Day at the Docks is a celebration of the spirit of Hatteras and few things encompass that better than shrimp and grits.
Though there is a long history of shrimping on the island, it was not always considered the treasure that it is now. Fortunately for its consumers, shrimp and grits has evolved into a signature of Hatteras Island, uniquely delicious due to its fresh caught shrimp and stone-ground grits.
North Carolina author and food blogger Elizabeth Wiegand will be judging this year’s Shrimp and Grits Throwdown competition at 2 p.m. on Saturday, September 16 at Day at the Docks.
Wiegand has written for Southern Living, Tasteful, and The Washington Post , among others. Her book, The Outer Banks Cookbook: Recipes and Traditions from NC’s Barrier Islands , is available online through her website, in stores such as Walmart and Barnes and Noble, and has a five-star rating on Amazon. Wiegand is both well-known and well-loved around the state for her blog, “Carolina Foodie,” in which she outlines signature recipes of North Carolina’s coast as well as tips for preparing local and seasonal foods around the Carolinas and Virginia. She has spent an innumerable amount of hours researching and presenting the origins and evolution of shrimp and grits on the Outer Banks, which makes her an authority on the dish and the perfect person to judge this year’s competition.
Though famous around the Outer Banks today, shrimp and grits has a long and complicated history on the island. Shrimp and grits actually originated about eight hours from here in the swampy, coastal region of South Carolina, a geographical area similar to that of North Carolina’s coast. It was not until the 80’s, however, that the dish achieved national recognition.
According to Wiegand, shrimp and grits became a nationally renowned dish in 1985 when Crag Claiborne, a Mississippi native and New York Times writer, published an article about shrimp and grits after visiting a restaurant in the Raleigh-Durham area. The owner and Chef, Bill Neal, served Claiborne his specialty version of shrimp and grits employing seasonal and regional ingredients and the rest was history. Claiborne’s review of the dish sparked a craze all over the southeast and especially along the coast where the seafood was readily available. In North Carolina especially, the dish has become a signature of the area and is prepared differently from region to region as well as from chef to chef.
With all of this buzz surrounding shrimp and grits, it is surprising to think that up until the 1930’s NC fishermen considered shrimp to be the bugs of the sea and were frustrated when these creepy crawlers would get caught in their nets.
In the depression era, when Wanchese fishermen left the coast of NC in desperate numbers for the warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico in order to learn how to shrimp, people called them “bug hunters.” Therefore, instead of consuming the shellfish, NC fishermen would trade these bugs to mainland farmers who used them for fertilizer. In return, farmers gave their coastal neighbors fresh corn which the fisherman brought back to the Outer Banks and dried using German-style windmills complete with ship sails in order to better control the stones that ground up the corn into grits. Weigand excitedly refers to this historical exchange as “a great big circle of life.”
Today, NC fishermen have changed their opinion of shrimp as “bugs” and purposefully seek out these tiny shellfish. The Outer Banks is now one of the best places to enjoy shrimp and grits, as the shrimp is fresh caught and the grits stone-ground, which seems to retain the original flavor of the corn the best. However, there is more that goes into the dish than just these two ingredients. Indeed, there is a lot of room for creativity which is what makes each preparation of this dish so unique.
As for Wiegand, she recommends preparing shrimp and grits with bacon or chives to give it flavor. She most enjoys cheese grits made with melted parmesan and asiago cheeses. If you are looking to make your shrimp and grits look presentable, she says fresh peas and asparagus will add both a pop of color and a good taste. She also likes to round off her recipe with some butter, bacon grease, and a sprinkle of hot sauce.
For more tips on shrimp and grits preparation and eating in the Outer Banks, visit http://carolinafoodie.blogspot.com/ and don’t miss the results of this year’s Shrimp and Grits Throwdown.