The Best Type Of Grits For Shrimp And Grits

Grits are as Southern American as black-eyed peas and are an acquired taste for the uninitiated or those born to "Yankee mamas," so the saying goes. Most kitchens in Southern states dish out varying renditions of grits regularly, covering the meal spectrum from breakfast to supper, a.k.a. dinner. But it's not just how you prepare them that matters, it's also crucial to choose the right type of grits for your recipe. That goes double for so-called "fancy" dishes such as shrimp and grits. The most basic info about grits is that they come from dried, ground corn, as does its Italian cousin, polenta. Both have inherent health benefits, but grits, in particular, carry high amounts of iron and B vitamins, explains Healthline

In America, the practice of grinding corn and turning it into a porridge originated centuries ago among Native populations, specifically the Muskogee tribes from the current-day states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee, according to Real Simple. Whether tribal eating trends ever conceived of topping grits with a heap of shrimp, we may never know. But it's conceivable, given that three of those states, excluding Tennessee, have at least partial coastal borders and multiple islands where edible sea creatures are a given.

One thing that's a pretty sure bet: If any early American community did eat shrimp and grits, the recipe likely depended on stone-ground grits, given the lack of modern processing machinery.

Texture and flavor compatibility

Four standard types of grits determine what ends up in your bowl, especially whether they warrant supper-plate status for a shrimp and grits presentation. First, there are instant grits, which are pre-cooked and dehydrated, notes Southern Living. Next up is "regular" grits and its "quick" version, distinguished by a medium or fine grind, respectively, taking either five or 10 minutes to cook. Though better than instant grits, the regular style lacks the toothy texture and flavor you get from the professional-chef choice: stone-ground grits.

Most shrimp and grits recipes call for the stone-ground version, with some notable exceptions, including a Bobby Flay concoction made with canned hominy grits creamed in a food processor. Notably, the famous chef is from New York City. Say no more. Southern chefs, in particular, insist on stone-ground grits for a hearty texture that cradles jumbo Cajun shrimp and gravy without turning into a soupy seafood porridge. Also known as stone-milled grits, they harbor the most coarse texture and richest corn flavor of all the grit varieties, notes Southern Living. That's because they're made from the whole corn kernel, including the germ, and are processed largely without modern machinery, instead being ground with double stones in a grist mill.

MasterClass notes the ability of stone-ground grits to maintain that coarse texture while still being served in a creamy gravy sauce, with the corn-forward flavor complementing the shrimp. Stone grinding retains the most nutrients and leaves the grits intact as a whole grain.

A few shrimpy grit tips

Every chef, whether professional, novice, or seasoned home kitchen whiz, has their own ideas on what makes shrimp tasty, what makes grits perfect, and what makes the combo soar to culinary heights. Some prefer a spicy Cajun twist, while others bring down-home deliciousness with extra gravy and smoked bacon. In addition to using stone-ground grits, MasterClass recommends pan-frying the shrimp in bacon drippings for a touch of rich, smoky flavor. Use large shrimp with the shells still on, which helps retain the flavor when adding chicken broth to the gravy. 

Short on time? While stone-ground grits are the ultimate choice, it's okay to take some pressure off for a simpler weeknight version. A YouTube video from the Southern-style, soul food channel Smokin' n' Grillin with AB offers viewers a time-saving cheat-sheet trick: It's okay to just use quick grits. In addition to bacon and cheddar cheese, Chef AB adds dashes of lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce for a gentle kick.

It helps to have a down-home attitude when creating a Southern delicacy like shrimp and grits. So crank up some country or Creole zydeco music, snag some attitude, and get cookin'!