Friday, January 13, 2012

Shrimp and Grits

My life has been changed by shrimp and grits. Alas, I’m finally getting to the second chapter in my St. Simon’s trilogy which is all about shrimp. Back in November, I was treated to some of the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever eaten at The King and Prince Hotel on St. Simon’s Island. This is a strong statement, folks. I’ve had my share of shrimp and grits. Travel anywhere in the South and you will find shrimp and grits on the menu. The dish traces its origins to the Lowcountry of South Carolina a simple fisherman’s breakfast – shrimp sautéed in bacon fat and cream and served over stone ground grits. New York Times food critic Craig Claiborne is credited as bringing national attention to the dish in 1985 after he raved over some shrimp and grits he encountered at a restaurant in North Carolina. Today, this humble fisherman’s breakfast has become an icon of Southern cuisine.

Shrimp and Grits at The King and Prince. 

There are versions of shrimp and grits that incorporate all kinds of fancy ingredients – from pesto to exotic mushrooms. I ran across this funny editorial from Southern food guru John T. Edge describing disdain for less than authentic presentations of the dish. I have to agree with Edge to a point. However, I see nothing wrong with cheesing those grits up (‘cause I love me some cheese).

The version developed by Chef Vinny D’Agostino and his staff incorporates Tasso ham --Cajun cured pork, which lends a smoky flavor and a kick of spice, and asiago cheese, fresh corn and tomato. The fresh corn and tomato adds texture and just makes it in my opinion. I’ve prepared the dish twice now on my own (with my husband as sous chef). It takes a little time to prepare, but is oh so worth it. This year for Christmas, in lieu of ham and all the traditional trimmings, my husband and I cooked shrimp and grits for my dad, brothers and their families. I went on a search for wild Georgia shrimp and I highly recommend sourcing wild caught shrimp for your dish.

Our Christmas meal -- perhaps a new tradition!

On my trip to St. Simon’s, we were able to go on a shrimp cruise and learn more about the shrimping industry and coastal wildlife. Shrimpin' on The Lady Jane (the name of the boat) was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done and you can do it too if you are ever in the Brunswick, Georgia area. Captain Larry Credle and his crew took us out in the intercoastal waterways for a taste of what shrimpers do everyday -- and a taste of fresh caught shrimp cooked right on the boat. The Captain's son Cliff is a budding marine biologist and was able to identify everything we caught in the trawl -- from horseshoe crabs to puffer fish. We even caught a sea turtle which is quite rare! The turtle went promptly back into the water and was not harmed in any way. Here are just a few photos of my adventure. 

The Lady Jane awaits.

Sea gulls follow the net to catch all that gets thrown back.

After being measured (so findings can be reported to the state), Mr. Sea Turtle goes back in the water.

A close-up of the net contents. The "by-catch" either escapes back to the water or becomes lunch for the seagulls.

My friend Niki and I feasting on shrimp that was caught the previous day.

Now, let me get on my soapbox for a moment. American fishing is a truly endangered industry. There are many things that don’t make sense in this world – and here’s another. Approximately 90 percent of our seafood here in the U.S. is imported from other countries. Plus, much of that is farm raised. I could go on and on, and I think I will in another post, but let me just tell you a few good reasons to buy wild and (if possible) local shrimp:

1. It tastes better. Wild Georgia Shrimp, for example, is known of its sweetness because of the abundant Spartina grass that is abundant in the region’s coastal waterways. Shrimp taste like what they eat. Farm raised shrimp eat corn and grain by-products which are not natural food sources for shrimp.
2. It supports local industry. Yes, you will pay more for fresh or frozen wild shrimp, but you know that it came from the ocean and was handled by hard-working fishermen, processors and brokers in your home state (or a coastal area near you).
3. It's better for you. Wild shrimp does not contain antibiotics and because of the ocean's natural filtration system, it is not likely to contain residues of pesticides or other chemicals. Further, only two percent of all farm-raised seafood in the U.S. is actually inspected by the USDA. Although farmers are prohibited from using antibiotics, many do. If you find really cheap shrimp at the grocery store, there's a reason. 

Finally, here’s the recipe. Are you hungry for shrimp now? I know I am!

King and Prince Shrimp and Grits 
(adapted from The King and Prince Shrimp and Grits in a Tasso Cream Sauce)

Click here for printable version

1 pound wild Georgia white shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup Tasso ham 
1/2 cup chopped green onions plus extra for garnish
1 cup whole-kernel white corn
½ cup diced tomatoes
1 ½ teaspoons Cajun seasoning  (like Tony Chachere’s)
1 cup heavy cream (or half-and-half if you want to lighten it up)
3/4 cup asiago cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
4-6 servings of stone-ground grits, prepared according to package directions (for a richer flavor, sub chicken stock for water)

Prepare grits according to package instructions. Wash, peel and devein shrimp. Toss shrimp in Cajun seasoning and set aside. Chop Tasso ham, green onion and tomatoes into small pieces and sauté with a little butter in a large skillet. Add cream, cheese and and whisk until slightly thickened. Meanwhile in a separate skillet, sauté shrimp in a little olive oil cooking until pink. Cooking shrimp longer than five minutes will lead to tough, rubbery shrimp, so cook until just pink – really, it doesn’t take long. Taste both the creamy shrimp mixture and the grits for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve shrimp and sauce spooned over grits. Garnish with green onions and cheese if desired. Serves 4.

Special thanks to Leigh Cort and The King and Prince for their hospitality and this recipe!


  1. This post made me jealous and hungry at the same time. Yum! Thanks for sharing, Rachel!

  2. Great post! We've been eating alot of Wild Georgia Shrimp since our New Year's trip to Savannah, but in nothing that looks as good as your pic above.

  3. Thanks, y'all! I wish I could go back right this instant. Definitely want to take the boys on the shrimp cruise next time! If you try the recipe, let me know how it turns out.

  4. Mmmmm....shrimp and grits. Now I'm craving this deliciousness - thanks for reminding me how much I love this recipe. And also for sharing me in all my windblown glory:-). I think that's what we looked like for most of that trip, between the shrimp boat and the open-air trolley. It was totally worth it, though.