A Yankee’s Shrimp and Grits with Asparagus

It may not be a traditional Southern Shrimp and Grits, but this dish is packed with flavor and freshness!

Grits were not a part of my childhood cuisine. In fact, I never tasted them until I was an adult and actually lived in the South. I must confess, my first encounter with them was as a side dish at a truck-stop diner and I was less than impressed. They looked so pale on the plate compared to the bright yellow cornmeal mush of my Northern experience.

And then, I had the real thing

            All that changed when I later sampled some shrimp and grits cooked by an Alabama native. It included bacon and cheese and cream, and was nicely spiced. The grits themselves were made with chicken stock. The best part was the shrimp fresh from the Gulf waters. I had various other versions of the dish after that, but the first was still the best and most memorable. My only critique of the original was that there was so much going on, the shrimp flavor was not the most pronounced, but the flavors were out of this world.

A recipe evolves

            Every now and then, I revisit and revise the dish the way I like it, with humble apologies to my Southern friends. The bacon was the first to go since I think it can overwhelm the sweet flavor of the shrimp. I also do not like bacon in New England clam chowder for the same reason. It can be a bully.

Let’s enhance what we already have

The chicken stock was the next to go and the most obvious swap. Why not use those shrimp shells to make a flavorful shrimp stock instead! It was a no brainer to me! I try not to toss out flavor in any form; if you’re not using them right away, the quick stock you make from the shells can be frozen for another use, or used in the next day or so in place of water in rice, for example. The grits turned out so flavorful, I’d just eat a bowl of them plain and be quite happy!

Fresh is always best, but frozen shrimp is pretty good too!

I used frozen wild Gulf shrimp. If you live in the area, use fresh of course! My shrimp were large, so I cut them in half or thirds for a perfect little bite, but you can leave smaller ones whole. I also removed the tails except for a few for garnish.

Just a touch of Cajun seasoning and paprika is my nod to the original dish, but too much will also take away from the shrimp flavor so use a light hand.

Tasty grits!

I used quick-cooking grits, the only I could find in about six stops to different markets. Did I mention we still don’t serve a lot of grits here in the North? Use what you can find, or what you like. To enhance the flavor of the grits themselves, I added the last of my frozen corn from the previous year, a hefty handful. These little kernels added some lovely sweetness and a bit more texture as well. I can’t wait to make this during corn season. Use whatever sweet corn you have. You can substitute polenta for the grits if you have trouble finding them.

If you can find a luscious Vidalia onion, which are in season now, use it! If not, any sweet onion or even shallots or a leek will serve nicely.

Let’s use our beautiful spring asparagus

My last addition was beautiful asparagus that is just coming into season here. Our spring has been cold, so it was a little late appearing, and most welcome after our long, grey winter. I’m using it without restraint at this point! A little drizzle of lemon juice will keep everything fresh tasting.

A quick and delicious dish

Once the shrimp are prepped and stock made, this comes together in just as long as it takes for the grits to cook. It might not be a traditional Southern recipe for shrimp and grits, but we love it!

A Yankee’s Shrimp and Grits with Spring Asparagus

  • 1 lb. domestic wild shrimp, shell-on
  • Sprinkle of Cajun seasoning
  • ½ tsp. sweet (or hot) paprika, your choice
  • Grits, regular, quick cooking, or instant
  • 1 quart shrimp stock made from shells from shrimp above
  • ½ to 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons each extra virgin olive oil and butter or non-dairy butter
  • ½ cup Vidalia or other sweet onion, small dice
  • ¼ to ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, optional but recommended
  • 1 cup asparagus, bite-sized chop
  • Zest and juice of one lemon

Peel and devein the shrimp, including the tails, reserving a few whole for garnish. Place the shells in a pot with a quart of water. If the shrimp are small, leave them whole, otherwise cut in halves or thirds. Sprinkle with a bit of Cajun seasoning and paprika, salt and pepper, and refrigerate until needed.

Prep the veggies. Trim and chop the onion, place those trimmings in the stock pot as well. Add a bay leaf, a teaspoon of tomato paste, a half teaspoon of fennel seeds if you like, and salt and pepper. This time I also tossed in a few celery leaves because I had them on hand. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about a half hour. Strain.

All this can be done in the morning so you can assemble the dish for dinner in just moments.

Cook your grits according to directions, using the shrimp stock in place of water. Mine called for one cup of grits to a quart of water and I had to add a bit of plain water to give me a full quart of stock. Once cooked, stir in the sweet corn and a bit of butter or non-dairy butter.

While grits are cooking, heat olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until translucent. Add the shrimp and pepper flakes, and cook for two or three minutes, until pink and fragrant. Stir in the lemon zest, then remove everything from the pan, set aside to keep warm, and add the asparagus back into the pan, along with a few tablespoons of either shrimp stock or water to lift the glaze (did I mention I did not like to leave a speck of flavor behind?). Cook just until tender.

To assemble and serve, place the grits on a large, deep plater and top with the onion/shrimp mixture. Arrange the asparagus around it, and drizzle everything with the lemon juice. I added a bit more zest and chopped parsley as well.

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  1. Great combination of ingredients.

    1. Thank you Jovina! We really enjoy this one.

  2. Ally Bean says:

    My husband is allergic to shrimp. What do you think about using scallops instead, no shell obviously but the spice flavors might work? Could be pan fried ahead?

    1. I think scallops would be delicious here! I think you could easily cook the whole thing ahead of time and just gently reheat when the grits are almost done.

  3. Looks so good!

    1. Thank you! It is really packed with flavor!

  4. Suzassippi says:

    This sounds wonderful! I do occasionally make shrimp and grits, but since neither husband nor son eat grits, and son does not eat shrimp either, it is pretty rare these days. I made it a lot when I was still working and had friends get-togethers on occasion. I did use bacon sometimes, but very little of it and went with the paprika, cayenne, and red pepper flakes. I might need to give this a go and send the guys off alone some night since they do not eat asparagus either. It is beautiful and makes me want to head to the grocery for shrimp and asparagus!

    1. Thank you! This dish is now in our regular rotation, and I never would have thought this years ago!
      Does your husband and son eat polenta?

      1. Suzassippi says:

        No, and son will not even eat cornbread!

      2. Oh my! Well, I guess you’ll just have to invite the girls over!

      3. Suzassippi says:

        You should try Water Valley Mississippi Delta Grind, stone ground grits, cornmeal, polenta and masa. I discovered it here, and it is all I use now. They have a website where you can order if you are inclined to try it.

  5. You didn’t ask, but I’m giving this a ’10’ because I love shrimp, asparagus, and good grits. 🙂 I’d never eaten good grits until I was an adult, but I really like them. This is a great recipe. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Judy! I’m certainly glad I discovered them as an adult as well!

  6. Red says:

    Nice recipe

    1. Thank you! We really enjoy it.

  7. This is such a great version of the classic! Serving it with fresh asparagus is a brilliant idea.

    Chicken stock indeed doesn’t belong in this dish. I use water in the grits, and cook the shrimp in shrimp stock. Much better! 🙂

    1. Thank you Ronit! The shrimp stock is so easy and is packed with tons of flavor!

      1. Which always make me wonder, why use chicken stock instead? The same goes for many vegetable soups! 🙂

      2. I know! That’s why I think it’s a no-brainer!

  8. I love the addition of asparagus Dorothy, a perfect pairing for shrimp and grits. People that don’t like grits have never had well prepared Southern grits, as you said…we our a firm believer in cheese in grits as well as a little garlic and lots of salt and pepper…Using shrimp stock is a great tip. We have plenty of grits available here, but alas, your delicious lobster is hard to come by!

    1. Thank you Jenna! Every area has so many wonderful culinary treasures, and most of them can be shared with others!

  9. NativeNM says:

    Shrimp and Grits one of our favorites. You’ve chosen some creative ways to make it a bit healthier without losing the flavor. Well done!

    1. Thank you! I think this is one of those dishes where not using the cheese or cream gives you more pure flavors of both the shrimp and the grits!

  10. Forestwood says:

    Are grits a type of oatmeal? This dish looks nice, but I am unsure of the texture and flavour of the grits, so can’t imagine it too well. Grits is not found in stores in Australia, unless it is sold under another name. My asparagus is flourishing atm, too, as we have had an unusual amount of seasonal rain. It is loving it. I could make this dish with rice perhaps instead of grits?

    1. Grits are a corn product, a starchy corn, and are white in color. They can be used interchangeably with cornmeal in most recipes, so if you have cornmeal or polenta, you could substitute if you can’t find the grits.
      This would indeed be great with rice or other grains as well!

      1. Forestwood says:

        Polenta can be found but I have to search for it on the bottom shelves of the supermarket!

      2. That’s exactly where I found mine! Almost missed it!

      3. Forestwood says:


  11. Christy B says:

    That’s a great tip about the shrimp stock, Dorothy! And I know my dad would love this dish as he’s a big shrimp fan.

    1. It really is amazing how much flavor is in those little shells!

  12. Always loved grits, in any form, preferably with bacon and cheese, a bit of salt and butter and you send this Austrian girl to a better place.

    1. I’m certainly glad I learned to love these treasurers!

  13. CarolCooks2 says:

    I love shrimp and grits I haven’t made it myself… I first ate it years ago on my first trip to Kentucky to see my cousins and have always requested it on subsequent trips ..I love it! It has special memories for me…Thank you for reviving those memories , Dorothy 🙂 x

    1. Ah! Food memories are very powerful!

      1. CarolCooks2 says:

        I agree, Dorothy they definitely are…

  14. Like your use of shrimp stock in this. I’ll keep the bacon or rather pancetta, but will use only a little. We hardly ever eat polenta, but this way we would actually like it.

    1. Thanks Stefan! I’m sure there are lots of southerners who will agree with your use of the pancetta! Let’s hope they keep the shrimp stock.

  15. Nancy Richy says:

    Hot damn, y’all!! I’ve got to show this to my Georgia born and bred daughter-in-law. Looks fantastic!! 🦐 😋 🌟

    1. Let’s hope she enjoys it!

  16. Gail says:

    Dorothy, you made my mouth water at the mere mention of shrimp and asparagus. The hubs really liked grits, so I see this dish in our future as soon as I get a kitchen to cook in. Well Done! 🍃🍤🌿

    1. Thanks Gail! Do you have an ETA for the arrival of your kitchen, and rest of house?

      1. Gail says:

        Nothing definite, but it’s on the horizon. Thanks for asking. 🙏🏻🍃

  17. Chef Mimi says:

    Oh I love this. Cajun flavors are so good! Love the corn in the grits as well.

    1. Thank you Mimi! The Cajun flavor was so delightful, and adding the corn to the grits really sweetened them up!

  18. This is mouthwatering! I used to eat a lot of grits when I was a kid (well, even now I probably do it once per month ☺️). Making it with fresh broth made from those shrimps shells I’m sure was super flavorful 😋 A great combination of flavors!

    1. Thank you Ribana! I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  19. nancyc says:

    I’ve only had grits a few times, but never Shrimp and Grits! I keep meaning to make grits one of these days! I think of them as breakfast food, but after seeing your recipe, I’m definitely convinced that they work great with other ingredients as a main or side dish too! 🙂

    1. I didn’t grow up with grits, but once I discovered them cooked and presented properly, they earned a spot in the weeknight dinner routine!

  20. terrie gura says:

    Oh, my. Love the obvious use of the shrimp shells in your stock, Dorothy! I usually go for veggie stock myself because I think even that is more interesting than chicken. And I know you’ve titled this “Yankee Shrimp & Grits,” but with the Cajun spice and the grits and the Vidalia onion… this dish would absolutely hold its own on ANY southern menu! Well done, my Yankee friend!! 😉

    1. Thank you Terrie! My biggest non-Southern sidestep was the bacon! We have had this dish quite a few times now, and it is always a treat (as long as I can find the grits, but I’ve made it on polenta too!).

  21. sunisanthosh says:

    Shrimp and grits combination is worth and additionally added stock gives more taste. 😋

    1. Thank you! There’s so much flavor in this, there’s never any left over!

  22. Marylou says:

    brilliant idea to use the shrimp shell to make a stock. I am excited to try this. Will make this using cornmeal as I cannot find grits.

    1. Thank you Marylou! Cornmeal would be equally as delicious in this dish. I think you’ll be pleased to see how much shrimp flavor is imparted by using those shells.

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