This classic shrimp and grits recipe comes from Washington D.C.’s popular Founding Farmers restaurant and with it’s smoky bacon and Andouille sausage flavor you’ll never want to eat a tender shrimp over creamy grits any other way.
I’ve been on a quest to find the best shrimp and grits for at least the past 10 years. Quest? Obsession? Tomato, tumahhhto. I suppose I’ve simply been trying to get in touch with my inner Southern belle.
I grew up in the West and didn’t set foot in the South until recent years, so I didn’t have much familiarity with Southern food since our family dinners veered more toward my German dad’s taste for his favorite wienerschnitzel and my mom’s spaghetti with tomato sauce rather than Southern classics like this one.
But as my taste buds became more worldly aware and my flavor cravings crossed the Mississippi river line, I discovered that collard greens do indeed taste good, reubens taste so much better from a NYC deli, that I have a gumbo preference over chili, and that catfish po’ boys are made for kings.
Hence my determination to find the best shrimp and grits had yet to waver.
And then, on a work trip to Washington D.C., I finally found it. This. My favorite shrimp and grits recipe.
While on a work trip to DC to speak on a panel at the IACP conference, I had the best shrimp and grits to date at one of DC’s most renowned restaurants, Founding Farmers. I sat at the counter by my lonesome, enjoyed this cucumber cocktail with some deviled eggs that I shared with my neighboring counter mates because I was saving myself for the star of my show: shrimp and grits.
Since that trip I’ve continued my quest. I’ve tried shrimp and grits in Florida, South Carolina, and parts in between. But none could compare to that from Founding Farmers. And the only way to get my shrimp and grits fix was to make them at home. Thus, I turned to the internet and discovered Founding Farmers published a cookbook with said recipe for Low Country Shrimp and Grits. And this, my friends, is it. Or at least my version of it.
The consistency of shrimp and grits is all about preference and my husband has a keen observation about the combo: If you’re into a thinner gravy like sauce, pair it with a thicker blend of grits. If your taste leans toward a chunkier sauce, blend it with a creamier, looser grit blend.
The few times I’ve made this dish, sometimes it comes out thinner and I have to add a bit more flour to thicken the sauce (I take 1/4 cup of the cooked sauce and add 1 tablespoon of flour to it then blend it in so it doesn’t leave floury chunks), and sometimes I let it cook down a bit long and it thickens up. It’s just one of those things that takes practice to get it exactly how you like it.
In my version of this recipe I made a few adjustments to the original, taking out a could of steps to make it a little easier to prepare. Don’t be alarmed at the length of the ingredient list, this dish is very simple to prepare, takes just one pan to make (plus one for the grits) and just a few steps to get to the finish line.
I toss the shrimp directly into the cajun seasoning to let the spice seep into the nooks and crannies and then toss it in the flour just before cooking in a bit of reserved bacon fat. We’re building our flavors so using the reserved bacon fat keeps that bacon flavor strong.
Speaking of shrimp, go ahead an leave the tails on if you like for a more dramatic presentation, or pluck those suckers off to make them easier to eat with each spoonful.
Traditional shrimp and grits calls for tasso ham, but that’s unheard of in my area. So, to get the same smoky flavor, thick cut bacon makes the cut. Smoked Andouille sausage is a cajun sausage that adds a smoky spicy bite, but if you can’t find Andouille, a Spanish chorizo will suffice just fine.
From there, the veggies are cooked and then tossed with flour and cooked a bit more to cook out that floury flavor and to thicken the sauce once the clam juice and chicken broth is added and cooked down. This is where you decide whether to thicken the sauce or thin it out.
A bit of Worcestershire sauce adds depth, lemon perks up the gravy and Tabasco heats it up. Add a little more of any to suit your own tastebuds.
Give it a taste, listen to your gut, and make my favorite shrimp and grits your own.
My Favorite Shrimp and Grits Recipe
- For the Grits
- 2 cups white or yellow coarse grits or cornmeal
- 6 cups water
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- For the Shrimp
- 1 pound large shrimp peeled and deveined with tail on
- 2 tablespoons cajun seasoning
- 12 ounces cooked Andouille sausage 4 links
- 5 slices thick cut bacon cut into 1/4-inch strips
- 1/4 cup flour plus 2 tablespoons
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- 3 stalks celery diced to 1/4 inch
- 2 large cloves garlic pressed or minced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 8 ounces clam juice
- 3-4 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup grape tomatoes
- 1 small bunch green onions thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce or to taste
- 1 lemon juiced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Fresh chopped parsley
In a medium saucepan, combine the grits with the water and milk over medium-low heat and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and creamy, about 10-15 minutes. Stir in the salt and the cream and keep warm until ready to serve.
Place the shrimp in a large bowl and season with the cajun seasoning, tossing to cover evenly. Set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Slice the andouille sausage in half lengthwise and then into 1/2 inch thick half moons and add to the skillet. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is browned. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
In the same skillet, cook the cut bacon until cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon from the pan and add to the bowl with the sausage. Pour all but 1 tablespoon of the fat into a small bowl and set aside.
Sprinkle the shrimp with 1/4 cup of the flour and toss to coat. Tap the excess flour from the shrimp and place in the skillet taking care not to crowd the pan, cooking for 2-3 minutes on each side. Cook the shrimp in batches if needed. Transfer the shrimp to another bowl and set aside.
Add 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon fat to the skillet and set the heat to medium high. Add the onion, celery, garlic and bay leaf and cook for 4-5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the flour over the vegetables. Crush the dried thyme between your fingers and add to the veggies, and stir to evenly coat the veggies. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sausage and bacon back to the skillet and add the clam juice, chicken broth, and the tomatoes, stirring into the vegetables and decreasing the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 10 minutes or until the sauce is thick enough to cover the back of a spoon and the tomatoes are just about to burst. Add more stock if necessary if the sauce is too thick or thicken it with a mixture of 1 tablespoon of flour with 1/4 cup of the sauce mixed in a small bowl then added to the sauce so it doesn't clump.
Return the shrimp to the pan. Add half of the chopped green onions, Tabasco, Worcestershire, and lemon juice. Discard the bay leaf and swirl in the butter.
Spoon a serving of the warm grits into a bowl and ladle with a few shrimp and some sauce. Garnish with chopped green onion and parsley.
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