An Afternoon with Cookbooks: In Search of Shrimp & Grits

April 22, 2023

An Afternoon with Cookbooks: In Search of Shrimp & Grits


What to Do with Shrimp Boil Leftovers?

Leftovers, we were blessed with leftovers.

That beautiful haul was our take-home bounty, what was left at our table from a shrimp boil fundraiser we attended recently. The fundraiser was a benefit for the oldest continually running cotton gin in the country, located in the tiny town of Burton, Texas. Check out the photos from this fun event.

Since we do shrimp boils ourselves on a fairly regular cadence, I’ve already captured some go-to solutions for next-day dining.

Let’s Do Shrimp and Grits!

But I wanted to do something else this time, and The Grill-Meister and I weighed our options during the hour-long drive back to Glover Gardens. Once we hit upon shrimp and grits, we stopped our brainstorming immediately. We really like the shrimp and grits dish at Sycamore House, a restaurant in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and while I’ve made the dish a couple of times I haven’t standardized on a recipe. I wanted to try to incorporate the spicy worcestershire-forward flavors that make their version of this southern comfort food so delectable.

So – shrimp and grits it was.

I set about researching various recipes that Saturday afternoon, selecting a subset of my New Orleans / Cajun / Creole cookbooks and spending a lovely couple of hours on the patio. Reading through cookbooks to get ideas, become reacquainted with long-forgotten favorites (as indicated by the food stains on the pages!) or identify common variations on a theme of something I’d like to cook is a guilty pleasure of mine, although I’ve been so busy this year that it hasn’t happened often.

I Learned as I Read

I learned from my perusal of these fine cookbooks that contrary to my belief, shrimp and grits wasn’t always a New Orleans tradition; the more common way to serve grits in the Crescent City was with grillades (medallions of meat), whether they were beef, pork or veal. Shrimp and grits were more associated with the Lowcountry, the coastal Carolinas or Georgia, for instance. Who knew? My first experience with the dish was in New Orleans, so that was my association. Actually, an assumption – and alas, how often I’ve found that assumptions lead me astray.

Speaking of being led astray, some of the recipes were a little scary. One had “american processed cheese” as a main ingredient. No, no, a thousand times no. Several had heavy cream, and not just a smidgeon, my friends, enough to smear on your face as moisturizer every night for a year! Some had a reasonably spiced shrimp component, but served them on plain grits made with water. I wanted a double-whammy dish, where every bite was a flavor paradise, whether you had the shrimp and grits together or just one or the other. And I will never use water when there’s broth or stock to be had.

I found several recipes in my cookbooks that were interesting, but I wanted to create my own, being influenced and guided by the cookbooks and my taste memories of the Sycamore House version, but with an open mind and creative hands. And also, I wanted to use all of the leftovers from the boil that I could in my version, not only the shrimp, but the sausage and corn, too. The potatoes would become a side dish.

But before I got started, I wanted to learn more about the backstory.

The History of Shrimp and Grits Extends Back in Time to Africa

The article below was written by Erin Byers Murray, the author of Grits: A Cultural and Culinary Journey Through the South. It’s an in-depth exploration of the dish and well worth the time.

The roots of shrimp and grits extend far back in time to Africa and, like many other southern dishes, were a result of the deplorable importing of slaves to our shores and the subsequent blending of many different cultures and culinary histories, including a Native American influence (grinding corn into grits). From the article: “Most of the dishes we identify as Southern, iconic, and classic, like shrimp and grits, are the result of mixed cultures and influences. It’s not a comfortable history, but it’s one that needs to be acknowledged.” I agree. History can be bleak and shameful, but the results of resilient people “making do with what they have” can create something beautiful and lasting.

Having pointed that out, I also need to share that the article isn’t bleak and preachy at all. It’s a wonderful, flowing history that includes how the famous food writer Craig Claiborne influenced Chef Bill Neal to cook from his Southern roots (or should we say, complex Southern roots after we’ve learned from the history), and with the attention and notoriety from the New York Times food critic (Claiborne), “the dish shot into the culinary mainstream, appearing on menus across the South almost instantly”.

As I said, the article is well worth the read.

It Worked! The Recipe is Coming

Back to Glover Gardens: The Grill-Meister and I were really happy with the results of my experimentation. I spent several hours that day on the dish, moving slowly and documenting as I went. The first picture below is the quick first-night snap, and the second is one from the next day’s photo shoot. That’s when I give the new dish some love, when there are no hungry family members lurking and watching and waiting for the time when their fork can be their guide to food paradise.

The recipe for Glover Gardens Shrimp and Grits will be posted here soon, so please stop back by!

© 2023, Glover Gardens

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