Edna Lewis’ Shrimp and Grits is the classic recipe from the Grand Dame of Southern cooking herself!
shrimp and grits and the legacy of Edna Lewis
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. Ingredients were limited to what they could grow, raise, or hunt, and she carried this passion for the simple tastes and techniques throughout her career.
”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.”Edna Lewis
Edna Lewis’ Shrimp and Grits ingredients
You’ll notice there are no extras in this recipe, just the basics. Be sure to use top quality fresh ingredients.
- heavy cream
- salt and pepper
what are grits and how to buy them
Grits are a classic Southern dish made from ground corn, specifically dried and ground hominy. Hominy is corn that has undergone a process called nixtamalization, which involves soaking the corn kernels in an alkaline solution, usually made with water and lime. This process helps soften the corn and remove the hulls, making it easier to grind into grits. Grits have a texture similar to polenta or cornmeal mush. The most common varieties you’ll see in your supermarket are:
- Stone-Ground Grits: Stone-ground grits are made by grinding whole dried corn kernels between large millstones. They have a coarse texture and a more robust corn flavor. Stone-ground grits are considered more traditional and are favored by those who appreciate a rustic, hearty texture.
- Instant Grits: Instant grits are pre-cooked and then dehydrated, making them quick and convenient to prepare. They have a finer texture and cook faster than stone-ground grits. However, they are often considered to have a milder flavor and a less distinctive texture.
shrimp and grits ~ the purist’s approach
Edna’s shrimp and grits is 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.
insist on messing with perfection?
Here are some ways to vary your shrimp and grits:
- Low country Shrimp and Grits: Sauté the shrimp with smoked sausage, such as andouille or kielbasa, along with chopped bell peppers and onions. Season with Cajun spices like paprika, cayenne pepper, and thyme. Serve the flavorful shrimp and sausage mixture over creamy stone-ground grits, and garnish with chopped green onions.
- Tasso Ham and Tomato Shrimp and Grits: Sauté diced tasso ham (a smoked Louisiana specialty) until crispy. Remove the ham from the pan and set it aside. In the same pan, cook the shrimp until pink, then add diced tomatoes, minced garlic, and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. Simmer until the flavors meld together. Serve the shrimp and tomato sauce over grits, and sprinkle with the crispy tasso ham.
- Charleston-style Shrimp and Grits: Sauté the shrimp with bacon until the shrimp turn pink. Remove the shrimp and bacon from the skillet, leaving the drippings behind. In the same skillet, cook finely chopped onions and bell peppers until softened. Add minced garlic and a splash of chicken broth. Return the shrimp and bacon to the skillet and simmer briefly. Serve the mixture over creamy grits and garnish with chopped parsley.
- Gulf Coast Shrimp and Grits: Season the shrimp with Old Bay seasoning, which is commonly used in Gulf Coast cuisine. Sauté the shrimp in butter until cooked through. Prepare the grits and stir in a bit of heavy cream or half-and-half for added richness. Serve the seasoned shrimp over the creamy grits, and garnish with fresh lemon wedges and chopped green onions.
- Southern Fried Shrimp and Grits: Coat the shrimp in a mixture of cornmeal, flour, and spices, such as paprika, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder. Fry the shrimp until golden brown and crispy. Prepare the grits and serve the crispy fried shrimp on top. Drizzle with a homemade remoulade sauce for extra flavor.
more shrimp please
- Mediterranean Orzo Salad with Shrimp
- New England Shrimp Rolls
- Shrimp Taco Salad
- Bloody Mary Shrimp Cocktail
- Creamy Shrimp Bisque
- Shrimp in Lemon Sauce with Olives
Edna Lewis’ Shrimp and Grits
- Heat 2 cups water along with the milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until just simmering.
- 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.
- Season the grits generously with salt and stir in the cream and butter. Remove from heat and let rest, covered, until serving.
- 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.