My friend and fellow Char-Broil All Star Blogger, Barry Martin, posed this question to me on Facebook: Is shrimp and grits the new signature dish of the South?
He got this idea from a story in the Charlotte Observer about every caterer and restauranteur in town serving shrimp and grits during the Democratic National Convention. And I have to imagine that many of the people from other parts of the country sampling shrimp and grits must have risen up in wonderment.
But the answer, I think, has to be this: How can any dish that’s been served for centuries in the Low Country of South Carolina be a “new” anything? I mean Craig Claiborne wrote about them in the New York Times in 1985, for goodness sake. Even the ultimate New Yorker, Bobby Flay, has a recipe for shrimp and grits.
What I think is new is that restaurants are serving them for dinner (or supper, as we say down here). Shrimp and grits is a breakfast food. Brunch, if you’re stretching it. The original name for shrimp and grits was Breakfast Shrimp because that’s what Low Country fishermen ate in the morning. Shrimp were cheap and abundant. They practically jumped into the pot of grits.
Southern food, in general, is enjoying a moment in the national spotlight and that is precisely because it is so originally of this place, of this soil and sea. Fancy chefs may gussy it up with caviar or micro greens, but at the end of the day our food is simple, local and humble.
This whole shrimp and grits fascination is one more passing phase. Remember when just a few years ago, everyone outside the South was going nuts over fried chicken? They were serving it on china in New York City restaurants along with a knife and fork. Give me a break.
And by the way, while I’m on a roll, there are a million different recipes for shrimp and grits. It’s the casserole of the South. How about that for a signature dish? Some people make them with a tomato gravy. Others use a brown gravy. For me, it’s no gravy. Just buttery shrimp and creamy grits. With bacon.
Shrimp and grits
Regular or quick-cooking grits (not instant!)
6 strips bacon
1 red pepper, sliced into strips
1 yellow pepper, sliced into strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
Juice of one lemon
Prepare grits according to package directions, using milk instead of water and stirring for about 20 minutes so that they are exceptionally creamy. If you add a hunk of butter at the end the grits will be all the better for it. Salt and pepper to taste.
Fry the bacon until crisp. Set bacon aside but reserve bacon fat.
In another skillet, sauté the peppers in about 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat until browned. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and reserve.
Sprinkle shrimp liberally with your favorite BBQ rub. Add the lemon juice and the shrimp to the bacon fat and sauté for one minute on each side or until shrimp have just turned pink.
To serve: Put a couple of ladles of grits in a bowl. Top with shrimp and peppers. Sprinkle with crumbled bacon.