Thursday, January 6, 2011

Shrimp and Grits?

When I was growing up, I didn’t know what grits were, let alone eat them. In the isolated region of the Texas Panhandle where I was raised, I thought everybody ate potatoes with eggs at breakfast. I didn’t know then that the geological line between Fort Worth and Dallas was also a cultural fault line, dividing the South from the West. How could a naive kid like me think otherwise, when the motto of The Fort Worth Star-Telegram was “Where the West Begins”? The South and grits were somewhere else.

That upbringing was hard to shake. Even after thirteen years in the Atlanta area and repeated efforts by friends to convince me what a wonderful delicacy grits were, I still didn’t get it. If I had the choice between potatoes and grits, it was spuds hands down.

Then this fall when I was visiting kids in Georgia about to head for the airport and back to Oregon, my daughter Katy took me to Marlow’s Tavern in Alpharetta. “The food is great. Milo will love the ‘Firecracker Shrimp’,” encouraged her husband Paul who knew of his wife’s and my love of hot and spicy anything.

I ordered a spicy chicken soup but probably grimaced when I heard Katy order “Shrimp and Grits.” I had never heard of it and had a hard time imagining it.

“It’s really good, Dad. It comes from the Lowcountry in South Carolina but in the last few years has been spreading in popularity all over the country.” All that did was remind me of a now obvious blind spot in my knowledge of southern cuisine.

I don’t mind being ignorant about a lot of subjects, but food is not one of them. I grew up in a home where my mother thought no family problem too great to be made better with a good dinner. After I grew up, I don’t know whether her frequent family dinners were to get me to the house because there was a problem that needed to be solved (by food, not by talking about the problem), or if it was that she so loved food and cooking. I suspect it was both.

Grits were not on my mother’s problem solving list of foods. And I was pretty sure that in my thirteen years in Georgia, I had never heard of such a dish called “Shrimp and Grits.”

When the dish was delivered to the table, I was astounded to see that the grits were in the form of grilled cakes that looked like French toast. [The picture at the top is of the dish as prepared at Marlow’s.] Over the top the chef had poured a translucent orange sauce with shrimp, slivers of onions and jalapenos over the patties.

“Come on, Dad, try a bite,” Katy urged.

There have not been many dishes in my life that were truly love at first bite, but this was one. The sauce was rich (lots of butter) and the cheddar cakes gave new meaning to “melt in your mouth.” The combination of ingredients was almost magic. I ate more than half her dish, as well as all of my soup.

Returning to Oregon, I told Connie the wonder of this dish. She decided to make it for my birthday a few weeks later. When we searched “Shrimp and Grits” recipes online, I was surprised by sheer numbers. We discovered that in the Lowcountry shrimp and grits are also known as “Breakfast shrimp,” in which boiled shrimp are mixed into a bowl of grits and served at breakfast. Most recipes, it seemed, called for a pound of butter. Connie created a recipe that might not qualify for “Heart Healthy” but maybe “Less Heart Destructive.” And wow!!! I called it “Shrimp and Grits Connie’s Style.”

When I told her that I wanted to include the recipes she created for the grit cakes and sauce, she exclaimed, “You can’t do that! I don’t like the recipe!”

We’ve never been ones to keep family recipes secret. We even made a collection of our favorite fifty and gave them to our kids. Secrecy is not the issue here; Connie’s sense of the right taste and texture is. So, to keep peace in the household, I don’t dare; yet anyway. At such a time when she thinks she’s got it the way she wants it, with her permission of course, I may print it here.

In the meantime, I need your help her improve the recipe. I have a suspicion that some of you out there in cyber space have prized recipes for this dish. I’ve even heard that the Granville Inn in Ohio makes a mouth-watering version that is as good as that at Marlow’s. Whoever and wherever you are, how about sending me your recipe with your notes about it? I’ll print it here in the blog and we can all try it. If you don’t have a recipe but know the dish, I would like to hear what you think too.

After all, it is shrimp AND grits.
- Milo


Anonymous said...

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Jerry said...

I'm going to be the haughty curmudgeon here. The Granville Inn's version is indeed tasty, but it's far too tarted-up to be worthy of its simpler ancestors. Shrimp is shrimp, grits is grits, and nothing more is needed. So there!

Vicki said...

MMMM shrimp and grits. I suggested to Connie that she get in gear and finish her 'tweaking' of this recipe. I have not tried this grit cake version, but I do love me some shrimp 'n grits Savannah style.