South Carolina Shrimp and Grits

Within the first week of arriving in the South, I made it a priority to track down a hot serving of shrimp and grits. Fortunately, it wasn’t too hard to find a place producing this southern classic.

I was amazed by the flavor such simple ingredients can pack; it’s safe to say I’ve never tasted anything like it, having rarely encountered southern cuisine in my daily life until recently.

When I saw locally-sourced blue corn grits, I felt inspired to give this dish the old college try. I purchased my first ever container of Cajun seasoning (made in Louisiana!) and prepped my ingredients as I let my thoughts wander backwards to what it was that made that first forkful taste so…significant. Perhaps a splash of cream over the top added to the sweetness of the moment?

blue grits from the congaree milling company

There’s no shortage of dairy and salt in this take on the classic. Go easy on the Cajun seasoning if you are sensitive to spice. Don’t skip the bay leaves. Cut your peppers and onion uniformly. And remember: relax! Southern cooking and stress do not go well together (don’t ask me how I know !)

Best served immediately. A spicy red wine would be a divine compliment to this dish.

South Carolina Shrimp and Grits

I added quite a bit of Cajun seasoning because I like my food spicy–however, it's important to taste as you go.
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Southern Cooking
Servings 4 people

Equipment

  • mandolin
  • Dutch oven
  • Cast iron skilled

Ingredients
  

Grits

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups corn grits stone ground
  • 2 whole bay leaves dried
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7 Tbs unsalted butter cut into pieces
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese grated
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

Meat Sauce

  • 1/2 red bell pepper large
  • 1 jalapeño large
  • 1 white onion small
  • 2 smoked sausages or andouille sausages
  • 5 pieces thick cut bacon
  • 1/2 can light beer
  • 1 tsp Cajun seasoning
  • 1 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • fresh watercress leaves for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Place water, milk, grits, bay leaves, and salt in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and cook, whisking attentively, 30-40 minutes, adding small amounts of water and lowering heat as needed if grits begin to stick to the bottom of the pot. Remove bay leaves, and add butter and parmesan and stir into the grits, tasting for salt. Stir in heavy cream and simmer about 1 more minute, or until the cream is incorporated. Cover until ready to serve.
  • Meanwhile, finely slice red bell pepper, jalapeño, and onion into uniform slices. In a large cast iron pan, sauté bacon over medium high heat until crispy, then drain on paper towels. Add the two sausages to the pan with reserved bacon fat and sear on both sides of the sausage until crisped and browned, about 4 minutes each side. Add sliced vegetables and sear, about 3 minutes. Add beer and Cajun seasoning and stir until vegetables and sausages are coated. Cover and turn heat to medium, leaving undisturbed for 5 minutes. 
  • Remove lid, remove sausages using tongs and place on the same draining plate as the bacon. Add butter and heavy cream to the pan and simmer until sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. While sauce is reducing, snip drained bacon into 1” pieces and add to the pan. As soon as sausages are cool enough to handle, cut each lengthwise, then into half-inch-thick half-moons. Add to the pan and stir.
  • Partition grits into bowls and ladle meat and sauce over the top. Garnish with a pinch of watercress and serve immediately.
Keyword blue corn, Cajun, crumbs, crumbs on crumbs, crumbsoncrumbs, from scratch, grits, homemade, intuitive eater, intuitive eating, shrimp and grits, South Carolina, southern cooking

A Take on Tom Douglas’ Creamy Seafood Chowder

Think about it: when was the last time you had a really delicious clam chowder? Can you picture where you were when you ate it? What was the weather like? Who were you with? What was it about the flavors in the soup that worked for your palate? Did you make it from scratch or were you dining out?

While the word “chowder” becomes something of a catchall for a conceptual bracket of “soup,” there exist many specific styles of approaching this comforting dish. Wikipedia touches on eight or nine clearly delineated versions of “clam chowder,” each with its own personality; in 1939, just five years after clam chowder reached notoriety in the United States, Maine’s state legislature took its clam chowder identity so seriously, it was posed that the use of tomatoes in the stuff ought to be banned. (Fortunately for Mainers and tomato-lovers alike, this motion did not pass.)

But something that unifies even those variants of “chowder” which hang on the periphery is the fact that sitting down to eat a bowl is usually something of an event. Whether taking a boardwalk stroll and eating from a cardboard cup or settling in on a wintry night for an intimate meal, clam chowder marks a momentous moment. How often does one casually have clams in their fridge, after all?

it’s safe to say I’ve been wanting to make this soup for years

Making this soup successfully is all about prep and timing.

chopped potatoes and thick cut bacon, and disassembled crab

First, the minced onion, carrot, celery, and fennel are sautéed in a modest amount of olive oil until they start to turn translucent and soft. Add garlic and bacon, cooking until the fat of the bacon becomes clear, but doesn’t brown. Add wine, tomato puree, fish stock, and potatoes and simmer…

it already tasted amazing at this stage

When potatoes are just tender, stir in cream, herbs, salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Rather than chopping thyme as Tom Douglas suggested, I tied a few sprigs in a bundle with the stems from my parsley leaves and dropped that in the pot.

seafood goes in next, and the pot gets covered to steam thoroughly

Then the assembly line of seafood goes: clams, shrimp, cod, and crab, in that order, accompanied by handfuls of hearty spinach. Add an optional squeeze of lemon, garnish with fennel fronds and cream of some kind, if you like (I used about 1 Tbs creme fraiche) and eat with good company.

don’t forget those herbed scones!
the table went quiet as we ate–a sign of success!

A Take on Tom Douglas’ Creamy Seafood Chowder

Author’s note: Tom advises us to heat the bowls before pouring the chowder in, and don’t forget the herbed scones!

Soup

  • 3 tablespoons 
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • ½ bulb of fennel, cored and finely chopped
  • 5 medium cloves of garlic, pressed or minced
  • 1 cup thick cut bacon
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 cups canned tomato puree
  • 5 cups ham hock stock or fish stock
  • ¾ pound thin-skinned potatoes, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme or 4 large sprigs of thyme, tied in a bundle
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
  • 1 lb small steamer or baby clams, scrubbed and rinsed
  • 1 lb large shrimp, shelled and deveined, with tails on
  • ½ pound white fish fillets, such as halibut, cod, etc, cut into 1½ inch pieces
  • 8 cups loosely packed spinach leaves (about 12 ounces)
  • 3 cooked king crab legs (1-1½ pounds), thawed if frozen, each leg cut into 3 sections crosswise and split in half lengthwise OR 1 previously cooked Dungeness crab, disassembled with meat reserved

Finish

  • ½ lemon
  • Sour cream or crème fraiche (optional)
  • Fennel fronds 
  • 12 parsley scones and butter (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, onion, celery, and carrot and sauté until the vegetables start to turn translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and bacon and sauté a few more minutes, until bacon fat turns clear rather than white, but does not brown. Stir in tomato puree, wine, stock, and potatoes, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 12 minutes. 

Stir in the cream and herbs, season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Add the clams, cover the pot, and cook until they open, about 4 minutes. Season the shrimp and fish with salt and pepper, then add them to the pot, taking care the seafood is submerged as much as possible in the simmering liquid. Cover and simmer for 2 more minutes. Open the lid, stir in the spinach. Cover and continue to simmer for 1 minute. Add cooked crab meat, turn off the heat and let the pot sit, covered, for 5 minutes. 

Remove the lid and check that the shrimp and fish are cooked through and that the crab is warm. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Using a slotted spoon and ladle, divide all the fish, shellfish, and chowder among 6 large shallow soup plates, discarding any clams that have not opened. Garnish with a squeeze of lemon, a spoonful of crème fraiche, yogurt, or sour cream, and/or fennel fronds.