Shrimp and grits. photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

One of hard things about writing books is that they are in constant flux and then they are permanent. Thanks to the organic nature of blogs, I can make amends.

When I was at the Culinary Institute of America, one of my best and favorite teachers was Eve Felder, who taught Garde Manger. She was the Cheshire Cat of chefs, perched high on stacked stools, who taught us that “Cooking is alchemy, cooking is magic!”

And she was right. Righter than I knew, in fact.

I’m heading to her native city, Charleston, South Carolina, and so she’s been on my mind. When I wanted to do a butter-poached shrimp for Ruhlman’s Twenty, I naturally wanted to pair it with grits. Who did I call for grits finesse points? Chef Felder. In the editing process of the book, she was not only excised from the headnote, I failed to acknowledge her in the Acknowledgements! Herewith the original headnote and recipe.

With everlasting thanks to a great cook, great chef, great educator, Eve Felder.

(please see update at bottom of recipe for link to chef felder cooking.)

Butter-Poached Shrimp with Grits

Shrimp, so often overcooked in boiling water, is perfectly and beautifully poached in butter—it remains tender, does not become rubbery, and develops an almost unfamiliar sweetness. What better to pair buttery shrimp with than butter loving grits, for one of the great regional American dishes.

I contacted my friend and former teacher, Eve Felder, a chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of America [now director of the CIA Singapore campus] and a Charleston, South Carolina, native raised on the stuff. For her, shrimp and grits was just that, little creek shrimp, floured and sautéed in butter, grits cooked with milk and water. This would not have been “dinner,” the main meal served around 2 pm, but rather breakfast or a light supper later in the evening.

“For the grits, the key is to cook them for hours,” Eve wrote to me during our discussions. “This last summer I got to starting the grits after breakfast on the stove at about 9 a.m., then put them in a crock pot to cook all day until we ate supper at 9 p.m. After a long day playing on the beach and floating down the creek, we found they had the perfect consistency. Michael, you know I’m a purist so I only eat shrimp and grits in Charleston. When I grew up we had artesian water on Sullivan’s Island and the grits were unbelievable. As with all simply prepared dishes, it’s all about the main ingredients: the shrimp, the quality of butter and the quality of the corn from which the grits were made. We’d always dump the butter from sautéing the shrimp into the center of the grits on the plate. You’re making me hungry.”

Thanks, Eve, you’re making us both hungry.

The following recipe keeps it simple, grits cooked with bacon and onion, shrimp gently poached in butter; the butter, flavored by the shrimp, then enriches the grits, which love, love butter.


Butter Poached Shrimp with Grits

  • 4 ounces/115 grams bacon, cut into small dice
  • 1 medium onion, cut into small dice
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups/250 grams high-quality stoneground grits
  • 2 cups/480 milliliters milk or homemade vegetable or chicken stock (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup/225 grams butter, cut into about 12 chunks
  • 1 pound/455 grams shrimp/prawns, peeled and deveined
  • 4 lemon wedges
  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the bacon and water to cover. Cook until the water has cooked off, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the bacon is lightly colored and enough of the fat has rendered to cook the onion. Add the onion, season with a three-finger pinch of salt, and cook until softened.
  2. Add the grits and stir. If using milk or stock, add it along with 2 cups/480 milliliters water. If not using milk, add 4 cups/960 ml water. Raise the heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and cook the grits, stirring, for about 30 minutes. Give the grits several grinds of black pepper. Add more milk or water as needed (about 2 cups/480 milliliters) to keep the mixture fluid. You should use enough water so that the grits don’t stick to the pan and they can absorb the moisture they need. You can cook off additional moisture, so err on the side of using too much liquid. Keep the pan covered on low heat over a heat diffuser for up to 12 hours; monitor the moisture level, adding milk or water as needed. (You can also put the grits in a slow cooker on low or in a covered pan in a low oven, 150° to 200°F/65° to 95°C, for up to 12 hours.)
  3. When the grits are ready, put 2 tablespoons water in a saucepan that is just large enough to hold the butter and shrimp/prawns. Bring the water just to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add a chunk of butter and whisk continuously as the butter melts. When the butter has begun to melt and emulsify into the water, add three more chunks and continue to whisk. (Or you can swirl the butter in the pan; it needs to keep moving—how you do it is up to you.) When all the butter is incorporated, add the shellfish and stir. Keep the pan on medium-high heat until the butter gets hot again. Use an instant-read thermometer to maintain a temperature just below a simmer, 170° to 180°F/77° to 82°C. Don’t let the butter to boil. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove a shrimp, cut it open, and check that it’s just cooked through. It should be white at the center, not translucent gray, and tender and juicy.
  4. Put the grits over medium-high heat to get them up to temperature. They should be loose but thick. Taste and add more salt if needed. Stir about a third of the poaching butter into the grits.
  5. Spoon the grits onto plates, and arrange the shellfish on or beside the grits as desired. Garnish with more butter, freshly ground pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.

update! just returned from an awesome dinner on behalf of Ruhlman’s Twenty at Anson’s in Charleston where one of the attendees, a chef, had not only read this post but had, that same day, seen a video of Eve Felder, THE chef Felder demoing fried chicken. If you want to see her cook, watch this video. she is her prefect self. notice how she asks you to listen to the sounds of the cooking. she doesn’t have her Cheshire smile on (you only get that in person), but you get a sense of her care. What do you say–every sunday, fried chicken? i think it’s a good ritual. Thank you, Eve.

If you liked this post on Do-over: Charleston, Eve, & Grits, check out these other links:

© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved


21 Wonderful responses to “Do-over: Charleston, Eve, & Grits”

  • Jessica / Green Skies and Sugar Trips

    I love Chef Felder, she is so wonderful, lovely and full of classic Southern grace. She is definitely one of the chefs I miss from there.

    I didn’t expect to see these little friends again so soon, but what a delightful sight they are!!!

    Complete and total FOOD PORN.

    Again Ruhlman, you still fucking rock!

  • Abigail Blake

    My first thought was “Holy Toledo, Ruhlman!” (Or should I say “Holy Cleveland?” That’s a lot of steps for what is traditionally a simple country breakfast. Then I saw that you’d repeated quite a bit of the recipe. Whew. Anyway, your butter-poached shrimp sounds lovely; though I do need a little hot sauce with my shrimp and grits. And I’m so glad that grits just aren’t for Southerners any longer.

    • ruhlman

      oops, sorry, traveling and busy. should not write posts in airports! now fixed.

      and yes, “Holy Cleveland” should be a well used eclamation. Better than cleveland steamer!

  • Dave Smith

    I’ve lately started making grits in my rice cooker .. I can set it up before I go to bed at night and in the morning when I come out to the kitchen the grits are hot and ready for consumption.

    Can you explain the ‘poaching’ of the bacon? Why cook it in water before rendering the fat? What does the water bath do for the bacon?

  • Deanna B.

    Now I wish I had stayed long enough to make it to Garde Manager. The chef that has stuck with me the most is Clarke, mainly because he spent so much time yelling at me (and everybody else). As soon as I hunt down some good grits I will be making these. I know read about artisanal grits somewhere in the last 2 days but I can not remember where.

  • simon

    Steps 6, 7, 8 and 9 are repeats of steps 2, 3, 4 and 5. Good thing indeed that this is the internet and not a printed book!

    • Chris K.

      Wrong body of water, Earl. Charleston is on the Atlantic coast.
      Still, rather clever for a douche-y comment.

  • Jane C

    Lived in the Charleston area while my children were young. They love grits and we still enjoy a batch every now and then. This recipe reminds me of that time, but you do need just a touch of the hot sauce like so many of the locals do.

  • Carri

    I’ve been butter poaching our alaskan spot shrimp as a dinner special ever since reading up on it in Twenty and it has quickly become one of our most popular dishes. Really easy, sooo good.

  • DiggingDogFarm

    Are grits a Cleveland thing?
    My Grandmother was a big fan of grits, she was born in Cleveland.
    I could never figure out her love for grits, because I always thought that grits were a southern thing, and she certainly wasn’t southern.

    Anyway, grits are off my list because of the carbs, but I certainly eyed the shrimp poached in butter while making my way through the book.
    It’s on the hot list for Christmas time!

  • Liz @ Butter and Onions

    Shrimp and grits is something I discovered after moving to the South from the Midwest. Actually, shrimp in general. The most I’d ever really had growing up was the frozen breaded kind. I spent one Easter while living in SC with my good friend at her grandmother’s house in Charleston. My friend’s uncle had a boat, and he and her dad went out and caught a bunch of shrimp that morning. Let me just say, those shrimp were like drugs, in that pretty much all the shrimp I have had since then will never compare to the shrimp I had that day. All that to say, this butter poaching method looks like it might get me close.

  • john gutekanst

    hey Michael, your killing me with this delicious post. Last year, when I wasn’t floating in the surf at Folly Beach, I was searching out any, and all shrimp and grits places in Charlie-town. Your absolutly right about the two components- the shrimp was often the overcooked stepchild to the grits.
    The grits that were freshly ground at Anson Mills ruled! Seems they all had a vanilla undertone and I even thought these chefs were spiking the grits with vanilla. Am I a freak for thinking this, or do you taste this profile also?
    take care, john gutekanst-Athens Ohio


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