One Birmingham chef adds shrimp and grits to a Country Captain-style sauce for an inspired new take
While the origins of shrimp and grits and the dish Country Captain are locationally tied—both got their grounding in the Lowcountry—it took a Caribbean-born chef with Michelin-star experience to marry them cohesively. Chef Sedesh Boodram hails from the British Virgin Islands of Trinidad and Tobago and spent part of his cooking career in New York, working under venerable chefs like Thomas Keller. In 2009, he and his husband moved to Birmingham, Alabama, in order to be closer to family when their daughter arrived; he eventually took to the kitchen with chef Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club.
Cooking in Alabama was a learning curve, Boodram says. “I had come from working with the finest ingredients money could buy in New York. Here, I was challenged to create a menu based on what was from right here and to learn how to use Southern ingredients.” An education on historical Southern dishes came with the job, and soon he was leaning into staples like shrimp and grits.
In 2019, Boodram left Hastings’ restaurants to follow his own path, which led him to open the Anvil Pub and Grill in early 2020. After a Covid-19 delay, the restaurant has found its footing as a true British-inspired pub, harkening back to Boodram’s roots in the BVI. “At certain points, the British occupied much of the world, so I’m not just limiting myself to British cuisine. I can pull from Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean,” he says.
This marriage of two iconic Lowcountry dishes is twist on Southern food. Country Captain’s history is tied to Savannah—the aromatic chicken stew is said to have originated there because of the influx of spices coming from East India in the 1800s—while shrimp and grits feels distinctly tied to Charleston, where eating creek shrimp served over hot grits, especially at breakfast time, goes back to the era of enslavement. Boodram replaces the chicken and rice in Country Captain with shrimp and grits, and includes a blend of heady spices and a nibble of sweetness in the form of dried cherries.
“I love going back to old recipes and adding my spin on it,” Boodram says. “And this dish, when you taste it, you’d think it was from England or possibly India, but it came from the Carolinas. Southern cuisine, especially, is very memory driven. This dish stays true to who we are and where we’ve been.”
Country Captain Shrimp and Grits Recipe
4 cups half-and-half
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
2 cups grits
1 stick butter
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups diced yellow onion
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced red bell pepper
1 chile pepper, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons freshly grated turmeric
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 tablespoons garam masala
1 tablespoon mustard powder
2 teaspoons ground allspice
2 teaspoons hot Hungarian paprika
2 cups good-quality canned tomatoes, chopped, plus 1 cup of juice reserved
2 cups vegetable stock
2 bay leaves
½ cup dried cherries
2 pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and pepper to taste
Slivered toasted almonds, unsweetened shredded coconut, and thinly sliced scallion for garnish
For the grits
For the country captain sauce
Make the grits
- FIn a medium saucepan, bring half-and-half, 4 cups water, and thyme to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and slowly whisk in grits.
- Turn heat to low and whisk periodically. After 20 minutes, add extra water 1 tablespoon at a time as needed to keep grits from burning and getting too dry.
- Once completely cooked (about 20 to 30 minutes longer), add butter, salt, and pepper. Keep warm.
Make the sauce
- In a wide-bottomed pot or deep sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium. Add onion, celery, bell pepper, chile, and garlic and sweat until tender, about 7 to 8 minutes.
- Add ginger and turmeric and cook for 2 minutes. Add curry powder, garam masala, mustard powder, allspice, and paprika and cook until fragrant, another 2 minutes.
- Add tomatoes and tomato juice and cook until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Add vegetable stock, bay leaves, and dried cherries. Cover, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 30 minutes.
- Remove lid and continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
- Stir in shrimp and cook until just pink, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- To serve, place grits in a bowl and top with Country Captain sauce. Garnish with almonds, coconut, and scallion.
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