Sunday, February 7, 2010

Bill Neal’s Shrimp and Grits Recipe

Bill Neal's shrimp grits

I’ve been in a Carolina frame of mind lately. Never mind that Chapel Hill was hit with eight inches of snow over the past couple of days, generally, at this time of year, the weather is easing up, and in the next month, spring arrives, with its colorful azaleas, heather, and rhododendrons dotting the campus and the lawns of the recessed houses that line Franklin Street. I spent four years in North Carolina while I was in college, and making this recipe sent me right back to that time, to Chapel Hill, and to Crook’s Corner, the restaurant that popularized Bill Neal’s now famous shrimp and grits.

As I was cooking, I remembered things in non-sequiturs: I remembered hearing the story from my roommate, Ericka, who, while working at Crook’s Corner, dumped a pitcher of ice water on the head of her ex-boyfriend as she served him and the girlfriend he left her for, and I remember my later boyfriend, Timothy, telling me about the Mexican cooks there who would eat whole jalape簽os with their morning coffee, something I think of every time I toast red chiles to put on my cheese toast for breakfast. Coffee and jalape簽os may be another perfect combination, the morning version of red wine and chocolate.

I remembered taking off in the middle of the night to visit the primate research center at Duke forest in my roommate’s Alfa Romeo convertible because she left us the keys, and because our friend Mike thought we should, and driving to Durham to eat at Wimpy’s Grill for lunch with my then boyfriend George, which may have been the trip that began my interest in traveling distances for the tastiest whatever-it-is I’m craving.

I remember seeing bands at the Cat’s Cradle, crashing frat parties, working at Pizza Hut and the Carolina Coffee Shop, eating black bean chili nearly everyday at Rosemary Street Cafe (and Pepper’s Pizza on the off days), having crushes on boys in bands, and boys in class, and boys playing hacky sack in The Pit, and studying about biology (but not too intently), and hoping I wouldn’t fail genetics. I remember house parties where the Pixies and fIREHOSE were playing on the stereo, and The Veldt and Dillon Fence were playing live, and I remember feeling trepidatious going into Schoolkids Records to buy a cassette tape (tape!) because the people working there were intimidating in the New York Kim’s Video kind of way.

I remember my purple plastic dinosaur key chain, and the red plaid mini-skirt I used to wear with fishnet stockings and pointy buckled shoes, and only top-lid black liquid eye-liner for makeup -- real deal 80s wear. I remember borrowing a silky antique robe, and, while wearing it, making nutritional yeast crusted tofu sandwiches for lunch with Michael, my boyfriend, the long-haired boy who worked at the vintage clothing store Time After Time. And I remember sweet iced tea, and Time Out’s disgustingly appealing Bucket O’ Bones that we used to eat after nights at Molly’s, and boys nodding to me with respect when we passed on the street, and everyone’s sugary hellos, and, coming from the North, being surprised when people answered “yes ma’am”, and “no sir”, to the professors in class, and sounded smart even with their Southern accents.

I thought I was so grown up then. And now, I make Bill Neal’s shrimp and grits for the first time in years, and at 40, I’m cooking in my supposed grown-up kitchen. Now, a non-grown-up grown-up, I am aware that I haven’t figured anything out, and I’m simply relaxing into the absurd and unpredictable voyage, with a warm bowl of shrimp and grits and these wonderful memories.

Bill Neal’s Shrimp and Grits Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

2 cups water 
One 14 1/2 ounce can chicken broth 
3/4 cup half and half 
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup stone ground grits
3/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon tabasco sauce

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

3 slices bacon
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup flour
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup scallions, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon tabasco sauce

lemon wedges

Bring first 4 ingredients to a boil, in a medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in grits; reduce to simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, according to time on package. When the grits are done, stir in the cheddar cheese and next 4 ingredients, stirring until cheeses are melted. Cover and set aside, but keep warm.

While the grits are cooking, fry in bacon in a large skillet, until crisp. Set aside on paper towel and reserve 1 tablespoon of drippings in skillet. Sprinkle the shrimp with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, and set aside.
In the bacon drippings, saute the mushrooms about 5 minutes, or until tender. Add the scallions and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the shrimp and cook for 2 minutes, until the shrimp begin to brown. Stir in the chicken broth, lemon juice, garlic, and hot sauce, and continue to cook 2 more minutes, stirring to loosen brown bits from skillet.
 Divide the grits into 4 large, shallow bowls, ladle the shrimp mixture over the grits, and top each with crumbled bacon. Serve with lemon wedges.

Note from Banu: I wanted to keep the shrimp looking beautiful, so I cooked them separately in a little butter and olive oil, and then added them to the top of the grits and mushroom sauce mixture. Also, I found that 2 tablespoons of lemon juice was a little much, so I'd decrease this amount, or add it slowly, to taste.


Bo said...

I love shrimp and grits! I love cheese grits! Never thought about having them together. Sounds delicious!

Banu said...

Yeah, Bo, try it, you're a Southern boy; I'm sure you'll love it!

Citrus Quark said...


Claire ( said...

wow, looks amazing!

mwhybark said...

DARLING! I eat this every time I visit my parents. Geez, when were you there, '89-93? My family moved there in '90, they would have loved to feed and fuss over you. It's different than Bton but sure does have that college town thing happening. Visiting during the 90s was interesting as the Triangle god rolling and tobacco failed - the whole area is markedly more prosperous than it was.

Tau-Mu said...

Shrimp and grits is a clever combination and reminds me of why I like Southern cooking!

Michael said...

I've never come across your blog before, but as a former Crook's employee who now lives in NYC, you nailed both the description and the long distance love affair that goes along with a 'back home' like Chapel Hill.

natural selection said...

I'M right there with you with whole jalapeno with coffee story my friends from Mexico city they would sit by the pool and chomp on those peppers like potato chips,not a single bead of sweat on them.
your photo's awesome big time shrimp and grits fan Georgia on my mind..

Fritz Bogott said...

Sheeyoinks! That's completely different from how I make shrimp and grits (saute garlic and chiles in butter, add diced fresh tomatoes and saute a little, add shrimp stock and reduce, add shrimp and poach, pour on top of plain grits, serve something dark green and crunchy on the side). This way sounds delicious too! I'll have to give it a try!

Those shrimp in the photo are beautiful! Did you dredge them before frying them? Can you make scallops look beautifully golden like that too? Mine taste good but never look like anything.

Richard said...

Hmm, very tempted to go get the stuff to try this tomorrow morning!

Banu said...

Mike: was there from '87-91 (you flatter me), and wish I knew your parents were there and that you were visiting...

Michael: oh, cool! So glad my images worked for you. When were you there? Are you from CH and now living in NYC?

Natural Selection: yup...I've got practice now with the chiles, and am practically sweat free, too!

Fritz: I like your version, too. Sounds tasty. And yes, I salted and peppered the shrimp, then dredged them in flour, cooked over medium-high heat in a little butter and olive oil. Scallops too, can look this lovely, yes, but they sometimes have additives which prevent them from developing a lovely crust, even if hard seared. Look for dry scallops, those are not treated...

Richard: yay. Hope you like it.

Pekin Ogan said...

Banu!! Wow!! You brought back so many great memories..of waaayyyy back. When we used to walk to your nursery school after I would park the car in the B-School lot. How you would find each and every little bush or small tree to climb. How I would have to linger at your school b/c you did not want me to leave. How when i came back to pick you up you would linger b/c you did not want to leave.
Wondering about the absurd/funny/wonderful claim of Nathan's "famous since 1969" sign when we moved to Chapel Hill in 1970. How people on the street would look you in the eye and say "Ha" for Hi. Our amazement at the FAR sale (fire sale) at some store going out of business. Many many warm memories from the Southern part of Heaven,THANK YOU THANK YOU!

growmyown said...

I tried this recipe last night and it was so way good, but a couple of notes. The recipe states bring the first 4 ingredients to a boil and then whisk in grits. There are only 4 ingredients listed above the grits. It is possible that salt was omitted. I added some salt to the grits. Other than that, a perfect meal. My husband grades on the pass/fail method. He made sure I kept this recipe. Thanks for sharing.

Banu said...

growmyown: yup, thanks! You're right; I accidentally forgot to mention salt, the fourth ingredient. Error corrected. I'm glad you enjoyed the dish.

Geoffrey said...

Gorgeous post and photos! Longtime reader of this blog and this looks great and quite simple too! I'm from TN and have lots of family in Chapel Hill so recognize many of the places you mentioned!

Lou said...

Sorry for the ignorance (excuse me I'm British&Irish) but I don't really know what Grits are. Is it like semolina?.....

The meal looks delicious and I want to try to make it, I might just struggle to find the grits though and may need to hunt them down on the internet...

Hathor's Bath said...

Lou, we call it polenta here; so yes, though semolina is a much smaller grain to it. You can use polenta and it does the same.

As originally a southern girl, I nearly giggled myself stupid when I went to a rather posh restaurant to feast on pork smothered in apples served with wild mushrooms with polenta and three cheeses. I kept saying to my ex "I'm eating cheesy grits in England and they're charging BANK for this, y0! Imagine how much I could charge for red beans and rice!" I like seeing "soul food" receive some recognition.

Banu said...

Lou: here is a link for grits: And yes, it is like polenta, although typically in the South of the United States, they use white corn grits with a hulled kernel. Polenta will work just fine. Semolina is made from wheat, polenta and grits from corn. I'd love a report if you make this!

Hathor's Bath: yes, you could probably go into a good business over there with a Soul Food restaurant!

Geoffrey: thanks for the compliments and for reading my blog.

Cathy said...

I've never tried grits - but the recipe sounds delicious! Here's my new recipe for the weekend - I can't wait!

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

It's fun traveling back down memory lane. Thanks for sharing your trip. Your shrimp + grits look so good!

Chef E said...

Caribbean Mahi Mahi is also a good cheese and grits pairing! I love the look of this hungry so hungry!

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