Shrimp and Grits, or Smoked Salmon and Grits


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.

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