It’s nothing less than heresy to even suggest that the folks in Tennessee might know as much about shrimp and grits as those in the Carolina and Georgia Low Country, where the specialty originated. But when my shrimp-and-grits-obsessed Mississippi cohort, Julia Reed, put me on to the cheesy, tomatoey creation served at Pearl’s Foggy Mountain Cafe in the unlikely small town of Sewanee, Tennessee, I knew I’d encountered something altogether different but special. Of course, this glorious dish is now becoming as fashionable in restaurants all over the country as blackened redfish once was, and God knows the abominable transformations it will suffer. This, however, is one modification that gives the dish a truly exciting new dimension, without distorting its integrity.–James Villas

LC Simple Shrimp And Grits Note

A white bowl filled with Tennessee shrimp and grits, topped with a sprig of parsley.

Tennessee Shrimp and Grits

5 from 1 vote
This Tennessee shrimp and grits, made with tomatoes, thyme, and a splash of Worcestershire sauce, is an unexpected but beloved local variation on the Southern classic.
David Leite
Servings4 servings
Calories729 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Total Time1 hour


For the grits

  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup regular grits
  • 6 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 3 tablespoons butter

For the shrimp

  • 1 pound fresh medium shrimp
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1/2 3 oz green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup diced ripe fresh tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon store-bought or homemade tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Store-bought or homemade Tabasco sauce, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves


Make the grits

  • Combine the water and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Gradually add the grits, stirring, reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook till the liquid has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat, add the cheese and butter, and stir until melted. Keep warm.

Make the shrimp

  • Meanwhile, peel and devein the shrimp, combine the shells and water in a saucepan, and reserve the shrimp. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat slightly, and cook till the liquid is reduced by half, 15 to 20 minutes. Strain the shrimp stock into a bowl.
  • In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat, add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic and cook, stirring, till softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes and thyme and cook about 3 minutes longer. Sprinkle the flour over the top and stir well. Add the reserved shrimp and cook, stirring, till they turn pink, about 2 minutes.
  • Add 1/2 cup of the shrimp stock to the skillet and cook for 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir well. Add the cream, Worcestershire, salt and pepper, Tabasco, and, if necessary, a little more stock to make a sauce that easily coats the shrimp. Keep it on the heat until it’s completely warmed through.
  • To serve, spoon a mound of grits in the center of each serving plate, spoon the shrimp on top, and sprinkle with the parsley.
The Glory of Southern Cooking by James Villas

Adapted From

The Glory of Southern Cooking

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 729 kcalCarbohydrates: 41 gProtein: 38 gFat: 46 gSaturated Fat: 28 gMonounsaturated Fat: 11 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 311 mgSodium: 818 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 5 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2007 James Villas. Photo © 2007 . All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This is a simple and delicious recipe. It comes together quickly and tastes like you slaved all day when you really spent only 40 minutes hands-on time. The grits are creamy and the perfect cheesiness. The shrimp and sauce are so flavorful from the onions, peppers, and tomatoes, and the small amount of cream adds a beautiful richness. Don’t forget that little shot of hot sauce!

While the stock was simmering and reducing, I prepped everything else and started the grits. They were done cooking in about 16 minutes and I added the cheese and butter and set it aside while I continued with the shrimp.

I used 3/4 cup of the stock and the sauce was perfect.

My personal preference would be to butterfly the shrimp and add them to cook at the very end. I feel there is a less chance of them getting overcooked. In addition, you would be able prepare everything in advance, then just reheat the sauce and add the shrimp to cook. Also chives or green onion would be a nice finishing touch with the parsley. This dish would serve 4-6 people.

Onion 422 grams

Pepper 75 grams

Tomatoes 179 grams (homegrown garden)

Salt: Kosher

Butter: Salted

I always have a bag of frozen shrimp (or, as we call ’em on the West Coast, prawns) in my freezer. So I was happy to give this recipe a run through. I took a chance and served it to company and everyone agreed it was quite tasty. I did make some adjustments to make it easy to serve at a dinner party without too much fuss at the last minute, so read on.

Instead of cooking the grits first as suggested, I peeled and deveined the prawns, and then got the stock started–that can easily take 20 minutes. I then proceeded with the recipe as stated except for holding off on adding the prawns. I wanted to add them at the very last minute, so that I could serve this dish to company without too much last minute fuss at the stove. Once I had the sauce made and waiting, all I had to do was add the prawns for 5 minutes cooking time, and time the grits to be done at the same time as well. My particular brand of grits, Bob’s Red Mill, were done in 5 minutes.

This was my first time cooking white corn grits, and the cheese and butter really added a lot of flavor. I’d say it could have used a bit more salt.

One other way that I would modify the recipe if I make it again would be to make the sauce ahead of time, and then instead of cooking the prawns in the sauce, I would give them a good sear in a very hot pan, and perhaps just finish them in the sauce. I prefer a little bit of crispy edge to my prawns when I prepare them.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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  1. In the 2nd direction while making shrimp you say combine the shells & water. But what type of shells? I also see in the 4th directions when making the shrimp you say add stock. But there’s no type of stock in the ingredients. So what type of stock are you adding?

    1. Aisha, the shells in step 2 are from the shrimp that you just peeled earlier in that step. The stock in step 4 is the shrimp stock that you made in step 2. Enjoy!