5 Easy Tips for Stellar Homemade Shrimp & Grits

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I discovered the glorious flavors of Shrimp & Grits as a teenage foodie who often visited Charleston, S.C. Many places in the city (and throughout the South) serve the dish, and several make it very well, but every version is different. Some restaurants serve the shrimp aboard cheese grits. Others top the bowl with a seafood gravy. Chefs even add bacon, sausage and other flavors to their renditions.

 

As I began cooking more as a bachelor in my 20s, I started experimenting with Shrimp & Grits in my own kitchen. It’s a dish that really lends itself well to creativity, which is a must when I’m cooking. As I’ve shared before on this blog, a hard-and-fast recipe is not my friend, and that’s why I’m not a baker by nature.

There are so many ways to do Shrimp & Grits well, so you really must figure out what you like best. Here are five quick tips to help you concoct your own Shrimp & Grits. You just might decide your way is your favorite.

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1 – Pick the right shrimp and the right grits for you.

Some folks will want to get fresh-from-the-sea shrimp, where available, and some kind of locally ground grits. Me? I actually prefer quick-cook grits (you can dress them up, big time) and frozen shrimp (for the flexibility of making them whenever you like). The way I see it from experience, you can poorly execute fancy and expensive ingredients, or you can hit a home run with simple ingredients.

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2 – Season the shrimp first.

You should cook your shrimp in a separate sauce pan from your grits and any other toppings (you’ll add the shrimp simply to the top of each bowl of grits before serving), and seasoning is a must. The most tongue-popping flavor in the whole dish should come from your seasoned shrimp. I like to use a half a lemon, a ½ teaspoon of paprika and a ¼ teaspoon of salt for each two servings. Add them to the pan and stir around your shrimp for while-cooking marination, over medium heat. As a rule of thumb for me, I like to prepare about 10 shrimp for each serving of Shrimp & Grits, cooking them just until they get light pink all over.

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3 – Use milk or cream in the grits.

But start with water. I’ve found that for each serving, I like to start with a ½ cup of grits and 2 cups of water, and cook on medium heat. The grits cook more quickly and without scalding in water. Then add the creamy ingredient later. I like about ¼ cup of cream or milk for each serving. You will really taste the difference when you add this step. So much more flavor than water alone. The other value in adding the milk or cream later is that as the grits cook and thicken, the creamy ingredient will help thin them back out a bit before serving. You don’t want to serve watery grits, but you also don’t want them to get sticky. The cream, especially, helps keep that from happening.

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4 – Whisk, don’t stir, your grits.

Like the milk or cream, using a whisk has a major impact on the texture and creamy nature of your bowl of grits. If you stir with a spoon, the mixing process just isn’t the same.

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5 – Add flavoring ingredient(s).

We like cooked beef sausage, chopped into smaller pieces and sautéed in a separate sauce pan, and then a topping of a little grated cheese. Bacon is also a great topping (because who doesn’t love bacon?). These types of ingredients add a little extra flavor without overpowering the shrimp, and they add a little something nice to the presentation as well.

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Foodie Travels: Superior Seafood, New Orleans, La.

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Superior Seafood’s profiteroles

In the culinary haven of New Orleans, which delights foodies with specialties ranging from gumbo to beignets, Molly and I were fortunate to stumble upon a restaurant that serves up a number of those classics, all in one place.

Superior Seafood, located in the city’s historic uptown, has that traditional New Orleans atmosphere feel to it and just enough parking to allow us to snag a spot on a weekday afternoon. We discovered this restaurant by searching online for a good option for lunch while driving through Louisiana on a road trip from Texas to North Carolina.

Our meal started with a fresh loaf of French bread and fresh butter. You get the whole loaf and have the pleasure of slicing off pieces yourself.

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Superior’s gumbo

Among the choices of a large variety of entrees, we opted for a few Southern classics. Molly savored a bowl of fresh shrimp over creamy grits. I enjoyed a po boy with fresh crispy, fried shrimp and a cup of seasoned gumbo. 

Satisfied but intrigued by desserts we’d seen on an adjoining table, perhaps our best part of the meal was dessert. For Molly, it was a flavorful, spiced bread pudding. For me, it was a pair of profiteroles, delicious small pastry-puff sandwich with fresh cream and ice cream. Each dessert was more than enough for one person, and each was $2. How many nice sit-down restaurants offer a specially made dessert for $2?

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The shrimp po boy

Along with the jazz music you’d expect as the ambiance accompaniment to delicious food in New Orleans, Superior Seafood’s dining rooms almost felt like the scene of a step back in time to a slice of America in the 1940s and 1950s. The Southern charm of the restaurant and its staff certainly added to our experience.

Superior Seafood

4338 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, La.

SuperiorSeafoodNOLA.com

$$ (on a scale of $ most affordable, $$ middle of the road, $$$ expensive)

Simple Citrus Shrimp Burgers

img_8247When I lived near the Crystal Coast region of North Carolina in the early 2000s, I had my first experience with a shrimp burger in Morehead City, the site of the annual N.C. Seafood Festival. (This year’s festival starts today and runs through October 2.)

I had never seen or heard of anything like it. These incredibly crispy, fried shrimp stacked on a hamburger bun, sometimes with nothing else and sometimes with a variety of accompanying toppings.

As a pure cheeseburger lover – meaning I enjoy beef, cheese and bun most of all – I had a hard time calling it a burger. But regardless of its name, it was good, and I ended up trying a variety of shrimp burgers during my time “Down East” in the Tar Heel State.

I decided recently that I wanted to venture creating my own shrimp burger at home. I didn’t expect the first trial to be all that great, but I wanted to share the shrimp burger with others, and I wanted to do it from my own kitchen.

So, here’s what I came up with on a recent Friday night, and what my wife Molly and I thought about it. I don’t know that it’s worthy of something as prestigious as the N.C. Seafood Festival, but it was good enough to earn praise in our home (more on that way below). One thing to know before reading further: Many shrimp burger recipes mix the shrimp in a food processor to create a patty with the shrimp. I took a different route based on the shrimp burgers I ate in Eastern North Carolina.

The Burger Ingredients

20 medium-size shrimp, deveined and without tails

all-purpose flour

dash of salt

dash of pepper

dash of paprika

1 egg

dash of worcestershire sauce

dash of lime juice

dash of lemon juice

1/8 stick of butter

Cooking oil

2 large hamburger sandwich buns

The sauce

1 teaspoon of mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon of ketchup

1/2 teaspoon of red wine vinegar

The process

1. Your shrimp need to have no external coverings, including tails. Saute the shrimp on medium heat on your stovetop in a pan with butter with a dash each of salt, pepper, and lime and lemon juices.

2. Cool the shrimp. (You can flash freeze in the freezer, but don’t let them get too cold or icy. You want them where they just aren’t hot or too warm to dredge.)

3. Mix the egg and a dash of worcestershire sauce in a bowl and toss in your shrimp.

img_82444. Once the shrimp are coated enough with egg mixture, toss them into a separate bowl with a mixture of all-purpose flour and a dash each of salt, pepper and paprika.

5. When your shrimp are well-coated with flour, add them to your frying pan in a thin coating of cooking oil of your choice (can use the same one you sauteed in if you clean it out beforehand). You don’t need too much oil for something as small as shrimp.

6. Once one side is well-fried, turn them over and fry the other side. You can add a hearty dash of both lemon and lime juices over the shrimp as they fry but before the coating solidifies.

img_82457. Remove your shrimp and drain the grease off as desired.

8. For your sauce, mix 1 teaspoon of mayonnaise with 1/2 teaspoon of ketchup and 1/2 teaspoon of red wine vinegar in a small mixing bowl. Mix throughly until all blended into one solution. You can add a dash of paprika to this sauce and mix it in well, too, if you like.

9. Spread the sauce on the inside of each half of your sandwich buns.

10. Add the shrimp on top by placing a layer one-shrimp-deep on the bun. Add the extras on top. You can always add lettuce, tomato, onion or any other topping you desire before serving. We went with the basic shrimp burger.

This recipe yields two shrimp burgers.

Be brave and try it! Let me know what you think!

Molly’s Take: I’ve never actually had a shrimp burger, so when some friends came over and we were discussing Matthew’s new dinner idea, everyone was curious. Is it formed into a patty? Is it just shrimp on a bun? Is it shrimp on a burger? To be honest, I didn’t know myself! But I found out soon enough that Matthew’s style of shrimp burger is tasty, crispy fried shrimp on a hearty bun, with a happy helping of tangy sauce to boot. I loved the simple three-ingredient sauce, as it complemented the shrimp’s subtle lemon and lime flavors. Overall, the shrimp burger was quite delicious and I can’t wait for Matthew to make it again. I’m sure next time, he’ll have even more new additions!

Matthew’s Take: Having had a variety of shrimp burgers in coastal North Carolina, where the seafood is fresh and the cooking traditions with it run deep, my recipe isn’t quite ready for primetime. But it was pretty good! And the sauce was a pleasing addition to the citrusy, breaded shrimp. This is definitely one I’d try again. Perhaps the best part of this recipe is that you can adapt it any way you like. You don’t even have to fry the shrimp, which was a new experience for me. I ended up with a thin, crispy coating. As unhealthy as it may be, I’d love to have a thicker coating next time. And I might try some fresh veggies to top the sandwich was well. You can make this one your own!

Foodie Travels: Hyman’s Seafood, Charleston, S.C.

Along with New Orleans and Savannah, Charleston ranks among my favorite cities to visit and experience exquisite Southern cuisine. The South Carolina lowcountry has been a getaway destination for my family for 30 years now. Though there is an overflowing plate of dining possibilities in historic downtown alone, my visit to Charleston is not complete without a lunchtime stop at Hyman’s Seafood.

A line of hungry guests begins forming just before 11 a.m. most days at the Middle Street restaurant, just about a block off the northern end of the old market corridor. But with an extensive old wholesale goods facility now fitted for restaurant seating, Hyman’s handles the crowd pretty well.

It’s not a place where you can really savor the experience of lowcountry dining without spending a little bit of money on multiple courses. And it’s worth putting down a few extra dollars to get the complete package.

For our family, that starts with an appetizer of fried okra, which comes crunchily breaded and with a taste so fresh it leads you to believe it was grown and picked right there on the grounds, carried into the kitchen and fried just minutes before reaching your table. There are other local delicacies available as starters as well, such as boiled peanuts and fried green tomatoes.

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My typical main course always seems to be shrimp and grits. It’s a dish and city pairing that are, in my opinion, among the most iconic in the country. There’s no better place to eat shrimp and grits than in Charleston, S.C., and Hyman’s has my favorite. It’s a hearty bowl of the creamiest, hottest grits, covered with what seems like 20 large, plump, tasty shrimp. To make the most of it, you must top your dish with cheese and bacon for full effect.

A visit to Hyman’s means fried oysters for my dad, and the seafood specialty is among his favorite in town or anywhere. Hyman’s offers a large variety of broiled and fried seafood items and combinations, including a daily specials board of fresh fish options, all served with delicious side items.

One of the best things about Hyman’s Seafood is that it offers choices for people who aren’t big seafood eaters. You can even order from the menu at Aaron’s Deli, a companion restaurant right next door.

With so many chic new places in such a culinary city, it’s difficult to visit Charleston in a short period of time and try all of the hot spots. Hyman’s is my go-to spot because it’s a city institution where you can eat a variety of delicious iconic dishes special to the region. If you give it a try, pay particular attention to where you sit and which celebrity’s name is on a plaque at your place, and be sure to visit at a time when you’re not in a hurry to best surf the crowd and enjoy the experience.

Hyman’s Seafood

215 Meeting St., Charleston, S.C.

hymanseafood.com

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Foodie Travels: Eating Through a Weekend in Savannah, Ga.

We recently traveled to Savannah for a long-weekend-style summer vacation. As much as we were excited to explore the city’s history, culture and natural beauty, we anticipated its extensive and varied culinary offerings. When we arrived and started to sample food at a wide range of different restaurants throughout the area, we were even more pleased with our plates than we expected.

Savannah sits in what I’d call the Deep South, right on the border of South Carolina’s Lowcountry and Georgia’s short-and-sweet coastline. So it’s reasonable to expect a delicious lineup of stellar Southern cooking. We found that, but we also discovered so much more.

The following is a breakdown of our #FoodieScore journey through the restaurants we chose in Savannah, including when we visited and a variety of other thoughts. Keep in mind that we were in town for a total of about 72 hours over four days, that we ate a small breakfast early each morning at our hotel and there is a lengthy list of other eateries that we must try when we return, perhaps most notably the famed Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, a legendary spot that offers a variety of Southern comfort foods in dishes that you pass around tables with other guests. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what Savannah offered us everywhere we turned our stomachs, and here’s the play-by-play of where we picked up our forks.

Each bit of information includes a dollar sign to denote the relative price, with one dollar sign meaning most affordable and three dollar signs meaning most expensive.

 

Friday night

Leopold’s

After a four-hour drive and a few hours exploring the Savannah riverfront in the Georgia summer heat (mid-to-upper 90s), the ice cream spot seemed to be our best source of refreshment. It was the right choice.
LOCATION: Broughton Street, known as Savannah’s Main Street
FOOD TYPE: Ice Cream and American Deli
WHAT’S UNIQUE: This place is all about the fabulous ice cream, and the constant line out the door proves that Leopold’s has achieved high satisfaction since 1919.
PRICE: $
SEATING: Expect a crowd, so you may have to take your ice cream to one of several tables out front or on a walk through town. The option of getting a milkshake makes the walk possibility much better.
PARKING: We parked in the Drayton Street garage nearby and lucked out on a $2 total charge for the evening. That was much simpler than feeding a meter and it kept us from parking on the street.
LASTING IMPRESSION: This was the smoothest and most flavorful ice cream I’ve ever had in a milkshake (and I had the lemon custard). They even delivered the extra milkshake that wouldn’t fit in my glass and offered complimentary water.

ONLINE: leopoldsicecream.com

 

Saturday morning

The Collins Quarter
Everything about this place beckoned us to try it, but we decided on brunch to sample a delicious menu alongside a cup of coffee from the coffee bar during weekend breakfast time.
LOCATION: Bull Street, along a fabulous walking tour route for checking out the city’s beautiful park squares.
FOOD TYPE: American
WHAT’S UNIQUE: Don’t let the “American food” fool you. The owners have ties to Australia (hence the name, Collins Quarter, which references a cafe district in Melbourne) and the menu gets Aussie and other global infusions.
PRICE: $$
SEATING: Arrive ahead of the typical meal times. This place fills up quickly.
PARKING: I would again recommend the inexpensive Drayton Street garage, but be aware that the prices for parking in the city’s garages vary on the weekends.
LASTING IMPRESSION: I tried eggs benedict for the first time and the balanced flavors blew me away, as did the surprising potato bites as a side item unlisted on the menu. Molly had the smashed avocado, billed as the house specialty. It was heavy on the avocado, but she also enjoyed it. The atmosphere in this place was also incredible. It felt like we were dining in another country, save for the music. I counted four Michael Jackson songs in the playlist during our brunch, but that didn’t bother me because all of the music was upbeat and added to the ambiance. The modern decor and use of natural light also really made this place shine.

ONLINE: thecollinsquarter.com
Saturday afternoon

Pie Society

After a filling brunch, we took a self-guided tour of the public squares along Bull Street and then headed to the market portion of the city to browse a few shops. We had seen the words “British Bakery” the night before and knew we wanted to return to the spot. It was the perfect time, too, as we decided to have a savory item (sausage roll) and a sweet item (vanilla custard tart), along with a water, all for $8. That combo provided a nice small meal in the afternoon to supplement our morning feast.
LOCATION: Just a few blocks from the riverwalk in the city’s North Historic District
FOOD TYPE: Bakery
WHAT’S UNIQUE: Its British ownership offered more of an English-style taste, with different savory foods than you see in American bakeries, as well as treats that are less sweet (but not less satisfying) than American bakery goods.
PRICE: $
SEATING: Not much room, but many patrons get their baked goods to go.
PARKING: We would suggest parking elsewhere and walking to Pie Society. The parking garages closer to the riverfront are more expensive (more on that later) and the meters are less plentiful in this area.
LASTING IMPRESSION: We enjoy pies and other goodies that aren’t quite as sweet as the typical American chocolate-based desserts, and we greatly enjoyed the savory choices that allowed us to share a light meal. There are cake, doughnut, candy, cupcake and other treat shops galore in Savannah. This was a unique option.

ONLINE: thebritishpiecompany.com
Sunday lunch

Lady and Sons

Paula Deen is revered among women in the South as one of the greatest cooks, if for no other reason that she encourages the use of butter to make foods even better. Lady and Sons receives its share of criticism through reviews online, but most restaurants with a high profile do. The restaurant offers only a buffet on Sundays, so we decided that would be an appropriate time to sample as many items from their Southern comfort menu as possible, even if the choices varied from the everyday menu.
LOCATION: Congress Street in the North Historic District
FOOD TYPE: Southern, American
WHAT’S UNIQUE: Paula Deen is the owner, of course. That and the special accents on parts of the meal. Sweet tea comes with refreshing mint garnish. You get cornbread and a cheddar biscuit with each Sunday buffet. You can eat as much of the meat and sides as you can hold, all for $16 per adult. And you get your choice of dessert (we had peach cobbler and gooey butter cake) that comes to your table straight from the kitchen.
PRICE: $$
SEATING: Make a reservation. Priority is given to those who reserve a spot in advance. You’re thankful for that pecking order when you arrive.
PARKING: Again, I’d recommend parking at a garage or a meter farther from the riverfront section of the city to avoid higher costs. We parked at the closest garage, had to get our bearings of where we were when we emerged because we parked underground, and we paid $10 to park on a Sunday when downtown was busier.
LASTING IMPRESSION: Despite the scathing comments from some diners online, we were incredibly pleased. The hostess and waiter offered Southern hospitality you’d expect from a restaurant owned by Paula Deen, and all of the food was incredibly tasty. Molly raved about the fried catfish, and I greatly enjoyed everything from the breads to the tea to the dessert. The venue in a historic city building with multiple floors of seating also offered nice views out the windows and a slightly different perspective than a normal restaurant setting.

ONLINE: ladyandsons.com
Sunday dinner

Desposito’s

We wore our swimsuits underneath our clothes to dine at Paula Deen’s restaurant, and we traveled to Tybee Island for an afternoon exploring and relaxing on the beach after a filling lunch. (By the way, we recommend the north end of the island for the ocean breeze and the view of the lighthouse and the Savannah River channel.) After the beach, I was in the mood for seafood, and Molly searched online for a place to have dinner. Her find, Desposito’s, was completely unexpected. We plan much of our stops on our travels, even to new places, but this one of those times when we ended up glad that we diverted from our course.
LOCATION: 15 minutes east of Savannah, on the way to Tybee Island, along the Intracoastal Waterway
FOOD TYPE: Seafood
WHAT’S UNIQUE: The basic menu without the frills, its low profile and its high praise make it a gem of a find. We drove down a road that looked like it couldn’t possibly lead to a restaurant. But this place has been recommended by Southern Living magazine, and its guests include actors Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
PRICE: $$
SEATING: Small but ample
PARKING: It has its own parking lot.
LASTING IMPRESSION: We ordered deviled crab and a half pound of boiled shrimp. The deviled crab was the most flavorful we’ve ever eaten, and the boiled shrimp boasted a fresh, natural flavor without unnecessary seasoning. The food tasted like a place you’d find right beside the water. When I asked where the shrimp came from, the response was “two doors down, at Nelson’s.” Now that’s local eating! Our server was friendly and attentive. This place is all about simplicity, and it was a relaxing, quiet dinner after a few hours in the sun.

ONLINE: Desposito’s on Facebook
Monday lunch

Betty Bombers
On our final morning in Savannah, we visited a bookstore and then decided to have lunch on the way out of town before returning to North Carolina. I had heard about Betty Bombers in searches for burger restaurants in Savannah, and it attracted me with both its menu and its setting.
LOCATION: Bull Street, near the massive Forsyth Park (also the first stop on our walking tour of the city’s delightfully tree-shaded squares)
FOOD TYPE: American
WHAT’S UNIQUE: This place is located within an American Legion building, and the whole restaurant is decked out in gear that pays homage to American efforts in World War II. Even the server at the counter was dressed as Betty Bomber herself. The menu also offers touches of food from other types of restaurants, such as chips and salsa as a replacement for fries.
PRICE: $
SEATING: Plenty of space
PARKING: We parked at a meter along Bull Street. We arrived early at 11 a.m., so there were plenty available. If you plan to spend the day in the city and walk to eat at Betty Bombers, you might try the Drayton Street garage.
LASTING IMPRESSION: The food was incredible, and the portions were substantial when you consider we paid $21 to both have a nice sit-down lunch and beverages. Molly enjoyed perhaps her favorite Philly Cheesesteak (with a queso cheese) outside of Philadelphia, and I had the basic Bomber burger with fries. It was a nice American dining experience to end our weekend in Savannah and send us home wanting to return and eat more.

ONLINE: bettybombers.com