Sean Brock on the key elements of Southern cooking

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Sean Brock thinks a lot about the future of Southern food—where it’s going, how it fits into our country’s history. And to understand that future, he often finds himself looking toward the past. 

Roughly the size of continental Europe, the American South is far more diverse than many realize—and that applies to people, climate, culture, and food. In his latest book, Sean Brock is showcasing the South in all its manifold glory.

Traditional Shrimp and Grits
Serves 6 as an appetizer, 4 as a main course
Excerpted from South by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2019. 

This is shrimp and grits at its simplest. It’s a quick, easy, one-pan dish, and it is the only way I cook shrimp and grits at home. The recipe is a tribute to the late chef Bill Neal, of Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He was one of the first chefs to celebrate the dish and elevate it into the realm of the restaurant. Bill’s vision made it possible for chefs, including me, to serve shrimp and grits in restaurants all over the South. Making this dish is my chance to pay back that debt.


  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 2 ounces country ham, preferably Bob Wood’s, cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 pound 21–25-count shrimp, preferably local, peeled and deveined
  • 4 ounces small button mushrooms, washed, dried, and quartered
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
  • ½ cup Vegetable Stock
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 recipe Stovetop Grits (page 220), just cooked and still warm


  1. Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl, mix well, and set aside.
  2. Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add the ham, and cook, stirring frequently, until the fat has rendered and the ham is crisp, about 3 minutes.
  3. Lightly dredge the shrimp in the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess, and carefully add them to the hot skillet. Cook until lightly browned on the first side, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the shrimp, add the mushrooms and scallions, and cook until the other side of the shrimp is lightly browned and the mushrooms and scallions begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a simmer, and cook until it has reduced by half and the shrimp are just cooked through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the butter and lemon juice and season lightly with salt and pepper.
  4. Give the grits a good stir, then divide them among warmed bowls. Spoon the shrimp and mushrooms, with their broth, on top.

Stovetop Grits
Serves 4 as a side

This stovetop method is the traditional way of cooking grits, and it requires a lot of your attention and time. It’s the most romantic way as well. You’ll have a close connection with the finished product after having carefully and stressfully watched over the pot as the grits cook.

The two most important steps are soaking the grits for at least 8 hours beforehand and skimming off the chaff before you start cooking. Soaking the grits will jump-start the hydration process, and that—along with removing the chaff—results in creamier, more delicate cooked grits.

NOTE: You’ll need to plan ahead to soak the grits.


  • One 1-liter bottle (4¼ cups) spring water
  • 1 cup Anson Mills Rosebank Gold Grits
  • 1 fresh bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1½ teaspoons Hot Sauce


  1. Combine the water and grits in a container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to overnight.
  2. Use a fine-mesh sieve to skim off any hulls or chaff from the surface of the water, being careful not to disturb the water too much so that none of the bits sink back into the grits.
  3. Transfer the grits and their soaking water to a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula. Then continue to boil, stirring, until the starch in the corn is hydrated and the grits thicken, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the stove, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes to let the grits relax.
  4. Uncover the grits, add the bay leaf, and cook over low heat, stirring often, until very soft and tender, about 1 hour. Taste the grits every 15 minutes or so to check their progress.
  5. Remove from the heat, remove and discard the bay leaf, and stir in the salt, white pepper, butter, lemon juice, and hot sauce. Serve right from the pan.



Evan Kleiman