My favorite shrimp and grits is the one served at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and invented by the late and legendary Bill Neal. No other version of this Southern classic is more renowned. Bill was a gifted chef, restauranteur, and writer working at a time when Americans were just beginning to take a new interest in their culinary heritage. He was a pioneer who helped raise Southern food to national prominence.
Bill believed the food we choose to consume connects each of us with a time and place. That notion was novel at the time he said it in 1986 while a guest on Bill Friday’s episode of North Carolina People. ” Our food tells us where we come from and who we have become.” I want my recipes to endure because they are strongly rooted in time and place, closely tied to the land, to the seasons, and to my heritage,” said Bill.
Let’s whip up a delicious Southern brunch, something quintessentially and completely Southern.
The earliest records of this recipe describe a very humble dish served for breakfast – simply some fresh shrimp added to a pot of steaming hot grits cooked in clean, brackish sea water. Street vendors used to parade up and down the streets of Charleston selling shrimp on a daily basis. It soon became a favorite breakfast food.
“One of the most iconic restaurants in the American South.”
Food and Wine
Photo of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where Chef Bill Neal created his world famous Shrimp and Grits.
Over the years, shrimp and grits got very fancy and ended up on the tables of the finest restaurants in Charleston and beyond. Crook’s Corner is a landmark restaurant in Chapel Hill noted for its great food and atmosphere.
But it was when Craig Claiborne of the New York Times stopped in and ordered the dish that all the magic happened. Once he wrote about it, it became wildly popular. Now it’s been over 25 years that this restaurant has been serving up Bill Neal’s Shrimp and Grits to happy customers.
Here’s how you do it.
Crook’s Corner Shrimp and Grits
6 bacon slices, diced
1 pound medium unpeeled raw shrimp
1/4 cup sauce flour (such as Wondra or Shake and Blend) seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
2 cups sliced fresh white button mushrooms
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup green onions, chopped
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Tabasco sauce to taste (four shakes)
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup stone-ground grits
1 cup Cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
For the cheeses grits:
In a medium saucepan, bring salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Gradually whisk in the grtis. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes, or until thickened. Stir Cheddar cheese and remaining ingredients. Hold in a warm place or on top of a double boiler over simmering water.
Peel shrimp. Devein, rinse, and pat dry.
In a large nonstick skillet, cook bacon over medium heat 10 minutes or until crisp. Remove bacon, but save the grease.
Dust the shrimp with the seasoned flour. In a large skillet, begin to saute the shrimp in the bacon grease over high heat. Turn the shrimp, and then add the mushrooms. Let the mushrooms cook a moment, then begin tossing in the skillet, as for a stir-fry. Pour off some of the grease if it appears too oily.
Cook for a minute or two more, until the shrimp and mushrooms appear to be done and have browned a little. Add garlic and saute 1 minute, shaking the pan vigorously. Add the lemon juice and Tabasco, and cook 2 minutes. Stir to loosen particles from the bottom of the skillet. Add the scallions and toss to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon shrimp mixture over hot cheese grits and sprinkle with bacon.