I was in Charleston this past weekend and made a few observations, the main one being some folks can screw up the simplest things. Take shrimp and grits, a South Carolina tradition - pure and simple. Creamy grits, butter, and fresh shrimp, how can you mess this up? The better question is why would you?
Now, in full disclosure, I have to tell you I can only speak as a spectator here. I am deathly allergic to shrimp. And, the cruel thing is I ate these gems of the sea for 21 years before the fateful night I was told by medical personnel after a near death experience that one more encounter with this pink shelled crustacean and that would be it for me -as in all she wrote. Shrimp or life, I chose the later and have watched in pure pink envy every time someone else gets to enjoy these penaeus monodon, but I digress.
This past weekend, my friends ordered shrimp and grits in Charleston After all, they were in the Holy City, home of Porgy and Bess, Geechee and Gullah, and cradle of shrimp and grits. (When in Rome . . .) However, when it arrived the dish was hardly recognizable. What was in the bowl, resembled scampi. Who in their right mind put tomatoes and peppers in their shrimp and grits? If you want to serve shrimp scampi on grits for God's sake, put "Shrimp Scampi and Grits" on the menu.
This is not the first time I have witnessed degradation of this simple delight. Once in Richmond, my fellow diners ordered Shrimp and Grits only to be served a cake of polenta with a large sauteed prawn on top. You could tell the waiter was most impressed with the presentation. We were not.
Thirty years has not dulled my memory of the creamy grits, rich with butter and topped with pink shrimp cooked just enough to be tender and served when they are most flavorful. It is the combination of the rich subtle flavors that brings such pleasure to the palate. Anything added over powers the dish.
But, then there are worst atrocities to the recipe. At the restaurant Boudreaux, their Shrimp and Grits is described as "The grits are formed into a wedge, lightly battered and fried. Then topped with sauteed shrimp and a light roux." One patron left this comment: "That shrimp and grits dish is an abomination - battered and fried grits?! Why didn't they add a deep fried twinkle on top. Terrible!" I don't think I could have said it better myself. When something is so simple and so good - why mess with it?
It's like taking a hamburger, adding a fried egg and bacon, then putting it between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Now who would do that?