While Delaware, the place I grew up, is in many ways a southern place, shrimp and grits is not the sort of thing we ever would have eaten at home. Let’s face it, “southern” cooking cuts a wide swath through the American culinary repertoire, and while you would probably recognize much of what we cooked at home as “southern”—biscuits, cornbread, fried chicken, homestyle (i.e. well boiled and usually with a pork product) vegetables all played a leading role—taken as a whole, it bore no resemblance to the cooking of the Piedmont, or the Gulf Coast, or southern Appalachia. Nor does the cooking of any of those places bear much resemblance to the cooking of each of the others.
On our family vacations, which were always taken in a vehicle, and never in an airplane, we visited Appalachia, the lower Eastern Shore, the Delaware Water Gap (to the north), and most places in between. I never got to North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, or Florida until I was much older. Ty, though, has traveled throughout the south much more than I have, and has always had a taste for deep-South dishes like shrimp and grits. (Ty points out that he has traveled the SEC East thoroughly, but not the SEC West. I don’t know what this means, but suspect others might.) I never even tasted shrimp and grits until last year, in South Carolina. And let me just say up front—or you can tell me again in the comments—that this dish would absolutely not pass for shrimp and grits in Charleston or anywhere in the low country. In fact, I am pretty sure it would count as heresy. In order to make this into a relatively quick, one-dish meal, I have added fresh chorizo sausage in place of the traditional tasso ham, and I have added a lot of chopped collard greens as well. Instead of using shrimp broth, I have substituted chicken or vegetable, the two kinds I always have on hand.
However, one place where I have not and will not scrimp is when it comes to the grits. I use Anson Mills’ stoneground white grits, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. However, if you can’t find stoneground grits, please feel free to substitute whatever grits you have available where you are. (Since I’m busy confessing, I will admit that I once made this dish and served it over a nice, soft polenta. What?! Polenta is also made of corn!) The chunky stoneground grits, if soaked overnight, cook in about 50 minutes (with a little tending), which is about what it takes to prep and cook the rest of the dish. If you want the legitimate low-country version of shrimp and grits, make the delicious rendition available here at the Anson Mills site. Those folks know what they’re doing. This version, though, is pretty darned good.
Shrimp, collards + grits
4 servings as a main course
- 1 cup stone ground white grits, such as Anson Mills
- 4 and 1/2 cups water, divided
- 1 lb fresh chorizo sausage links
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 lb collards, ribs removed, leaves cut into fine chiffonade
- 1 large or 2 small bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 and 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 lb large shrimp, peeled (fresh or thawed frozen)
- kosher salt
1. Starting 12 – 24 hours before you make the grits, place the grits into a covered saucepan of at least 3 quarts. Add 2 and 1/2 cups of the water. Stir once, and let grits soak for 12 – 24 hours.
2. After the grits have soaked, place saucepan on burner at medium heat. Bring to a simmer and stir constantly for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the lid and turn heat to very low. Meanwhile, bring the other 2 cups of water to a simmer and keep nearby on the stove. As grits thicken, add simmering water 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Cook grits for 45 to 50 minutes, adding simmering water as needed and stirring, replacing the lid after each addition.
3. While the grits are cooking, start the shrimp and collards. Select a heavy, large, lidded skillet or casserole. Add chorizo sausage to the pan and brown very well over medium to medium-high heat. When sausages are well browned on all sides, set them aside. If only a small amount of fat has rendered from the sausages, add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Over medium heat, add the onion, and stir and cook until softened. Add collards and stir until coated with oil and wilted. Saute for about 10 minutes. Then add the bay leaf, crushed red pepper, and paprika. Stir well and add tomato paste. Mix well again. (Don’t forget to check and stir your grits, adding more water as needed.)
4. Add white wine to the skillet and simmer until reduced by about half, stirring well. Then add broth and zest and bring to a simmer. Return sausage to the pan and cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove lid, stir well, and add shrimp, tossing well. Replace lid and cook for 5 minutes, until shrimp are pink and cooked through. Taste mixture for salt, and add more, 1/4 teaspoon at a time, as needed.
5. Spoon grits onto warmed dishes and top with shrimp, sausage, and collards mixture. Spoon plenty of the pan gravy over, and serve piping hot.