I’m going to admit it—I’m a grits snob. And I am 100 percent a shrimp (or any seafood) and grits snob, too. I try what seems like every day to get over this contemptuous feeling I have when I see the dish come across my social media feed or served at restaurants. I don’t want to be like this, and I truly want people to enjoy food however they see fit! But when I see a $30 bowl of shrimp and grits made with four hundred ingredients on a menu, it really grinds my gears (insert smiling single tear emoji).
I’ve attempted in the past to try out some of these dishes, because there’s no way they could all be terrible; I make sure I don’t order it from places like a burger or steak joint, where you shouldn’t be eating this dish anyway, and I’ve tried to be open to how the dishes are made. But time and time again, I am disappointed. And I know why! I’m a snob about it because I am from the home of the original. New Orleans has gumbo; New York has the dollar slice; and Charleston has shrimp and grits. I’ve been spoiled my entire life by local shrimp that are small and flavorful, fresh whiting and porgy, and crab, oysters, clams, and mussels caught right off the dock that morning. I don’t know runny, watered-down, cardboard-flavor grits.
I’m a brat, and I’m giving you my take on one of my favorite recipes that will make you see why I’m so annoyingly persistent about how this dish should be made. Adding some clams or mussels to this dish adds not only to the presentation but to the flavor of the hybrid tomato-roux gravy. Also, I’m a fan of eating with your hands as much as possible—it adds to the experience, and the flavor, too. You may not be able to get the freshest quality seafood or grits, but this tomato and onion gravy will make up for it.
- Rinse and scrub clams under cold water and drain. In a large sauté pan, bring 4 cups of water and kosher salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Carefully drop the clams into the simmering water and let them cook until the shells open. Remove the clams as they open, set aside, and drain cooking liquid from the pan and dry.
- In the same pan, heat 2 teaspoons of oil over medium heat and add onion. Sauté onion for about 10 minutes, stirring often so that the onion doesn’t burn and slightly caramelizes. Add in cherry tomatoes. Sauté them for 2–3, minutes until the tomatoes start to soften and release their liquid. Smush them with your cooking utensil and mix well with the onion.
- Push onion and tomato aside in the pan and add remaining 2 teaspoons of oil and the flour and mix well. Let cook for 4–5 minutes, scraping up the brown bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan and incorporating them with the tomatoes and onions.
- Slowly whisk or stir in about 3 cups of water to the flour mixture, preventing any lumps. Turn the heat up to medium and bring to a boil for about 1 minute. Reduce heat back to medium and let thicken, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of ground chile. Add shrimp and cook 2–3 minutes, then add cooked clams.
- In a separate pot with a lid, bring 4 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Whisk the dry grits into the water vigorously and reduce heat to low. Stir well, add a pinch of salt and butter, and cover with a lid. Cook for at least 20 minutes, whisking often to prevent burning and clumps. When grits are finished, add seafood gravy and enjoy immediately.
Amethyst Ganaway is TASTE's current Cook in Residence.