Wednesday, September 21, 2011

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It. And If Your Recipe Sucks, You Better Not Fix It Either.

I was on stage this past weekend at the Shrimp & Grits Festival in Jekyll Island, Georgia. And let me tell you: this is a wonderful event. Why? The location (on the grounds of the historic Jekyll Island Hotel) is magnificent. So is the staff. And everyone who attends.

Yes, ambiance, history, great folks, and a gentle sea breeze wafting thru the trees made for a wonderful day. In fact, it is usually so wonderful, many attendees make a weekend of it.

Of course the centerpiece, culinary-wise, is the Shrimp & Grits. Hundreds line up to savor this low country dish prepared by pros and amateurs alike as part of a grueling cooking competition. Heck, they even bring in a few celebrity chefs who show you how it's done on the Cooking Stage. (Yeah, that was me up there clad in the very non-Georgian Caribbean shirt, baggy cotton beach pants, and flip-flops.)

But here I must offer a caveat.

I'm from New York. Born and raised there. Just outside the city. Then my parents moved to Tampa Bay where I finished out high school. After high school and through college I lived in South Florida. Then I drifted back to Tampa Bay with my wife to start a fam.

Why am I telling you this? Because grits was about as common in my dietary regimen as ham hocks would be at the annual pot luck at the Beth Emeth synagogue down on the Boston Post Road in Larchmont.

When I finally moved to Chattanooga (the real south) in the late eighties, I had my first sampling of grits. As a cook and connoisseur of all things food, I felt I needed to give them a try. Needless to say, I was under whelmed.

Oh, they didn't taste bad.

Bad had nothing to do with it.

It was the taste that was lacking.

Perhaps you've never had grits. If so, let me describe them for you. Did you ever work with papier-mâché when you were a kid? Did you ever eat any of the goop before you dipped the newspaper into it? Of course you did. We all did.

Grits are a lot like that.

Except grittier.

So imagine throwing a couple of handfuls of sand into your papier-mâché goop before tasting it. Yeah. That about sums up grits.

But wait! I hear the southerners chiming in: You need to add salt! (Evidently lots of salt.) And grated cheese! (Gobs of cheese.) And butter! (One stick or two?) That way, the lowly grits will rise in your culinary estimation. Of course, with a couple of tablespoons of salt, a cup or two of grated cheese and a stick of butter, even a carburetor would taste good.

So I decided to stick with the oh-so-dependable (and tasty) home fries sauteed in onions and peppers for my breakfast. Or any other time when grits might be an option.

Until I tried shrimp & grits.

Now I'm a bona fide grits fan. Maybe it was the shrimp that did it. Who knows? But now I'm a fan.

And here's the interesting thing. There are not a lot of variations with this dish (as there are for chili, marinara sauce, beef stew, etc.) Why? Because it is good from the get-go. So if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

But being a wise-ass chef, I had to try.

So while I didn't change the basics, I did make a few minor alterations. I cooked my shrimp in with the grits and I made a shrimp gravy to serve over the grits. And according to the crowd I cooked for at the Festival, it was a winner.

Of course, if it did suck, I wouldn't have bothered to fix it. And neither should you. But it didn't suck, so I will fix it. Again and again. For breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Go ahead and give it a shot. Even if you're from the Bronx. And if your lover tells you that they don't eat grits, heck, tell 'em it's papier-mâché. They'll love you for it!




Prep Time: 5 minutes                Cook Time: 30 minutes


3/4 pound large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
pinch of cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt  (use less if your bacon is very salty)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste (Frank's or Tabasco are fine)
1/2 cup quick grits (not instant)
4 ounces good extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
2 or 3 scallions, green part only, sliced for garnish


1. Preheat oven to 375º. Toss the shrimp with the oil, garlic, cayenne pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Refrigerate while preparing the grits.

2. Sauté the bacon in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 8 - 10 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Add onions and sauté until soft and translucent. About 5 - 7 minutes.

3. Stir in the water, cream, hot sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Slowly stir in the grits, reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often, until the grits are thick and creamy, about 5 - 8 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and stir in the grated cheese. Remove shrimp from the fridge and place on top of the grits in a circle, pressing on each one until they buried about half-way. Place in the oven and bake until shrimp are cooked through, about 5 - 8 minutes depending on the size of the shrimp. (Or you may add the shrimp to the skillet and cook over medium , stirring, until shrimp are pink and cooked through.)

Ladle shrimp gravy (below) over all and sprinkle with chopped scallions and bacon bits.


Prep Time: 5 minutes            Cook Time: 30 minutes


1 slice bacon, chopped
1/4 cup minced onion
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup diced celery
1/2 pound large shrimp, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
pinch dried red pepper or to taste
1/2 cup shrimp, chicken, or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon browning sauce (Kitchen Bouquet is fine)


1. Sauté the bacon in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp and brown, about 8 - 10 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

2. Add the onion, red pepper and celery and sauté until tender, about 8 - 10 minutes. Add the shrimp and sauté until they turn pink and opaque, about 2 - 3 more minutes.

3. Remove shrimp and vegetables with a slotted spoon and reserve in a bowl. Add the broth and browning sauce to the skillet. Season with salt, pepper and dried red pepper. Bring to a boil then simmer for 1 - 2 minutes. Return the shrimp, vegetables and bacon to the sauce and heat for 1 more minute. Serve over shrimp & grits.


  1. HAHA I am not a fan myself, trying them in GA on many trips to Florida but strangely enough I like cream of wheat - similar, yet not....

  2. @Betty Martha. You are more adventurous than I was - I never ordered grits on my many vacation trips to Florida, lol. And you're right about Cream of Wheat. Similar, yet not. We ate it often when I was a kid up north. Grits? Nope...

  3. Sorry, my southern roots are screaming about the Cream of Wheat. That was what I was tasting for the first time (in Michigan)when I first experienced morning sickness. I equate it to eating Sunday school paste. I think it has the same ingredients. Not that even as a southerner I grew up with a great love of grits, or oatmeal either. This was a whole class of foods that I couldn't abide. But I could really go for the home fries anytime someone wants to make them. Did you ever notice that they didn't serve them at the beach in Hollywood? Still, I've been told that I serve a hot mess of Shrimp and Grits. And I'm sad that you don't announce your schedule because I would have taken the weekend to visit my kids in Fort Stewart and come out for the show. Let me know if you are ever in the Atlanta area.

  4. I should say, especially if your wife is with you because I'd love to see her too.

  5. @emmy. I post my upcoming events on my Facebook page ( as well as my monthly newsletter. Perhaps next time! :-)

  6. As a child in Mississippi, I woke up every school day to a scorching hot, creamy, salty and buttery bowl of grits. If I was running late, I would pour my glass of milk over the grits and stir it in to cool them enough to eat before my car pool ride honked from the driveway. It's still my favorite comfort food and I will be sure to try your shrimp and grits recipe. Thanks and I'm looking forward to following your blog.

  7. I love a bowl of grits any time of the day. I would love to give this recipe a try. Pure comfort food. Thank you for the recipe.

  8. @envierecipes. What a wonderful memory! Thanks for stopping by. I try to post weekly so feel free to drop by often. I'll keep a pot of Shrimp & Grits simmering on the stove. :-)

  9. @Pretend Chef. Thanks, Rochelle! And trust me. As one who has found a new love for grits, this shrimp thing rocks. Take care!

  10. I first tried plain grits, with some butter, during a roadtrip in my last US vacation. I've always been curious and fascinated with grits. I can imagine grits with shrimp should be awesome! Thanks!

  11. @ the food dude. It is awesome. You gotta try it!

  12. @Emily Malloy. Scrumptious? You bet! Making it tonite for my daughter and her fam.:-)

  13. Knockin' the grits, ay? How very dare you!!
    I was born and raised on them, so who knows what I would have thought if I tried them as an adult.
    And I love shrimp and grits, make them a hundred different ways, and yours sound awesome!
    Just whatever you do, don't ever add sugar to your grits...that'll get you beat up in my neck of the woods.

  14. @Abbey. Not knocking 'em, Abbey, just one who is learning to love 'em! :-D

  15. I've never ever tried grits - I'm from the UK, and they were never a part of my diet growing up! But I am a fan of shrimp and your recipe sounds delicious, so I may have to give them a go! Great blog by the way!

  16. My mother was from Massachusetts and my dad was from Mississippi. Needless to say, he made us eat grits, and she made us eat oatmeal. I do love grits with salt, butter, etc. but I can't wait to try your recipe! Out of curiosity, before you had shrimp and grits, did you like polenta?

  17. @Sarah. Sorta like me growing up in New York. Grits just wasn't part of my vocab. But when I moved south I couldn't elude them. So...after many years...I gave in. The Shrimp and Grits won me over. Hopefully it will win you over, too. BTW, thanks for stopping by. I try to post weekly so feel free to drop by often. I'll keep some white wine in the fridge and some shrimp simmering as well. :-)

  18. @Dorina. Yes, you must try this. It just may change your view of grits, as it did mine. As far as polenta? Girl, I'm all over that, lol. It's a blank slate for all sorts of flavors. Of course growing up in the North, polenta was a given. It's funny, tho. I always liked polenta in all its variations, but I was hesitant on grits... Very close, culinary-wise. Very close...

  19. Great post! I love shrimp and grits. The idea of a shrimp gravy is pretty cool!

  20. @jenroque77. Thanks! I gleaned the recipe for shrimp gravy from some folks up in Fernandina Beach, FL who usually serve it over rice. I experimented and tweaked it (since no one would give me the exact recipe, lol) and figured it would go great over grits as well. Judging from the response I got at the Shrimp & Grits Fest, I think I figured right. Enjoy!

  21. I'm a New York girl living in Ocala, Fl. And I'm petrified of grits. My husband has had them prepared well, but I never have. I think I'm going to try yours... I really want to embrace them.

  22. Oh my gosh... what a hoot! Well... you true southern gentleman who did some time in Chattanooga....paper mache paste or not.... the recipe looks delish and the festival sounds awesome! love it!
    megan -
    p.S. - I'm a northern girl who doesn't eat grits but eats chocolates and sweets.

  23. @Christine. Yes, by all means, give these a shot and let me know what you think!

  24. @Megan. Glad the post brought a smile! And yes, the recipe is delish, the festival is awesome (a very relaxed weekend), and chocolate and sweets are, indeed, a very fine substitute for grits. :-D

  25. Oh grits can be good with honey,cream and berries ... BUT shrimp??? Now you have my attention! Thanks for sharing and I'll let you know how it turns out =))

  26. Hello Chef Warren,
    I just read this post today, yes today. We just recently befriended that's why, it's never too late to post a comment though.
    I had to comment on the grits thing, it's kind of funny. When I worked a short while at a local winery, one of the chefs would always describe Polenta as Italian grits. I laughed so hard.It was a heck of a way to describe Polenta!
    I was born and raised in Northern California to be exact the Bay Area.
    But my parents are Louisianians, we ate grits. They are an acquired taste, yes salt them, fry them, cheese'em and meat'em up.

    Treat like Italian Grits, A.K.A. Polenta

  27. @What's Cooking Roz? Hey, better late than never! lol. And yes, if you think about it (especially after a glass or two of wine) polenta could be described as Italian grits. Even my friend Giovanni 'Jim-Bob' Delvecchio calls 'em that. But that stands to reason, Gio's from southern Italy. :-)

  28. You have me thinking here. I am developing a recipe for shrimp and grits and now I think I will cook shrimp shells in the grits water (before adding the grits, of course!). Can't wait!

  29. @pretendtexasfarmer. This is a great idea for those who want more shrimp flavor! FWIW, I save and freeze my shrimp shells. Then when I need some broth for a soup, bisque or stew, I'll saute the shell in a little olive oil, then I'll simmer them in some water with a bit of onions, celery, and carrots. After awhile I'll strain the broth thru a sieve, mashing the shells to eek out as much flavor as possible. I might even add a dab of tomato paste to give it a nice pink color...

  30. I agree with you - if I find a recipe that works time and time again, I just do the the same way each time - esp tricky south indian dish called Idli - the batter is very finicky and needs to be just so to have the best results :) On the contrary, my mother in law who taught me the recipe keeps tweaking it and finds that does not help.

    Sadly I am a vegetarian, as in a real vegetarian :) But I do enjoy your writing very much - happy I hopped over and will be back to read more :) I write a veggie food blog if you want to stop by sometime ... cheers, priya