There is no one way to make shrimp and grits. Each region of the South has its own variation; some add in sausage or stir in leafy spinach, topped with a brown butter sauce or sprinkled with hot sauce. Regardless of the preparation, shrimp and grits is a beloved staple dish, from the gulf coast to the outer banks, and beyond.
“First you make the roux”, is how Louisiana folk start off explaining how to make many Creole & Cajun dishes. Depending on what you’re cooking–whether it be gumbo, jambalaya, étouffée, or even shrimp & grits, you will need to either have flour and oil or flour and butter as your base. French (Creole) dishes are typically made with a butter and flour based roux, while the Cajuns used flour and oils, as historically butter was a luxury item. The low and slow process or stirring the mixture to the appropriate consistency allows for an incredible depth of flavor to develop that sets up the dish for success.
Another common element in both Cajun & Creole cuisine is the “holy trinity”. It is made up of onion, celery, and bell pepper, and combined with the roux to serve as the base of Cajun or Creole dishes. Being that Louisiana has a prevalent French influence, the holy trinity is our version of a basic French mirepoix made with onions, celery, and carrots.
The next important component of the shrimp & grits creation is the shrimp. As with anything, the fresher the better because the natural flavor of these shellfish will heavily influence the final flavor of the sauce. Personally, I keep the shells on my shrimp to bring out more of that shrimp flavor, and I marinate them in a blend of Creole and Italian spices before adding them to my roux.
Cajun vs. Creole – what’s the difference? The word “Cajun” originates from the term “les Acadians,” which was used to describe French colonists who settled in the Acadia region of Canada, now present-day New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. Many Acadians eventually settled in the swampy region of Louisiana that is today known as Acadiana. With no access to then modern-day luxuries like refrigerators, early Cajuns learned to make use of every part of a slaughtered animal. Cajuns clung to their French heritage, and though they lacked access to the imported spices, Cajuns adapted and intertwined Louisiana’s agriculture and wild game to their French Canadian roots.
The term “Creole” describes the population of people who were born to settlers in French colonial Louisiana, specifically in New Orleans. Like the people, Creole food is a blend of the various cultures of New Orleans including Italian, Spanish, African, German, Caribbean, Native American, and Portuguese, to name a few. Creole cuisine is thought of as a little higher brow or aristocratic compared to Cajun. Due to the abundance of time and resources, the dishes consisted of an array of spices from various regions and creamy soups and sauces. Creole cuisine has a bit more variety, because of the easier access Creoles had to exotic ingredients and the wide mix of cultures that contributed to the cuisine.
I’m a big fan of a very seafood-forward flavor in my shrimp and grits, so instead of water I opt for a seafood stock to bring in more of that shrimp taste. Once all combined together, this is when you turn the burner to low and allow for all of these flavors to marry and layer.
Meanwhile, your grits should be cooking according to the package instructions, adding in heavy cream and a cheese of your choice. As your shrimp en sauce is cooking, add in your favorite Cajun/Creole seasonings per your heat and taste preference. I’m a big fan of Tony Chachere’s products and I used their BOLD Creole Seasoning to add that extra kick!