For Chef Marcus Samuelsson, celebrating Black History Month means paying tribute to the African Diaspora through food.
The restaurateur, author, and host of PBS’ “No Passport Required,” said he likes to make and serve shrimp and grits, a meal he said was the descendant of the cereal and root vegetable-based porridges that are ubiquitous across Africa. It was the Gullah Geechee people—descendants of enslaved Africans, who lived along the coast and the islands of the Southern United States—who created the earliest known interpretations of the dish.
Linking Africa and America
“Shrimp and grits for me link the African and the African American narrative closer together,” Samuelsson told Chowhound. “In Africa, you see so many versions of it. In West Africa there’s fufu and in East Africa there’s ugali—it’s the same [thing]. You can really see the link between African and African American culture there.”
The Soul of a New Cuisine by Marcus Samuelsson, $36.30 on Amazon
The chef's exploration of the foods and flavors of Africa.
Today, shrimp and grits is a brunch standard, but Samuelsson said the dish is a delicious, approachable meal at any time of day. Samuelsson serves shrimp and grits at all of his restaurants, building on the legacy of veteran African American chefs like Leah “Dooky” Chase, who headed her namesake restaurant in New Orleans, and Sylvia Woods, founder of Harlem staple Sylvia’s—both eateries have iterations of the classic shrimp and carbs meal on their menus.
“It’s really about the texture of the dish—the smooth grits, the texture of the shrimp, and the flavor of the sauce,” said the Ethiopia-born, Sweden-raised chef. “But also, it’s a perfect fit for our restaurant. We’re all about telling the African-American story with our food, so shrimp and grits is the perfect dish for that.”
Marcus Samuelsson’s Own Stamp
The chef has a unique take on shrimp and grits: He recommends boiling the grits in milk instead of water for a creamier texture before folding in mounds of cheddar cheese. Next, he sautés the shrimp—he prefers medium-sized ones and not jumbo shrimps—with olive oil and garlic and finishes it with a tomato and garlic sauce and a poached egg “for extra creaminess.”
“It’s about creating a little level of pop,” Samuelsson said, adding that his shrimp and grits are best enjoyed with a spoon. “It’s about making a contrast of flavors.”
How To Make Shrimp and Grits with Green Garlic Tomato Sauce
Recipe courtesy of Marcus Samuelsson
Shrimp and Cheddar Grits with Green Garlic Tomato Sauce
- - For the Green Garlic Tomato Sauce:
- ½ cup green garlic
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 cups San Marzano tomatoes, canned
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ½ cup chicken stock
- - For the Cheddar Grits:
- 1 ½ cups milk
- 1 cup white cornmeal
- ½ cup parmesan or white cheddar cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- - For the Shrimp:
- 2 pounds shrimp
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- - To serve: 5 poached eggs
- To make the sauce, heat a medium pot over low heat. Thinly slice the green garlic. Once warm, mix garlic and olive oil in pot until completely translucent, about 4 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Turn off heat and set aside.
- In a blender puree the San Marzano tomatoes until smooth.
- Reheat the pot, add tomato puree and tomato paste and cook for 3 minutes.
- Pour in chicken stock and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Adjust seasoning to taste.
- Meanwhile, in a medium pot bring milk to a boil. Once boiling whisk in grits, continue whisking until smooth.
- Once all of the liquid is absorbed and the grits are fully cooked remove from heat and use a rubber spatula to fold in cheese, allowing it to melt completely. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat.
- In a large bowl toss shrimp with salt and pepper.
- Saute shrimp until fully cooked, about 5 minutes.
- Before removing the shrimp sprinkle each piece with lemon juice.
- Divide grits among 5 plates and cover with Green Garlic Tomato Sauce. Place shrimp on top and serve with a poached egg.
For more delicious ways to celebrate Black History Month through food, see Shani Jones’ jerk chicken (with a story about her San Francisco upbringing and Jamaican heritage).
Header image courtesy of the Marcus Samuelsson Group