Captain Jules’s Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and grits are arguably the most sublime (and, today, famous) specialty of the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry, and while I’ve praised the versions served at Louis’s on Pawleys Island, at a friend’s home on Tybee Island outside Savannah, and at maybe a half-dozen reputable restaurants in Charleston, I knew I’d finally found perfection when I recently attended a shrimp festival at Little River, South Carolina, and sampled (at an outdoor stand) the wondrous, creamy, spicy rendition prepared at a venerable waterfront restaurant called Captain Jules. Typically, the cooks told me they didn’t have an exact recipe (ha!), but after gabbing with them for an hour about the dish, I left with enough information to concoct what I now deem to be the quintessential formula. My lifelong search for authentic shrimp and grits, therefore, is over—at least for the time being. Do make every effort to obtain stone-ground grits for this dish (if unavailable, use regular, not instant), and watch carefully to make sure the grits don’t scorch while cooking, stirring periodically with a wooden spoon.

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Ingredients

For the sauce

  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 6 ounces andouille sausage (available in specialty food shops and many supermarkets), coarsely chopped
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • ½ medium green bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • pounds fresh, medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cut in half
  • cups chicken broth
  • ¼ cup heavy cream

For the Grits

  • 6 cups water
  • teaspoons salt
  • cups grits (preferably stone-ground, not instant)
  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

To make the sauce, heat the oil over moderate heat in a large, heavy skillet, add the sausage, and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the onions, both bell peppers, garlic, paprika, thyme, oregano, and salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth and cook, stirring, till slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Add the cream, return to a simmer, and cook, stirring, till the sauce is slightly thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat.

To make the grits, bring the water to a roaring boil in a large, heavy saucepan, add the salt, and gradually add the grits, stirring with a wooden spoon for about 5 minutes. Add the half-and-half and butter and bring to a simmer, stirring. Cover and cook the grits slowly till very smooth and creamy, stirring from time to time, for 50 to 60 minutes. Season with pepper and taste for salt.

To serve, reheat the sauce till hot, spoon mounds of grits on hot serving plates, and spoon sauce over the hot grits.