wondrous Southern delight. Sweet, local, wild-caught shrimp and smooth, creamy, cheesy, buttery grits...simple perfection on a plate. I was hooked. From then on, whenever and wherever Shrimp and Grits are on the menu, THAT is what I order.
There are many other Northerners who have seen the light, of course. Steve Kish, one of the owners and the original chef at 82 Queen, is from Pittsburgh! Guess there are a few Northerners who appreciate - and MAKE - some of the best grits ever!
Here's my little twist on classic shrimp and grits:
Chorizo Jalapeno Shrimp n' Grits
2 generous servings
- 1 1/2 C chicken broth - I use a good boxed variety
- 1 1/2 C whole milk
- 2 T butter
- 1 t salt
- 3/4 C Stone Ground Yellow Grits (I order REAL grits from down South - good stone ground grits make all the difference! Where to I order them? Amazon. See my current favorite brand below. Of course you can get acceptable stone ground grits around Pittsburgh, but they ARE hard to find.)
- 1 C cheddar cheese - use a good sharp one - and yes, I shred good cheddar by hand. Don't bastardize a great from-scratch dish with pre-shredded cheese...it just won't be the same.
- 1 link Mexican chorizo - the uncooked, raw chorizo, not the smoked, dried Spanish kind
- 1 large jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, finely diced
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 9 cherry tomatoes, sliced in thirds
- 12 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on
- lime wedges
- fresh cilantro, chopped
First, start the grits: In a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the chicken broth and milk to a boil. Sloooooowly pour the grits into the boiling liquids while stirring constantly to prevent any lumps. When the grits are all stirred in, add butter and salt and lower the heat to a simmer. Stir frequently to prevent sticking, burning and/or lumps. (Caution...grits bubble and spit so be on the lookout and don't get burned!)
When the grits are silky, creamy and thick, remove from heat and stir in the cheese thoroughly. Cover the pan and set aside.
Shrimp: In a skillet over medium heat, saute the chorizo, breaking it up into small crumbles as it cooks. When it's browned completely, add the jalapeno and onion. Continue cooking until softened and then add the tomatoes. Stir until the tomatoes start to give off their juices. THEN add the shrimp, cooking until just opaque - please don't overcook your shrimp into rubber. Thank you.
Assembly: Take 2 nice flat bowls and pile those gorgeous grits into the center of each. Spoon the shrimp mixture over the top of the grits, dividing evenly. Garnish with a sprinkle of cilantro and a nice squeeze of lime. Enjoy, y'all!