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A seamless union of land and sea, shrimp and grits just may be the perfect example of lowcountry cuisine. Briny shrimp tossed in butter, cream, or tomato-y gravy are a graceful foil to sweet, earthy grits. The dish itself has been around at least since the early 20th century and as such has spawned many variations. Some are totally bare-bones, containing only shrimp, butter, and grits. Others, like the famous version from Crook's Corner, include bacon, tomatoes, and spice.
Matt and Ted Lee's version in The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen is more akin the latter. They make a quick shrimp stock and tomato purée that form the base of the tangy sauce. A bit of bacon adds fat, and the shrimp (jumbo) are sliced in half lengthwise so they transform into curlycues when sautéed to best cling to the sauce. Although these steps require a bit of a time investment, they are each worthwhile—the dish that results is full of complexity and elegance.
Why I picked this recipe: I always forget how much I like shrimp and grits until I try out a new recipe like this one.
What worked: The bright tomato sauce clung flawlessly to the briny shrimp and perked up the buttery, milky grits.
What didn't: Making the shrimp and the grits at the same time required a bit of juggling and a lot of attention. If you're not good at handling two hands-on dishes at the same time, cook the grits first; with a lid on, they should stay warm for 45 minutes or so.
Suggested tweaks: If you want to skip the bacon, you could substitute a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil to sauté the shrimp with. Add a little smoked paprika to the tomato purée for depth. If you can't find large shrimp, you can use smaller ones. You'll want to watch their cooking carefully, and maybe skip slicing the shrimp in half.
About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, Berkeleyside NOSH, and blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.