This Creole shrimp and grits combines perfectly spiced shrimp, a spicy (but not too spicy) Creole sauce, and creamy white Cheddar grits. It’s Southern comfort food with Big Easy flair.
Creole food is city food, slightly more rarefied than its rustic Cajun cousin, with roots that reach back to Louisiana’s French colonists. You can certainly see the French connection in this recipe—the base of the sauce is a brunoise (finely diced vegetables), the sauce itself is a reduction that’s mounted with butter, and the shrimp is cooked with a quick sauté . . . très française, n’est pas? One not-so-French element here is the hefeweizen I use in the Creole sauce. Its light, citrusy flavor intensifies as it reduces and helps cut some of the richness of this luxurious dish.–Tanya Holland
Creole Shrimp and Grits FAQs
What are grits?
Grits are made with whole dried white corn kernels from dent corn (a variety of corn that has a higher starch content, which gives grits their creamy, soft texture). Grits come in a few varieties, depending on their coarseness and cooking time. Stone-ground grits have the coarsest texture and lots of corn flavor. Instant grits take only a few minutes to cook but have the least amount of flavor and are the most processed version. In this recipe, Tanya Holland calls for quick-cooking grits, which have a finer texture than stone-ground, and cook quickly, between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on the type.
What’s the difference between Creole and Cajun food?
From the official New Orleans tourism website…”Cajun and Creole food are both native to Louisiana and can be found in restaurants throughout New Orleans. One of the simplest differences between the two cuisine types is that Creole food typically uses tomatoes and tomato-based sauces while traditional Cajun food does not.” More than that, Cajun seasoning typically uses garlic powder, onion, black pepper, and Cayenne pepper. Creole seasoning will add more herbs such as paprika, oregano, and thyme.
Creole Shrimp and Grits
For the Creole sauce
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) unsalted butter
- 2 scallions white parts only, chopped
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- One (12-ounce) bottle wheat beer such as hefeweizen
- 3/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
For the Creole spice mix
For the white Cheddar grits
- 2 3/4 cups water
- 2/3 cup quick-cooking grits
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons (1 oz) unsalted butter
- 4 ounces (about 1 cup) sharp white Cheddar cheese grated
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt or more to taste
- Pinch of white pepper
For the shrimp
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup diced green bell pepper
- 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
- 3 scallions white and green parts, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 2 teaspoons Creole spice mix (see above)
- 1 1/2 pounds medium (26/30 count) shrimp peeled and deveined
- 3/4 to 1 cup Creole sauce
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons (1 oz) unsalted butter
- 5 ounces (about 7 cup) baby spinach leaves or frozen spinach
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- White Cheddar grits for serving
Make the Creole sauce
- In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the scallions and garlic and cook until softened, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Pour in the beer and Worcestershire sauce and increase the heat to medium-high. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, whisking frequently, until the mixture is thick, syrupy, and reduced to between 3/4 and 1 cup, 35 to 55 minutes.
☞TESTER TIP: If your sauce separates, don’t panic. Simply vigorously whisk to reincorporate it.
- Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool. (You can cover and refrigerate the sauce for up to 1 week.)
Make the Creole spice mix
- While the Creole sauce is reducing, in a small bowl, stir together the salt, herbes de Provence, cumin, cayenne, black pepper, and paprika until thoroughly combined. (You can keep the Creole spice mix at room temperature for up to 6 months.)
☞TESTER TIP: This recipe will make significantly more spice mix than you need for the recipe. Sprinkle it over roast vegetables, use it as a spice rub for grilled meats, toss it in egg dishes, and anyplace else you can think to use it.
Make the white Cheddar grits
- In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Whisk in the grits, reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring constantly, until the grits are fully cooked and have thickened to a mush-like consistency, 4 to 8 minutes.
☞TESTER TIP: You may want to check the package instructions for your grits as the proportion of water to grits as well as the cooking time can vary somewhat.
- Stir in the cream, butter, cheese, salt, and white pepper until the cheese melts. Cover to keep warm over very low heat until serving.
Make the shrimp
- In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the oil until shimmering. Add the green and red bell peppers, scallions, garlic, and 2 teaspoons Creole spice mix and cook until the vegetables are softened, 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the shrimp and cook just until opaque throughout, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Move the shrimp onto a plate. Stir the Creole Sauce, cream, and butter into the skillet and bring to a simmer.
- Add the spinach, a handful at a time, stirring to wilt and coat with sauce. Once all the spinach has been added, remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and shrimp.
- Spoon the shrimp over the grits and serve immediately.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This recipe transported me back to those wonderful days I spent living in Lake Charles, Louisiana. This recipe reminds me of wonderful meals enjoyed in little “mom and pop” restaurants or at some roadside stand scattered near a bayou. I can “gahrontee” that this recipe will bring the delightful flavors of the N’awlins to your kitchen.
Don’t be intimidated by all the steps to make this recipe as it’s really very easy to prep and make. If you do the prep work earlier, this meal will come together rather quickly. I made the Creole spice mix one day and the Creole sauce another day. That avoided some chaos and any timing issues in the kitchen on the day I made the dish, as much of the prep work was already completed.
When preparing the dish, I cut the peppers in a fine 1/8-inch dice so they sautéed quickly in the pan. When I added the shrimp (and I used size 13 to 15 count for my dish, which are quite large), I added the Creole sauce and other ingredients, except the spinach, then turned the shrimp over in the sauce as it thickened before adding the spinach to wilt. I didn’t want to overcook my shrimp, and that sequence worked well, as they were plump and juicy when served over the grits.
I don’t have quick grits in my pantry, just good old regular Carolina yellow grits. So instead of using the water and grits ratio in that part of the recipe, I used the typical 4:1 ratio of liquid and grits to make four servings. Then I used the rest of the recipe ingredients of cream, butter, and cheese.
I don’t recommend adding the full amount of salt to the grits from the get-go. I do find that adding less salt earlier in any recipe is a good bet, as it’s easy to add, very difficult to remove later!
Now, as I already didn’t follow this part of the recipe exactly, I went completely rogue as I had some leftover corn on the cob. I added the corn from one cob and its milk to increase the corn flavor and add a bit more texture to the grits.
I will say that the Worcestershire sauce comes through loud and clear, so I think the next time I make this dish, I’ll reduce the amount of Worcestershire sauce by 2 tablespoons. I felt it overpowered the final sauce a little bit, my better half thought it was fine. I’ll let you make up your own mind on that tweak when you make this yourself.
We really enjoyed this dish. It’s a nice change from other cuisines and will remind you of a down-home Creole meal. And, IMHO, changing out the grits did not deter from the luscious Creole sauce that accompanied the shrimp, the real star of the dish. So “laissez les bon temps rouler!“
The Creole sauce took about 5 minutes to prep, however, it took over 30 minutes to get the sauce to reduce to 1 cup, so closer to 40 minutes to make the sauce. I used a local microbrewed Belgian-style beer I had in the fridge.
Absolutely fabulous! My husband described this dish as “righteous” and said he could eat this every day of the year! Full disclosure—my two testers and I have never had shrimp and grits before so we had no point of reference, but I can tell you that after the first bite, all three of us instantly said, “YEP, this one’s a winner!” as we nodded our heads with enjoyment. It came together so fast that I nearly had to slow it down so I could get the remaining ingredients ready. It’s not a “prep as you cook” type recipe, so have everything mise en place and definitely give it a try!
The grits weren’t enough to serve four. We were three people (and 1 with a smaller appetite) and we didn’t have any leftovers, so for 4 people, I would double the grits recipe. And I may suggest letting the grits cool for a minute or two because then they start to gel nicely when you plate them and hold their shape. I served them piping hot and they were almost a bit soupy until they started to cool. We all went back for seconds and we preferred the texture of the grits after they had been sitting.
I used an English Pale Ale from a local brewery.
A classic dish enhanced by Creole flavors. The grits were so very cheesy and creamy topped with tender pan-fried shrimp. The spices provide just the right amount of heat. I loved that there was plenty of sauce for spooning over the grits. A recipe that has become a true weekend staple!
I used Hoegaarden Belgian Wheat Beer for the recipe.
Having never had shrimp and grits before, I can’t help place this dish within the pantheon of the best the South has to offer. What I can tell you is that this recipe is DELICIOUS and if this is what shrimp and grits are supposed to taste like, then where has it been all my life?!?
The balance of flavor between the spiced shrimp and the beer in the Creole sauce, all riding atop a pillow of cheesy grits goodness is astounding. It’s the kind of good that will make you dream of taking a trip to the Gulf Coast and soaking up the flavor. You can almost hear the New Orleans jazz band outside as you eat it.
The recipe is a bit of a production with a lot of different elements, but if you have good knife skills and manage your time, you can get this done, from start to finish, in 45 minutes. Start with the Creole sauce, and you should be able to tackle everything else while it’s reducing.
Tip: Unless you plan to make this constantly (and don’t mind sacrificing most of your spice jars), cut the size of the spice mix down to produce a little more than 3 tablespoons of mix. That makes the 2 tsp I needed for the recipe with enough left over to use on roasted vegetables the next day, though it would also be great on potatoes or in a Creole omelet (1 tsp each salt/herbs de Provence/cumin; 1 3/4tsp cayenne; 1 1/4tsp each black pepper/sweet paprika).
The sauce took 30 minutes to reduce to 1 cup but didn’t get syrupy or thick. The sauce didn’t really stay together…the fat floated to the surface.
As soon as I saw this recipe, I knew it came from one of my favorite restaurants, Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland. Their shrimp and grits have been a favorite of mine for years. I have her cookbook and tried it some time ago but had been thinking of doing it again. Seeing it finally inspired me to do it and I can’t believe it took me so long.
Once you make the sauce, the dish comes together quickly. Careful when you make the Creole sauce, though, when it’s reducing the vinegar is enough to make your eyes water! Once you add the cream and butter it smoothes out and the sauce is incredibly flavorful and just as I remember at the restaurant. The grits are creamy and provide the perfect base. This recipe is definitely staying in my regular rotation from now on!
I used a pilsner. I stirred the sauce every so often but it took significantly longer than 20 minutes to reduce. The sauce did separate and the oil floated to the top and hardened in the fridge. But it incorporated fine when mixed in with the shrimp and other ingredients.
I’m a bad person and didn’t make the Creole spice mix. I actually had some on hand that was her recipe. I use her Creole mix when I need it for other things, like gumbo!
This recipe compelled me to review it as soon as I put down my fork—or perhaps with it still in my hand. I have been living a shrimp-and-grit-less half-life. This is one of the best meals I’ve made in an age. I know I will make this again and again.
The preparation ritual was immensely satisfying, almost a mediation. I spent part of a Sunday afternoon chopping, dicing, setting up a work tray for each step, and making the Creole sauce. Given the multi-part nature of the recipe, organization is critical, and a precise battle plan is required.
Grits, as I discovered, come in many forms. Everyone has an opinion and multiple treatises on grits appear on a Google search. I don’t live in a land of abundant grits. How does a girl from LALA land take on this venerable dish and not offend the Gods of Grits? I reached out to our recipe czarina, who suggested using the Quaker Oats Quick Grits. These, I happily discovered, are readily available in my little corner of the West Coast. Grits secured, I moved on to the Creole spice.
After making a spice run, I prepared the Creole spice a few days in advance. The recipe quantity is more than you’ll need for this recipe but it can have other uses such as a rub for fish or perhaps chicken or pork. Cayenne and cumin are the most dominant flavors. I’d recommend using traditional Herbes de Provence, which doesn’t include lavender. I don’t think lavender will enhance the flavor of this recipe. Full disclosure: I am not a huge fan of lavender, as I am allergic to it.
Creole sauce was next on the agenda. It took almost 50 minutes to reduce the sauce to the desired 1 cup. The recipe suggested a 20-minute reduction on a low simmer, however, I still had almost 2 cups after 20 minutes. I increased my burner heat and reached the desired 1 cup after a total of 50 minutes.
The final phase of the recipe is relatively quick. The grits are prepared. The bell pepper mix is sautéed. The shrimp seared. I removed the shrimp after step 2. I completed the rest of the sauce as directed and added the shrimp back after the spinach was completely wilted. This kept the shrimp from ending up as a rubberized shadow of a shrimp.
This swoon-worthy mixture of snappy spice and cream was a revelation. My tongue was assaulted by a punch of Creole Spice and then soothed by the light suggestion of cheese in the grits. Depending on the combination of greens, grits, and shrimp that fell onto the spoon, each bit was completely different; sweet one time, spicy the next. This recipe may be more complicated for a weeknight supper, but it’s perfect for a languid weekend dinner.
Another cup or two of baby spinach wouldn’t hurt. The amount of the Creole spice could also be adjusted to accommodate those who don’t care for a really spicy dish. I used the suggested 2 teaspoons, but I think 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons would also work. My husband is somewhat ambivalent about highly spiced food, but he embraced the fire in this recipe. His other suggestion was the addition of a crusty loaf of bread to sop up the juicy remains and to eliminate the need to lick the bowl. I concur. I also served a light butter lettuce green salad with radishes and sun gold tomatoes. We drank a Pazo da Bouciña Albarińo with the meal.
Originally published December 7, 2020