Gullah Shrimp and Grits Casserole

Served as a casserole at the Gullah House Restaurant on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, this early version of shrimp and grits can be traced back to the descendants of plantation slaves (Gullahs) who, for generations, lived in isolation on South Carolina’s Sea Islands, outside Beaufort. Today, Gullah culture (along with its distinctive language and style of cooking) has all but disappeared, preserved in part, fortunately, by a few local black cooks in the region determined to safeguard as many authentic recipes as possible. Although, no doubt, the original technique to produce a casserole such as this one was much more primitive, I like to think that the flavor and texture are nearly the same as they were over a century ago—and a far cry from the complex, sophisticated shrimp and grits you find most places these days.

Ingredients

  • pounds fresh medium shrimp
  • cups water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup regular grits
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Place the shrimp in a large saucepan with enough water to cover, bring to a boil, remove from the heat, and let stand 3 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel and devein the shrimp and set aside.

In another large saucepan, combine the water and salt and bring to a boil. Gradually add the grits, stirring, reduce the heat to low, cover, cook 10 minutes, and remove from the heat.

In a bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs and gradually stir them into the grits. Add the shrimp, garlic, salt and pepper, and 1 cup of the cheese and stir till well blended. Scrape the mixture into a buttered 2-quart casserole or baking dish, sprinkle the remaining cheese evenly over the top, and bake till golden, about 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

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