Shrimp and Grits, or Smoked Salmon and Grits



Shrimp and Grits, that “classical” Southern favorite, the dish that was declared the “Official State Food” of South Carolina, dates way back to …...1950. That’s when it first appeared in a cookbook, “Charleston Receipts,” as a breakfast dish. It became a regional rage by the 1970s. Though associated with the Carolina Low Country, and Charleston in particular, it is now common in coastal regions throughout the South. There are many variations, even some with Louisiana Cajun touches. The dish makes a very elegant light dinner, the sort of thing you cook for company.


I was introduced to Shrimp and Grits by a friend originally from South Carolina, and have subsequently enjoyed it (though occasionally – it tends to be pricey!) at a number of restaurants. The biggest influence on how I myself prepare the dish came from the “Wahoo! Grill” in Decatur, GA, back when we lived in Atlanta. I learned somewhat accidentally what the subtle but unusual seasonings were that they used in their especially delicious sauce. Those are in my recipe but I won’t point them out. The Grill is still open and still features “Charleston Shrimp and Grits” on their website. Thus my recipe contains their secrets masked among the seasonings that I came up with on my own.


I’ve also used this same sauce that the shrimp are cooked in to make my special variant, Smoked Salmon and Grits, which you won’t even find on Google. Smoked salmon is more readily available than fresh coastal shrimp. And it’s easier to work with than shrimp, with no peeling or de-veining. I find I like the salmon version even more than the shrimp original.  But for the shrimp version, good-quality frozen shrimp will work, though they’re not quite as fine, or as elegant, as fresh-caught Georgia or South Carolina shrimp.


The shrimp and their sauce, or the smoked salmon and its sauce, are designed to go over seasoned “dinner” grits. I have a recipe for such grits in the blog post published just before this one. The seafood over grits is fairly complicated to make. I recommend trying it for family at least once before offering it to invited guests. 


The recipe serves four to six people. A simple vegetable and a green salad are good accompaniments as are warm dinner rolls or baguette. Since it’s a “company” dish, I’ll mention that my wine paring for either the shrimp or smoked salmon version would be a slightly chilled (yes, chilled) Pinot Noir, or a well-chilled French rosé, California Viognier or unoaked Chardonnay.


Shrimp and Grits or Smoked Salmon and Grits


For one batch of seasoned “dinner” grits (see my blog post of 7/30/23), kept hot while finishing the shrimp or smoked salmon topping:


Shrimp Version

1 1/2  pounds fresh or frozen unpeeled large shrimp

            or 1 pound large frozen peeled, de-veined shrimp


Thaw shrimp if frozen, in a colander under cold running water. Let drain. If shrimp are unpeeled, peel and de-vein them and rinse again. Set aside for later use. Refrigerate if holding for more than half an hour before serving time.


Smoked Salmon Version

14-16 ounces smoked salmon, cut coarsely into 1-inch pieces, and set aside till serving time.


Sauce for either version

1 small-medium onion, cut in large pieces

1/2 red bell pepper, seeds removed

2-inch length of celery stick, cut in half

1 medium-large clove of garlic

3 tablespoons butter

5 teaspoons sherry

1/4 cup white wine

1/2 cup canned crushed tomato

3/4 teaspoon Thai Panang curry paste (freeze the remainder of the can for other use), optional

3/4 teaspoon salt if for shrimp, 1/2 teaspoon if using smoked salmon

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Large pinch ground fenugreek, if available, or nutmeg

Large pinch black pepper

Large pinch cayenne

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup water, plus more as needed

Minced parsley for garnishing


Thoroughly puree the onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic in food processor. Place in heavy pan with the butter and fry gently over low heat, stirring frequently, until softened, 5 minutes or more.


While that mixture is cooking, combine the sherry, white wine, tomato, and the seasonings. When the onion mixture is softened, add the tomato mixture and simmer another five minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cream and water, bring to a boil and simmer 2-3 minutes. The sauce can be made ahead to this point and held until dinner time.


If using shrimp: Ten minutes before serving, reheat the sauce. Add the shrimp and with nearly constant stirring heat them in the sauce until they curl up and get firm, 3-5 minutes. Do not over cook. Remove from the heat. Taste the sauce and add a little salt if needed.


If using salmon: Five minutes before serving, reheat the sauce. Add the salmon pieces and stir and heat just until hot. Add a little water if mixture is dry. Remove from the heat. Taste the sauce and add a little salt if needed.


Serve on dinner plates. Place a bed of hot grits, slightly spread out, and spoon the shrimp or smoked salmon mixture partially over it, leaving some grits exposed. Sprinkle with a little minced parsley for garnish.


Serve accompanied by a simple vegetable, a green salad, plus some warm bread or dinner roll if desired.



Dinner Grits made with Wine and Cheese

Dinner grits, as opposed to simple breakfast grits that go with eggs, are typically seasoned – lightly -- with herbs and spices, often contain cheese, and sometimes white wine, cream, or even chicken broth. They serve well as a side dish or base for the meal, such as in the Carolina Low Country specialty, “Shrimp and Grits.” They do very well along side, or under, grilled or roasted meats or fancy vegetable dishes. Grits have the added advantage of being gluten-free, unlike pasta or bread, and can be made vegan if desired.

Dinner grits as part of Shrimp and Grits

Serving local stone-ground grits for dinner became popular in upscale “farm-to-table” and “locavore” restaurants in the South over the past few decades. But in fact, Polenta, a very similar seasoned heavy porridge of ground corn has been used for centuries as a side dish and pasta substitute in northeastern Italy and adjacent countries. (Known as “Mamaliga,” cornmeal porridge, especially when chilled then cut and baked or grilled, is considered the national dish of Romania.) In turn, Polenta itself goes back to ancient Roman times when “Pulmentum,” as it was called in Latin, was a staple made from various grains, ground and boiled, well before corn was introduced to Europe from the Americas.

At our restaurant we serve “boats” of seasoned grits topped with the customer’s choice of sausage, bacon, fried green tomatoes, and the like, and finished with cheese, various sauces and garnishes. My recipe is slightly fancier than our restaurant version and is aimed for dinner use.

The recipe uses stone-ground or other grits that are simply ground corn. “Hominy” grits, which are the common variety used for breakfast, are ground from lye-treated corn, cook somewhat faster. Hominy grits, such as Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben’s, or store brand, will work for this recipe, though I don’t find them as interesting.

For this dish, cook the grits and keep them warm while preparing the accompaniment. This is easily done by putting the pan, covered, in a larger pan of simmering water, or using a crock pot on warm setting -- or a chafing dish for fancy. The recipe serves four to six people.


2 cups milk or chicken broth

2 cups water

1/4 cup white wine

1/4 cup cream

1 cup stone-ground or other grits

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Large pinch ground celery (or 1/8 teaspoon celery salt)

Large pinch cayenne

Large pinch nutmeg

2 tablespoons cheddar or parmesan cheese


In a heavy pan, bring milk or broth, water, wine and cream to a boil, being careful the mixture doesn’t boil over. Meanwhile, measure out  the grits and dry seasonings into a bowl.

When the liquid boils, stirring constantly with wooden spoon or spatula, add grits mixture in a small stream. Continue to stir constantly for a minute, scraping the bottom of the pan well. Reduce heat to medium and stir frequently as grits begin to thicken, 3-4 minutes. Reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer the mixture, covered but stirring frequently, until grits are becoming tender, 20 minutes or more.

Stir in cheese. Taste, and add a little salt if necessary. Continue to simmer for a minute, then keep the mixture warm on the lowest stove setting (or place pot in a larger pan on the stove with an inch of boiling water to serve as a hot water bath, or use a crock pot on the “warm” setting) until ready to serve, stirring from time to time. The longer the grits simmer the better. If they become too thick or dry, add a little water.

To serve, spread grits in a thick puddle on a platter or individual plates. Spoon the topping partially over them. Garnish, if desired, with minced parsley.



Spicy Barbecue Sauce for Pork or Chicken BBQ

 It’s summer, and in Georgia that’s barbecue time. Slowly smoked pork, either pork butt or whole hog, is the traditional favorite here, with chicken a secondary choice. Barbecued beef brisket, though sometimes available commercially here, is really more a feature of St. Louis, Kansas City and especially Texas cooking. My personal favorite is smoked pork butt, with the meat “pulled” with two forks into chunky shreds, and bone and any excess fat that survived the slow cooking discarded.

BBQ sauce with pulled pork sandwich
While many cooks and BBQ eaters have their own favorite commercial sauce, I like making my own when someone I know is barbecuing. A decade or so ago our restaurant actually barbecued pork, whole hogs or butts, for special occasions. In the course of that I worked out my favorite sauce. I made the version in the recipe below for adults, and a milder, sweeter version with more ketchup in it for kids and adults wanting it less hot.

This sauce is basically in the North Carolina style, featuring cider vinegar, black pepper and  Worcestershire sauce. But I do use some tomato, in the form of ketchup. The wonderful hot pepper sauce from Jalisco in Mexico, “Valentina” Salsa Picante, is readily available and inexpensive here. It’s easy to find at Mexican grocery shops and even at many supermarkets. To me it’s more delicious in BBQ sauce than the Louisiana hot sauces or Frank’s “RedHot” or Texas Pete, but those would work, too.

 The recipe makes about a pint and a half, enough for a good barbecue gathering, but any leftover stores well in the refrigerator for later use. The sauce does not need refrigeration for a number of hours, making it convenient to take to the countryside or wherever the pig roast is happening.

 A technical note: because of the Worcestershire sauce, which contains anchovy, and soy sauce, which has some wheat, the BBQ sauce is neither completely vegetarian nor gluten-free. Non anchovy-containing Worcestershire sauce or gluten-free soy sauce or Tamari can be used if need be.


1/4 cup ketchup

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup Valentina hot sauce (from Mexican grocery shops and some supermarkets)

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon brown sugar

3/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon canola oil


Mix together using a fork or whisk. Refrigerate if held for more than a day.



French-Style Mustard Vinaigrette for delightful green salads

Vinaigrettes -- salad dressings -- containing some mustard  are common in France and nearby parts of Switzerland, and are wonderful on uncomplicated leafy green salads. The mustard used is the Dijon type not the yellow hot dog mustard, which contains turmeric.

Here is the dressing I make that was patterned  after the mustard vinaigrette served at the Left Bank restaurant in Saranac Lake, NY, where our family vacations in the summer. At that French-owned restaurant their summer salad is made with crispy frisée endive. But the dressing works well on any salad greens. 

The recipe makes a little over a pint. It will store well in the fridge for a week or more.

1/2 cup Dijon mustard (Left Bank uses whole grain mustard and purees it)

1/2 cup water

6 tablespoons mayonnaise

6 tablespoons white wine vinegar or white vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

2/3 cup blended oil

1/3 cup olive oil


Mix well with small whisk.

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