Southern Shrimp and Grits w/ Red Pepper Gravy
A twist on a Southern classic grits and gravy recipe perfect for hosting brunch or weeknight dinner.
I had to go deep into the childhood memories for this grits and gravy inspiration. I think over the years I somehow suppressed the trauma associated with my early grits experiences. I tapped into feelings and emotions that had remained latent until recently when I was working on an essential Al Green playlist for a friend.
Back in my days as a pre-teen, we had new next door neighbors move in. It was a family, specifically a mother, father, and two daughters who sandwiched me in age. I should add upfront that both daughters were cuties. I should also add that I wasn’t aware of their good looks until years later when boys of a certain age notice these things. The mom, Mrs. Bunch as a good neighborly gesture brought homemade buttermilk biscuits, grits and gravy to our house. My grandmother who trusted no one else’s cleanliness or cooking (these were not mutually exclusive) did not allow us to eat any of it. Of course it didn’t stop me from sampling those grits on the sneak tip. They were heavenly with all that buttery creaminess and cheesy goodness. They were so good I made it a point to tell Mrs. Bunch how much I loved them. Probably out of kindness she told me she makes them every Saturday and I was welcome to stop by anytime.
Of course I took her at her word and showed up the following Saturday bright and early. I ate a big bowl of grits and helped put the dishes away then prepared to leave. I don’t recall ever noticing the daughters as my head was down eyes focused on each spoonful of cheesy grits. I would soon realize that despite my innocence Mr. Bunch had as much trust for boys around his daughters as my Grandmother did for the culinary ways of strangers. Mr. Bunch walked me to the door and as we stood on the porch, and with eyes full of fire, he said to me – “don’t bring your lil mannish butt over here no mo without checking with me first, otherwise Ima Al Green your behind.” I was confused; I knew who Al Green the person was, but wasn’t familiar with Al Green the verb. Later I asked my uncle what it meant to “Al Green” somebody. He explained how Al Green’s ex wife had burned him with a pot of hot grits! I never visited our neighbors again. But the taste of those grits never left either, even if the memory was suppressed.
Key Southern shrimp and grits considerations:
- The type of grits
- The cooking liquid
- Level of Creaminess
Choosing the right type of grits
All grits aren’t created the same, nor equal for that matter. The best grits, make for the best shrimp and grits, so choose wisely! For me personally if you’re making grits the Southern way there are only two options – stone ground grits or quick cooking grits. For a breakdown of the different types see below:
- Stone ground Grits are made from whole dried corn kernels that have been coarsely ground the old-fashioned way: between the two stones of a grist mill hence the name. Because the entire kernel is ground they have a speckled appearance, which for me adds some character (rich corn flavor) and texture. I prefer them also because they are the least processed of the options.
- Quick or Regular Grits are basically the same. Both are processed to cook quickly and stay on the shelf long. The only difference between the two is in granulation. Quick grits are ground fine and cook in 5 minutes; regular grits are medium grind and cook in 10 minutes.
- Instant Grits I don’t use for any reason. You can’t make grits with these any call them Southern with any self respect.These are pre-cooked and dehydrated packet grits. Sure they’re fast, but lack in flavor.
Options for Flavorful Cooking Liquid
Most shrimp and grits recipes call for water or chicken stock. Grits, particularly stone ground are naturally flavorful so water can do the trick. However if the goal is to do some next level shit and impress your guests, then you might wanna step your stock game up. Store bought chicken stock, is a step in the right direction, but there are still opportunities to either elevate a store bought stock or just simply make your own. I’m partial to smoky, meaty type broths that have a little bit of complexity. Sometimes this looks like a commercial broth doctored with smoked turkey wings via a slow simmer. More often than not, I just use a homemade ramen broth that out of necessity I discovered makes for da bomb shrimp and grits. My kids love ramen, and since I detest that packaged ramen stuff I had to eat during my broke days, I keep quality noodles on hand and just make a large batch of stock that they can use to make their own. So now that I know it makes for the best shrimp and grits, I make a super big batch every week or so with the intent to use it for multiple recipes including both ramen and shrimp and grits for those times that call for it. The net result is a broth that has a deep south meets Japan kinda vibe. It’s smoky from the turkey, somewhat oceany from the kelp used for flavoring, and salty from the homemade tare which I’d describe as a soy based bbq sauce that used to season traditional Japanese ramen. I know it sounds like a lot, but it’s really not and the flavor is ridiculous! Cream if using adds richness to the dish.
What should the texture be?
I prefer my grits creamy, very creamy! This isn’t very complicated, but the creaminess is primarily a function of time and liquid. For maximum creaminess, grits should be cooked low and slow. The longer they cook, the creamier they get. Heavy cream or milk also help but aren’t a necessity especially for those who desire to avoid dairy and/or keep calories down. But feel free to adjust the amounts based on your own preference. The biggest driver of texture will be the ratio of liquid to grits used.
What kind of gravy works with shrimp and grits?
When we’re talking about grits and gravy, we’re not talking about dense brown Thanksgiving gravy you’re eating with turkey and dressing. My version is more of a sauce, but incorporates the same deglazing technique used in making traditional gravy. I keep it simple using a roasted red pepper sauce that’s enhanced with white wine and any pan brown bits. The red pepper gravy adds another layer of creaminess and flavor, while the acidity from the wine helps to break things up some.
Cooking Tips For Southern Shrimp and Grits
- No frickin sugar! I know this is debated in some parts, but it’s not up for debate in my house. I’m all for experimentation, savory plus sweet combinations, etc. but don’t off with my grits! Stop the nonsense!
- Go with stone ground grits for their tasty flavor. They also have more body to them vs. most others which tend to be thin and runny.
- Don’t be passive on the whisk. Whisk skills means more starches are released which means creamy madness
- Stone ground grits include a few harder bits of corn hulls. They’re edible but don’t really soften. You can easily remove by putting the grits in a bowl of water and removing the ones that float to the top.
- Cream is harder for the grits to absorb so be sure to blend with water or stock. It also to add the cream later in the cooking process.
- If you’re using a commercial stock be mindful of salt content
- If you have the luxury of time, soaking grits in their cooking liquid for a few hours or overnight is a pro level move. Hydrating the kernels will not only reduce cooking time, but will also enhance both texture and flavor. The faster the grits cook, the more corn flavor they will have
- If adding salt, do it at the beginning of cooking as cooked grits don’t absorb salt too well
- Don’t over think the shrimp. Keep it simple with the seasonings.
- If you’re a ramen fan, use the homemade ramen stock for your own ramen inspirations like this vegan soul food ramen.
- Did I mention I prefer stone ground grits?
Making Shrimp and Grits w/ Red Pepper Gravy
If you make this delicious southern shrimp and grits recipe feel tree to make adjustments to your needs. The recipe itself is actually easy, but requires some pre-planning in terms of the homemade stock. If you don’t have the luxury then use a low sodium commercial stock and doctor it with smoked turkey or pork bones. This would leave you with just the grits and the gravy both of which are very easy and quick to make. Also, please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.
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Southern Shrimp and Grits w/ Red Pepper Gravy
For Homemade Stock
- 2 sheets of dried kombu edible kelp
- 10 cups of water
- 2 oz dried shitake mushrooms about 20 mushrooms
- 3 garlic cloves smashed with dull side of chef knife
- 1 2 inch piece of ginger, chopped into 1/4 inch chunks
- 2 large carrots roughly chopped
- 2-3 small bunches of scallions roots trimmed
- 1 medium onion halved
- 2 lbs smoked pork or turkey wings, necks, backs, etc.
- 1-2 lbs of chicken wings or whole legs
- 2 cups light soy sauce
- 1 cup mirin
- 1 cup sake
For Red Pepper Gravy
- 2 cups Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
- 1/4 White wine
- 1 small red onion diced
- 1/2 small red pepper diced
For the Grits
- 2 1/2 cups water or homemade stock
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup grits
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/4 sharp cheddar cheese grated
- Red Pepper Gravy
Make the Stock
- Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Roast the chicken in a pan until well browned (25-30 minutes) and set aside
- Combine water and kelp in a large stock pot. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Turn off the heat and let the kombu steep for 10 minutes.
- Remove the kombu, and add the chicken and mushrooms. Stir in the pot and bring to a simmer.
- Simmer the broth at the lowest possible setting your stove allows for about an hour. The chicken should be very tender and basically about ready to fall off the bone. Remove the chicken and mushrooms with a spider or slotted spoon.
- Add the smoked turkey, carrots, onions, scallions, garlic, and ginger to the pot and simmer uncovered for as much time as you have, but at least an hour and up to a day. You’ll need to occasionally skim off the fat and scum that accumulates on the surface. For the last 45 minutes of cooking add the soy sauce. Strain the broth. Pour the broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl; discard the solids. Cool the broth to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight. Before using, skim any additional fat/scum off the surface.
- Finish the broth by seasoning with the tare. Use as much or as little as you prefer.
Make the Tare
Add all ingredients to sauce pan and turn the heat to high, bringing the liquid to a boil and then lowering to a simmer. Cook for an hour. Set aside
Make the Red Pepper Gravy
- Heat sauce pan over medium heat. Add red onions and red peppers and saute 2-3 minutes. Add the white wine and cook for another 3-4 minutes deglazing the pan with a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits..
- Reduce heat and add the red pepper sauce and cream. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Make the Grits
- Mix the grits, stock, salt, cheese, and butter in sauce pan
- Bring to boil over medium heat
- Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 10-15 minutes; cook longer for extra creamy grits
- After about 4-5 minutes add the cream and begin stirring and stir as often as needed afterwards.
- Add more liquid if you need to thin
- Serve in bowls topped with shrimp, red pepper gravy, and fresh parsley.
Make the shrimp
- Just season simply with salt and pepper, then saute in a skillet using olive oil or butter.
Feel free to make a much more simple streamline stock or use commercial chicken stock. When I'm low on time I just add smoked turkey bones to a commercial chicken stock and let it simmer.