I remember vividly the first time I had grits. It was during college in Richmond, Virginia, at the Jefferson Hotel’s legendary Champagne Brunch. After several trips from our table to explore the bountiful chafing dishes that lined the hotel’s Rotunda, I came across a dish of cheesy grits.
“Oh, polenta,” my half-Italian, child-of-the-North mind thought. I took a small scoop for good measure, and went on my way.
Back at the table, I took my first bite. And, I fell in love.
Despite looking quite like polenta, the texture was a bit different. The grits had more of a porridge-like consistency than I expected. They were also cheesier than any polenta dish I’d ever had, with a slight bite from the addition of what must’ve been an aged cheddar. When the yolk from my Eggs Benedict started mingling with the grits, I’m pretty sure I heard ethereal music in the background.
Ok, so it was probably the brunch harpist. But, the grits really were outstanding!
For the remainder of my time in the South, I tried a number of different grits dishes on various restaurant menus. Shrimp and Grits became a fast favorite.
In this variation, I marinate shrimp in cajun spices, grill them to a very slight char, and serve them over creamy cheddar grits with a generous drizzle of spiced garlic-scallion butter.
As with my Grilled Shrimp Scampi, I prefer to grill the shrimp shell-on so they stay tender and don’t dry out. The shells are easily slipped off prior to serving, and the marinade’s wonderful spices will have made their way through to the shrimp without being overpowering. Quick cooking is key on the grill: overcooked shrimp risk turning tough!
If possible, you’ll want to find stone-ground grits for this recipe. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done where I live in New Jersey. (Though, I’ve considered a trip southward to fill up a suitcase with supplies!) Stone ground can be ordered online and direct from manufacturers, such as Anson Mills (not an ad! Just a satisfied customer.)
If you’re unable to source stone-ground, I’d choose regular over instant for the best texture.
Serve Cajun Grilled Shrimp and Grits with a cold glass of iced tea, your favorite Chardonnay, or a light summer lager. It’s indulgent summer comfort food at its best!
Cajun Grilled Shrimp and Grits
The heat level of Cajun Grilled Shrimp and Grits is easily customizable by increasing or decreasing the cayenne pepper in both the shrimp marinade and scallion butter. We find the listed quantities give the dish a mild kick. Feel free to adjust to your preferences!
For the Shrimp
- 1-1/2 pounds large raw shrimp, shells on (about 28-30)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
For the Grits
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup stone ground grits
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1-1/2 cups sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus additional to taste
For the Scallion Butter
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and kept warm
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup sliced scallions
Marinate and Grill the Shrimp
Devein shrimp: Using a paring knife or a pair of kitchen shears, make a shallow cut along the back of the shrimp (the curved side), in the middle, from the tip to where the tails begin. Use the tip of your knife or shears to remove the dark vein. Leave shells on the shrimp.
In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, herbs, and spices. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate, refrigerated, 1 hour.
Preheat grill over medium-high flame for about 15 minutes. Remove shrimp from marinade, shaking off excess, and thread onto skewers. Discard marinade. Oil grill grates and cook shrimp 2-3 minutes per side until grill marks appear and shrimp are just transparent. Do not overcook.
Peel shells from shrimp before serving.
Make the Grits
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil with a 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Slowly whisk in grits. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 45-50 minutes, until tender and creamy, whisking often. Add additional water to the pan if the grits start getting too thick before they're tender.*
Stir in unsalted butter and cheddar until melted and creamy. Season to taste with salt.
Make the scallion butter and serve
Stir together 6 tablespoons melted butter, minced garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper, kosher salt, and sliced scallions.
Ladle grits into serving bowls. Top each portion with shrimp and drizzle with the scallion butter. Serve immediately.
*If you're unable to find stone-ground grits, or if the package directions for the grits you're using differ significantly from those here, follow the brand's cooking recommendations for 1 cup of dry grits.