Tennessee Shrimp and Grits


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes



Appears in

The Glory of Southern Cooking

The Glory of Southern Cooking

By James Villas

Published 2007

  • About

It’s nothing less than heresy even to suggest that the folks in Tennessee might know as much about shrimp and grits as those in the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry, where the specialty originated, but when my obsessed Mississippi cohort Julia Reed put me on to the cheesy, tomatoey creation served at Pearl’s Foggy Mountain Café in the unlikely small town of Sewanee, Tennessee, I knew I’d encountered something altogether different, but special. Of course, this glorious dish is now becoming as fashionable in restaurants all over the country as blackened redfish once was, and God knows the abominable transformations it will suffer at the hands of cocky chefs. This, however, is one modification that gives the dish a truly exciting new dimension, without distorting its integrity.


For the Grits

  • 4 cups water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup regular grits
  • 6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 3 tablespoons butter

For the Shrimp

  • 1 pound fresh medium shrimp
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ½ green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup diced ripe fresh tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Tabasco sauce to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves


To make the grits, combine the water and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Gradually add the grits, stirring, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook till the liquid has been absorbed, 15 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from the heat, add the cheese and butter, stir till melted. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, peel and devein the shrimp, combine the shells and water in a saucepan, and reserve the shrimp. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat slightly, cook till the liquid is reduced by half, and strain the stock into a bowl.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat, add the onion, bell pepper and garlic and cook, stirring, till softened, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and thyme and cook about 3 minutes longer. Sprinkle the flour over the top and stir well. Add the reserved shrimp and cook, stirring, till they turn pink, about 2 minutes. Add ½ cup of the stock, cook 3 minutes longer, add the tomato paste, and stir well. Add the cream, Worcestershire, salt and pepper, Tabasco, and, if necessary, a little more stock to make a sauce that easily coats the shrimp. Heat well.

To serve, spoon a mound of grits in the center of each serving plate, spoon shrimp around the grits, and sprinkle parsley over the top.