King and Prince Shrimp and Grits in a Tasso Cream Sauce
The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort on St. Simons Island, Georgia, finesses a classic dish served in every southern dinner elevating Shrimp and Grits to a fine dining star.
It was the end of a pleasant sunny early November day in the now quiet off-season of St. Simons Island, one of Georgia’s premiere barrier island destinations. The elegant 1935 King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort, listed on the National Historic Register and Historic Hotels of America, set a table befitting its Old World heritage. The formal place settings with an array of flatware and crystal stemware lay on starched white linen lit by softly glowing candles. The guests are not what the media would identify as royalty or even VIPs. We’re nearly two dozen jaded, or nearly jaded, travel and food journalists – critics to the core.
Southern Culinary Traditions
We were the guests of The King and Prince. Our four day tour to explore the culinary traditions of southeastern Georgia was organized by Leigh Cort Publicity. Such media trips involve a considerable amount of activity, not the least of which is eating and drinking. To make an impression worthy of an article the fare has to be more than just free.
Tradition versus an Old Standby
Personally my foodie radar was picking up more an old diner standby rather than a fine tradition when the itinerary indicated that dinner would include a Shrimp and Grits cooking demonstration. Google any of a dozen recipes and discover everything from bullion cubes to extra sharp cheddar used to mask tasteless farm raised frozen shrimp mounded on top of instant grits. Believe me I’ve had my full of disappointing versions.
Chef Dwayne Austell and Vinny D’Agostino
It took only a moment after entering the dining room for my nose to detect a subtle aroma of warm smoked meat. It was emanating from the chafing dish that was keeping the sauce at serving temperature. I should have guessed that a Johnson & Wales University graduate Food and Beverage Director, Vinny D’Agostino, and Georgia low country native Sous Chef Dwayne Austell would rise above the ordinary.
Wild Shrimp and Tasso Ham
Quality ingredients are essential for a great dish and there is no comparison between farm raised and wild shrimp. Fortunately, much of America’s shrimp is wild and the package will be labeled appropriately. The high tides and lush nutrient rich salt marshes of low country and barrier islands provide an excellent clean environment for Georgia’s abundant shrimp. The Georgia White Shrimp is especially plump, meaty and flavorful. Yet the secret to Chef Austell’s outstanding Shrimp and Grits is the addition of smoky, cured Tasso ham – an essential ingredient in much of southern cajun cuisine. What is actually a pork butt rather than a ham gives the cajun spiced light cream sauce a rich flavor that lingers in the mouth.
The Recipe – for 2 servings
• 2 cups heavy cream
2/3rd cup diced Tasso ham
1/2 cup fresh or frozen kernel corn
1/2 cup seeded diced tomatoes
4 Tablespoons diced green onions
4 to 6 ounces fresh shelled wild shrimp
2 Tablespoons cajun seasoning mix
1/2 cup grated asiago cheese
salt and pepper to taste
First prepare grits using the best recipe I know for Creamy Stone Ground Grits
Add just enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of two saute pans and heat over medium setting.
In one pan add the shrimp and cajun seasoning. Saute no more than 5 minutes. Overcooking results in tough shrimp.
In the second pan add the ham and corn and saute for a couple minutes. Add the tomatoes and green onions, combine and saute a few minutes more. Add the heavy cream and asiago cheese. Bring to a simmer and cook for two minutes.
Combine the shrimp and all the pan juices into the sauce.
Serve over the prepared grits.
Vinny D’Agostino, a sommelier as well, paired the entree with a nice Georgia Chardonnay from Frogtown Cellars. The minimal acidity of a Chardonnay, preferably unoaked, works well with the creamy sauce. A California or Washington State Chardonnay would be a fine substitute since Georgia wines are not widely distributed.
Even if you’re not dining a few hundred feet from the ocean, this fine recipe from the King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort can conjure memories of warm lazy days under Spanish Moss dripping oak trees and sea gulls laughing overhead.