Edna Lewis’ Shrimp & Grits




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This week we’re up to #36 on Gourmet’s list of the 50 Women Game Changers in the world of food: Edna Lewis—granddaughter of a freed slave who dedicated her life to reviving and recording the heritage of old fashioned Southern cooking.  Thanks to Mary from One Perfect Bite for organizing a group of us cooking and blogging our way through this list, one dish at a time.  Check back every Friday for another story and recipe from the list.

Ms. Lewis was the antithesis of a trendy chef.  She believed that great cooking took place in the family kitchen, not in fine restaurants, and her one mission in life was to keep the down-home Southern cooking she grew up with from slipping into obscurity.  She was born in Freetown, Virginia, a small farming community settled by freed slaves, among them her own grandfather.  She learned to cook over a wood fire, without special tools or equipment.  Biscuit dough would be assembled using various sized coins to mete out small amounts of salt and baking powder, and ‘fistfuls’ to measure the flour.  Ingredients were limited to what they could grow, raise, or hunt, and she carried this passion for the simple tastes and techniques she grew up with into her early career as a chef in New York.  She and her husband opened the successful Cafe Nicholson in Manhattan in 1948 at a time when women and blacks rarely rose out of the dish washing ranks.  She went on to write four seminal cookbooks on Southern cuisine, the second of which is the classic The Taste of Country Cooking, which is part cookbook, part memoir.  Her writings evoke an intense nostalgia for the way food was—

So many great souls have passed off the scene. The world has changed. We are now faced with picking up the pieces and trying to put them into shape, document them so the present-day young generation can see what southern food was like. The foundation on which it rested was pure ingredients, open-pollinated seed—planted and replanted for generations—natural fertilizers. We grew the seeds of what we ate, we worked with love and care.”

 ”As a child in Virginia, I thought all food tasted delicious. After growing up, I didn’t think food tasted the same, so it has been my lifelong effort to try and recapture those good flavors of the past.”     
 ~~~ 1989 NYT interview

I chose Edna’s Grits because they are a good example of her purist traditional style. When asked about the iconic Southern dish, she would only say “People should leave grits alone”, meaning cook them in a little milk and water, mix in some cream and fresh butter, that’s it.  I topped them with fresh caught Maine native shrimp sauteed in butter and a splash of sherry.  I hope she’d approve.

Edna Lewis’ Shrimp & Grits
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Category: Dinner, Fish, Gluten Free, Gourmet's 50 Women Game Changers, Lunch

Edna Lewis’ Shrimp & Grits

Ingredients

    grits
  • 2 cups water, or more
  • 2 cups milk, or more
  • 1 cup stone-ground or regular grits
  • kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
    shrimp
  • approximately 1/4 lb shrimp per serving
  • butter
  • sherry
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat the 2 cups water and milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until just simmering.
  2. While the milk is heating, put the stone-ground grits into a large mixing bowl and cover with cool water. Stir the grits assertively so that the chaff floats to the top. Skim the surface carefully and remove the chaff. Drain the grits in a fine strainer. (If you are using regular grits, skip this step.) Stir grits into the simmering water and milk. Cook, stirring often, until the grits are tender to the bite and have thickened to the consistency of thick oatmeal. As the grits thicken, stir them more often to keep them from sticking and scorching. Regular grits are done in about 20 minutes, but stone-ground require an hour or a little more to cook, and you will have to add additional milk and water as needed.
  3. Season the grits generously with salt and stir in the cream and butter. Remove from heat and let rest, covered, until serving. Serve hot.
  4. For Shrimp and Grits, saute fresh peeled shrimp in good butter, add a splash of sherry and reduce the sauce. Season with salt and pepper and serve over grits.

Shrimp and Grits 1

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33 Comments

    Leave a Reply

  • Reply
    Nancy
    January 12, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    I just came across this post. I am from the South and even though I didn’t hear about shrimp & grits until I was an adult, it cracks me up reading all the comments (even if they are 5+ years old!) of people saying they’ve never heard of this dish, much less grits! Anyway, I just wondered if you have any experience with leftover grits. I am single and don’t want to make the full recipe but would love to have leftover grits but I’m thinking they will turn into polenta in the fridge! Do you know? Thanks!

    • Reply
      Sue
      January 13, 2018 at 7:21 pm

      I think you can reheat them if you add a little liquid and stir well, Nancy.

  • Reply
    Teresa Davis
    February 9, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    I grew up in the south and love grits. Not the instant or quick cooking ones, but the ones that take an hour. I “import” the yellow grits from Carolina Rice Plantation. Have a bag of grits in the freezer along with some wild caught shrimp. I know what’s for dinner tomorrow night!

    • Reply
      Sue
      February 10, 2016 at 6:16 am

      Wow, I bet those grits are amazing!

  • Reply
    Stephanie
    October 5, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    I made this last night, with shrimp, and can’t wait to make it again. Those were the best, smoothest, creamiest grits I’ve ever eaten.

  • Reply
    Kathy
    February 28, 2012 at 3:58 am

    Sue, Lovely post and great recipe! I love grits and am bookmarking this one. So sorry I missed Edna. I really enjoyed reading all the posts about her life.

  • Reply
    Sue/the view from great island
    February 27, 2012 at 1:33 am

    Thanks so much, Bailey, I’m going over to watch it right now.

  • Reply
    Bailey Barash
    February 27, 2012 at 12:27 am

    Hello –
    I am a filmmaker in Atlanta. I just wanted to let you know I produced a 21 minute documentary about Edna Lewis. The film is called “Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie”.
    “Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie” is viewable in its entirety on Internet via my website at

    http://www.bbarash.com/film/list.html

    Just go to ‘Watch Now’ under the film’s title and click on it.

    You can also view it at this Library of Virginia website:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cl6JVMoMN44&feature=channel_page

    You can find more information about the film and the story of Miss Lewis

    here: http://www.bbarash.com/film/fried_chicken_sweet_potato_pie.html

    One small correction to your description of Miss Lewis’s life. When she went to New York, she partnered with John Nicholson and Karl Bissinger to open Cafe Nicholson. They were a huge hit with the arts and theater people and writers like Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. You can see a good description of that era in my film.

    Please let me know if you have any questions.

    Sincerely,
    Bailey Barash

  • Reply
    Karen (Back Road Journal)
    February 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Having grown up in the south, I think Edna would have approved of the dish you prepared. The lovely Maine shrimp are always so tender and sweet…I’m sure the meal was delicious.

  • Reply
    BeetleBuggy
    February 25, 2012 at 10:17 pm

    I’m sure Edna would approve of this because it’s just the kind of food she was trying revive. Love the shrimp you’ve paired with the classic grits :)

  • Reply
    Mireya @myhealthyeatinghabits
    February 25, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    What do you look for when you buy grits? White corn meal?
    When I heard the name of the recipe I would have never imagined that it could look so yummy!

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      February 25, 2012 at 11:20 pm

      Hey Mireya, you should actually look for something that says grits. White cornmeal is different, and won’t work. Polenta won’t work, either. It’s worth asking at your store, because Grits can be shelved in odd places.

  • Reply
    Inside a British Mum's Kitchen
    February 25, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    I’ve acutally never cooked grits!! but what a delicious dish and what an interesting project and story
    Mary x

  • Reply
    Barbara
    February 25, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    You couldn’t have chosen a more perfect dish to represent Edna Lewis. So southern…and so beautifully prepared and presented, Sue.

  • Reply
    bellini
    February 25, 2012 at 11:36 am

    Now there is a Southern dish that epitomizes what their cooking is all about. Edna is certainly a fascinating woman!

  • Reply
    Magnolia Verandah
    February 24, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Grits sounds like such an ugly word – what exactly are grits? This recipe would certainly tempt and thanks for introducing me to Edna Lewis.

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      February 24, 2012 at 10:43 pm

      Ha ha—I should have defined them, corn grits are like a coarse cornmeal, sometimes they’re made from ground corn and sometimes from ground hominy. Does sound nasty!

  • Reply
    Veronica Gantley
    February 24, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Your recipe looks wonderful. You cant get anymore southern than shrimp and grits. Your pictures make we want to dive in and eat it all. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply
    From Beyond My Kitchen Window
    February 24, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    Although not a huge fan of grits , you made this dish look like I could dig in with a large spoon. Your fresh Maine shrimp look amazing.

  • Reply
    Claudia
    February 24, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    I love the notion of just leaving some foods alone! Too many ingredients spoil the broth! There is a purity to this dish that begs to be made. Ms. Lewis had remarkable instincts and an even bigger talent.

  • Reply
    Susan Lindquist
    February 24, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    I love grits with just a pat of butter and some salt and pepper … clean and basic. My husband thinks I’m crazy and feels they are like eating wallpaper paste. Poor boy … so deluded!

    Your idea of topping them with those pretty shrimp is quite clever! Good job on the post!

  • Reply
    grace
    February 24, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    i LOVE grits (sans shrimp). the cheesier they are, the better; pepper jack is my cheese of choice. nice post!

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      February 25, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      I soooo wanted to load up these grits with cheese, and spice up the shrimp, for that matter, but the spirit of Miss Lewis was looking over my shoulder!

  • Reply
    Alyce
    February 24, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Lovely photographs! Looks good enough to eat. Short ingredient list,too!

  • Reply
    Mary
    February 24, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Sue, this was beautifully done. The recipe is a perfect choice to highlight her food and your words were lovely as well. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  • Reply
    Jeanette
    February 24, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    I can’t think of anything more Southern than shrimp and grits – lovely!

  • Reply
    Gerlinde in Dallas
    February 24, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Although I have noticed grits here and there since moving to Texas, I’ve only tried them once. I still have a ton of shrimp here, lol.. might give this a try!

  • Reply
    annie
    February 24, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Sue,
    I’ve loved reading about Edna Lewis and seeing your dish makes me want to make grits. I’ve learned so much about some amazing women from Gourmet’s 50 Women Game Changers.
    annie

  • Reply
    once in a blue moon
    February 24, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    that looks fabulous, never had grits, but your pics could be quite tempting~

  • Reply
    Ocean Breezes and Country Sneezes
    February 24, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    I recognized the shrimp immediately! LOL!!! There’s nothing like sweet Maine shrimp! Your dish looks delicious!

    I agree with Mrs. Lewis, sometimes simple things are best when they are kept simple – like her grits! Thank you for introducing me to this lovely woman!

  • Reply
    Heather @girlichef.com
    February 24, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    I love shrimp with grits…pass me that bowl, it looks delicious!

  • Reply
    Mary
    February 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    So, I admit that when I saw the word Grits, I wasn’t expecting to be tempted. The shrimp on top and the simple cream and butter recipe actually looks awesome to me! I love that you kept this simple. I need to check out more of Edna Lewis’ cooking. She sounds like my kind of cook!

  • Reply
    yummychunklet
    February 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Wow. I simply love shrimp, and this dish looks right up my alley.