My first real architecture job, after college and the Navy, was at Hayes Seay Mattern & Mattern Architects and Engineers in Roanoke, Virginia. I was situated in a big drafting room of about 30 drafting stations, next to Art, an old-timer architectural draftsman. Sometimes on Friday afternoon when we were mentally into the weekend, things would get silly, and Art would shout out a cliché, “The sun is over the yardarm!” Someone else would chime in, “Ugly as a mud fence!” And another might say, “That dog won’t hunt!” and on and on around the room until we ran out of steam or it got to be five o’clock, whichever came first. My favorite was, “Are grits groceries?” often contributed near the end by Art, himself. Nobody could provide a definition, in the South it could have any number of meanings, but it makes you think. I just looked it up on Clichésite but its not listed.
What I’m thinking about is Shrimp â€˜n’ Grits, which I sampled for the first time that I can remember in a small restaurant in Atlanta, while visiting my brother, Tom. That was a bowl of grits with small barbecued shrimp arrayed on top, and it was good. Real good.
Having lived in Virginia and traveled extensively in the South over the years, I was used to grits for breakfast with eggs and such, but not in a dish as delectable as this one, for lunch. Tom told me that Shrimp â€˜n’ Grits were a specialty of my brother Wendell, who I would visit in a few days, I should request it. I did.
Wendell’s version, which he adapted from the Food Network, was much more complex than what I had at lunch, more interesting, richer and just better. Make the grits with chicken stock, and add cream and butter at the end. Meanwhile, sauté some onions and garlic, add chunks of andouille and some flour to make a roux, add chicken stock to make a gravy and cook the shrimp in the gravy. Serve over the grits. What a glorious treat. You think mac â€˜n’ cheese is comfort? Just try this. Yum.
Being the curious cook, I had to find some other shrimp and grits recipes. On our next visit to Atlanta, for Christmas last year, I mail-ordered a country ham. It takes a lot of people to eat even a small half country ham, and I took along a recipe for Shrimp with Cheese Grits and Country Ham. It’s from Elizabeth Terry’s restaurant, Elizabeth on 37th in Savannah, and I found the recipe in the excellent Becoming a Chef by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. Make the grits with water, then stir in grated cheddar cheese. Make a sauce of minced country ham, shiitake mushrooms, minced onion, Maderia, cornstarch, chicken stock and pureed tomatoes. Sauté the shrimp with minced green bell pepper and serve with the gravy over the grits.
The recipes are pretty basic; make your grits, make a sauce or gravy with some kind of meat, add the shrimp and serve over the grits. Other recipes I have found include:
Quick Sausage Cheese Grits from the Jimmy Dean Sausage web site. Guess what, it starts with a pound of sausage.
And, of course, we can’t overlook the ubiquitous website for food from the South, About Southern Food, has a Shrimp and Grits Recipe from Diana Rattray, who uses bacon with hers.
Grits are where you find them. When we were in San Antonio last summer for Carol’s annual convention, I wanted to explore the Hill Country, northwest of the city. Here’s my Journal entry:
On Thursday, I was up for driving to Bandera, Texas, a little town in the Hill Country with some history. Carol was not up for that. So I packed my bags and picked my way through northwestern San Antonio on city streets to Texas Route 16 running up through the low hills in gentle bends and curves, rises and falls. The drive was a welcome relief from the endless strips of San Antonio City and County and the straight flat truck laden I-35 to Austin.
I got to Bandera in an hour and fifteen minutes. It’s not much… crossroads at a traffic light, a Cowboy Store, a few gift shops and a restaurant, the OST (Old Spanish Trail) Restaurant. I parked, walked around, and had a Cowboy Breakfast; two eggs over easy, Chicken Fried Steak, grits and a biscuit. Damn good. After, I sat on a bench for a spell, took some pictures and got back into the hot rented Hyundai for the return, no less delightful than the getting there. All in all, that’s a fine way to spend a morning before hustling out to the airport for a 4:45 flight.
Grits have even found their way to Northern California. Here’s a recent entry from Tablehopper, a dining newsletter to which I subscribe.
Weird Fish_2193 Mission St. _Cross: 18th St._San Francisco, CA 94110
Looking forward to trying the (daily) brunchâ€”I recently mentioned the offerings in my column, but for the record: you can get eggs, hash browns that are made-to-order, shrimp and crab omelettes, buckwheat pancakes, French toast, and grits, like one dish called Little Al’s Grits, with grilled shrimp, blackened catfish, mixed veggies, and corn tortillas.
Are grits groceries? I believe the answer would be that they’re more than groceries. They’re a sensory and cultural treat, worthy of seeking out.
Shrimp & Grits
W. Rector (adapted from Food Network)
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup stone-ground white cornmeal
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 sweet onion
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound spicy sausage — andouille or chorizo cut in chunks
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 pounds shrimp
1 scallion, chopped
chopped parsley or cilantro as garnish
- Put chicken stock in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat and bring to boil
- Slowly whisk in the cornmeal and stir for 10 to 15 minutes over low to medium heat. The larger the â€˜grits’, the longer the cooking time.
- Remove from heat and stir in the cream and butter and flavor with freshly ground pepper.
- Use a deep skillet coated w/olive oil over medium heat.
- Add onion and stir until soft. Add garlic (do NOT burn)
- Add sausage and cook (stirring) until there is fat rendered out and the sausage is started to brown.
- Sprinkle flour in and stir to create a roux.
- Add chicken stock slowly and make a gravy. Add bay leaf
- After liquid comes to a simmer, add the shrimp and poach until done (firm and pink). The gravy should be smooth and thick.
Place grits in a large serving bowl (I use a big pasta serving bowl) and add the shrimp mixture on top. Mix and garnish.
Eat and enjoy
Shrimp grits are a prominent item on the menu of Blackstone’s Restaurant in Beaufort, South Carolina. It’s the only place I’ve every had them. Their version is cheese grits with shrimp mixed into the grits, and then a dark gravy (no bacon, ham, or sausage included that I can recall) on top. It’s very good, especially with hot coffee and biscuits.
Beaufort (pronounced “Byoo-fut”, NEVER “Boh-fort” south of Cape Fear…) is in the heart of the SC “Low Country” which refers to the wide strip of flat land extending inland from the Atlantic shore that’s only a few feet above sea level. It’s also the center of SC’s shrimping fleet, which you might be able to tell from Blackstone’s menu: “Friends are made while eating shrimp and grits or shrimp omelets or flavorful homemade soup with a shrimp salad sandwich for lunch.”
You’ll be happy to know that a Google search for “Are Grits Groceries” turns up this post at number one of about six other references. The other’s seem to indicate that it’s used either to acknowledge a tautology, i.e. an obvious equivalence, or to confirm a truth with emphasis. For example one might respond to the question “Is the Low Country flat?” with “Are Grits Groceries?” Among the younger set the less colorful “Duh” is often used instead.
I love it!