The first time I tried Shrimp and Grits, well nigh many years ago, I was at a party at a Mardi Gras warehouse in New Orleans. Just an hour or so from getting my drink on, donning an electric blue boa and barging into a roped-off Green Room, where I would stand face-to-face with Academy Award-Winning Director Oliver Stone.

I told him he was a “damn Hollywood type” who needed to come out and party with the people.

Since alcohol just puts me to sleep, I blame the shrimp and grits.

Nothing makes me swoon like shrimp and grits – shrimp cooked in a “gravy” flavored with bacon, onion, bell pepper and scallions and then spooned onto a mound of peppery cheese grits.

It’s like a party on a plate.

And, even though it’s a traditional Southern dish, it was exotic to a landlocked Tennessean like me. To find Southerners with enough shrimp to eat them for breakfast, you have to move along the coast, especially to South Carolina, where fishermen first started bringing surplus shrimp home to eat with their grits.

When Mom asked me about the trip, I neglected to mention the cocktails, the boa or bullying Oliver Stone. But I spread the gospel of those shrimp and grits. Now, we don’t have a family holiday meal without them.

I wish I could say the same about the boas.

Charleston Shrimp and Grits

Adapted from Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison’s “A Real American Breakfast”

This recipe calls for stone-ground grits, which can be an acquired taste. If you’re not a stone-ground fan, or even a fan of grits (yet), feel free to use quick-cooking grits and follow the cooking directions on the package.

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled, halved lengthwise, and deveined
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Frank’s Hot Sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt or more to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups stone-ground grits, not instant or quick-cooking
  • 6 thick slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (about 1/4 pound) grated medium to sharp Cheddar cheese
  1. Combine the shrimp with the lemon juice and a couple of generous splashes of hot pepper sauce. Set aside.
  2. For the Grits: In a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, bring 6 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of the salt to a boil. Whisk in the grits a few handfuls at a time. (They will bubble up initially.) Reduce the heat to a very low simmer and cook over low heat for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally at first and more frequently toward the end.
  3. For the Gravy: While the grits are simmering, fry the bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat until brown but still limp. Stir in the onion, green pepper, and garlic and continue cooking until the onion and pepper are limp, about 5 minutes. Add the scallions, sprinkle the flour over the mixture, and continue sauteing for 5 minutes longer. Stir in the stock and remaining salt and cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove from the heat while you finish the grits.
  4. When the grits are thick and creamy, stir in as much of the butter as you wish, followed by the cheese. Add a splash of hot pepper sauce and additional salt if you like. Cover the grits while you finish the gravy.
  5. Return the gravy to medium heat and stir in the shrimp. Cook until the shrimp are opaque throughout, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately, mounding the grits in large shallow bowls or on plates and covering them with shrimp and gravy.