The south of America has always been famous for their grits, and a dish that is highly revered that has almost become a staple in some southern states is shrimp and grits. There are some that call the South the grits belt as this dish is so famous down there. It is about as welcoming as a homemade meal can get and everybody associates grits with their homes, town and state. Georgia even nominated grits as their official prepared food, and even rocks stars sing about this humble dish, (Fish and grits by Outcast). And combined with shrimp, the dish elevates itself highly on the southern cuisine list.
This blog looks into why this dish is revered so much, and why it is thought of as so special. It all starts with the rich history of eating grits in the South, the shrimp part was an addition that came more recently.
Where Grits Came From
Americans have the Muskogee tribe to thank for the proliferation of grits into their society, as it was the native Indians who prepared their corn in such a way that was similar to hominy. The woodland tribe would grind their corn with stones, giving it a gritty texture that we all love and adore. This method of preparing the corn was passed down to the early settlers as hominy was used as a sort of currency. In some early writings from the Gullah Geechee, who were the descendants of the first West African slaves, meals were mentioned of grits. This was probably due to it being part of the allowance or pay.
Grits for Breakfast
From then on grits could be found on the breakfast menu of every diner in the low-country marshes near the coast of the South. But in the early 1980s, a chef called Bill Neal at Crook’s Corner Restaurant in North Carolina changed the status of shrimp & grits forever. Using a fairly basic recipe of cheese grits, combining cheddar and parmesan, he then finished it off with some jumbo shrimp, mushrooms, and bacon. The New York Times published the recipe and gave a review of the dish, raving on about how it was transforming country food to the next level.
Shrimp & Grits in the 1990’s
Ten years later and Shrimp & Grits was famous all over the South, it was even popping up in fine dining restaurants in the big cities, not as a simple breakfast dish but as a dinner entree. All over the country the dish was being accepted, but because of its versatility of only using two basic ingredients, it differed in every diner and restaurant that it was served in. Different spices and ingredients were added.
For instance, in New Orleans they sometimes add Cajun flavors to add spice, while in Charleston they finish the dish off topped with barbeque sauce. There is now even a shrimp & grits festival in Georgia to celebrate this once very basic, plain staple food of the slaves. There is no doubt that this very simple dish has reached the peaks of culinary excellence by a highly successful combination, being simple and delicious, and that is a recipe nobody can argue with.