It took thousands of years for the Golden Isles’ distinctive cuisine to evolve out of ancient Native American and West African foodways.
Shrimp and Grits is a great example of that culinary crossroads.
Grits are coarsely ground corn boiled into porridge. Unlike sweet corn, native U.S. corn needs pulverizing and soaking in an alkaline solution in order to extract critical nutrients. Enslaved West Africans arrived in the Lowcountry beginning in the late 1600s and brought their culinary traditions with them. Working on coastal plantations, they combined locally caught shrimp with Native American corn. Shrimp and Grits is one of many unique culinary traditions that evolved through the generations in the Gullah-Geechee communities of our Sea Islands.
Over the last two decades, chefs throughout the South have creatively reimagined this timeless dish.
It showcases local ingredients and flavors. With the seemingly infinite varieties of this timeless dish come new opportunities for wonderful wine pairings.
To enhance the natural balance between the shrimp and the grits, it is important that the wine does not interfere. A light-bodied wine with only a slight zest is a perfect choice. A young, unoaked Chenin Blanc from any region would pair well. Also, an Italian Prosecco, a dry sparkling wine, is a good choice, especially if you are enjoying your Shrimp and Grits at brunch.
Some variations of Shrimp and Grits use tomatoes, a perfectly acceptable choice by Southern standards.
Typically, the shrimp is sautéed with fresh tomatoes, garlic and optional amounts of spicy heat. The saucy shrimp mixture is served over cheesy grits. The addition of tomatoes calls for a wine with more body and earthy qualities. A slightly oaked Chardonnay from Argentina or Chile is an excellent choice: or a Pinot Blanc from California, France or Italy.
The use of strong seasonings, peppers, tomatoes and spiced sausages suggest a Creole touch. Since Creole foods have strong Spanish and French influences, wines from these regions would be great companions. White wines from France’s Southern Rhône valley are excellent choices. Young Spanish red wines like Tempranillo or Garnacha would also be perfect.
I guarantee that no two recipes on the menu in many of our local eateries will be the same.
Fortunately, many of the wine suggestions mentioned in this column are on wine lists across the Golden Isles.
By Georgene Mortimer, Island Winery