I first met cheese grits at a country club in North Carolina. While the quintessential southern combo referenced in this recipe is shrimp and grits, we’ll start with a story about breakfast, and an experience that was truly memorable.
My recipe pulls in flaky salmon as the seafood star, which keeps things just as sophisticated as the classic shrimp combo. A quick ride under the broiler and a dash of fresh, citrusy thyme at the end means the protein is a snap to pull together – leaving you with more time and attention to focus on the grits, our goal from the get-go.
Let’s backtrack a bit. It’s nearly impossible to find a breakfast menu in the south that doesn’t include grits, but the truth is, I was always partial to potatoes when I was growing up. And knishes. And bagels.
My Jewish family hails from the north – in case that wasn’t clear already. I certainly wasn’t opposed to adding creamy cornmeal to my morning lineup of munchies. The concept was just somewhat foreign.
Sure, ground corn smothered in butter sounds delightful. But ketchup and hot sauce-doused hash browns? That’s more my kind of savory speed, bro.
I didn’t encounter genuinely delicious grits until my early teenage years. Before then, my only experience with the porridge was gloppy, bland, and disappointingly unremarkable. Then Louise Hare invited me to join her family one Sunday morning for a meal at Carolina Country Club.
During homeroom, Louise would rave about the prestigious club’s weekend brunch buffet and how the cheddar-laced grits were truly life-changing. We were already in accord over The Dixie Chicks’ latest CD, the cutest boy in school (Reid Davis), and our collection of Limited Too t-shirts, so when it came to breakfast, I trusted her instincts.
I remember sidling up to the glorious spread, feeling slightly intimidated by the array of freshly sliced fruit and egg white scrambles. It was a soccer mom’s paradise, after all.
Just as my plate was nearly at capacity, I looked up and found myself face to face with a platter of the dreamiest, most vibrantly golden grits I had ever seen.
I followed Louise’s lead and dolloped several mounds onto my already-heavy dish. We sat down at the table with her parents and after unraveling my weapon from its cloth napkin, I dove right in.
I say this not just for the dramatic effect of this story, but I swear – twenty-three years later, I can still feel the buttery, salty, finely ground morsels melting onto my tongue. Mild cheddar gave the grits a bright, cheesy zip and green onions added a pungent crunch.
It was love at first bite. (I hate that pun, but it came pouring out of my fingers and I refuse to backspace. Seems fitting here.)
Today, I have fully accepted that I could never outdo that breakfast bombshell I enjoyed so many moons ago with Louise Hare’s family, but I knew before I started working on this recipe that I could undoubtedly find a way to put my own spin on the starch that would give others the same joy I had at that one blissful Sunday brunch.
Produced from mature corn kernels that are dried and then ground, grits are a southern staple that can be taken smoothly from the breakfast table to the lunch picnic to the romantic dinner date. They’re versatile and act as a blank canvas for featuring whatever your heart desires.
If you can find the stone-ground option, you’ve hit the jackpot, as this old-fashioned variety – ground between two stones of a grist mill – is truly the champion of the corn category. With stone-ground, the entire kernel is ground, including the germ, which results in a speckled appearance, heavenly texture, and rich texture and flavor.
In a pinch, this how-to for preparing Instant Pot Grits (coming soon!) can help. This a quick alternative method that will save you some stovetop time and have you digging in even faster.
But I love savoring every moment of frequently stirring the grits and watching that stockpot full of corny goodness come to fruition before my very eyes. Once they’ve officially been whisked into complete submission, I fold in handfuls of nutty parmesan and a few glugs of decadent heavy cream.
Though many shrimp and grits recipes include mushrooms that are mixed in, I prefer to pile earthy golden-brown shiitakes on top for texture. Salmon’s subtle, mild flavor makes the fish a perfect partner for the dreamy parmesan-infused cormeal while a drizzle of fruity olive oil at the finish line brings everybody back home.
Gooey cheese grits without the country club membership fee? Maybe I did surpass my nostalgic childhood memory.
Who’s coming with me?Print
In this twist on a southern classic, crispy salmon and shiitakes are perched upon a perfectly creamy mountain of parmesan cheese grits.
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms, stems removed (about 4 ounces)
- 1 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
- 1/4 cup minced yellow onion
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken (or mushroom) broth
- 1 cup stone-ground grits
- 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided (about 1.5 ounces)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 4 6-ounce salmon fillets, skin-on
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the oil and butter begin to sizzle, add the mushrooms and saute until golden brown and lightly crispy, about 2 minutes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and set aside.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the remaining butter. When the butter begins to foam and sizzle, add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent, about 1 minute. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, add the chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Gradually whisk in the grits and then cook over moderately low heat, whisking often, until the grits are thick and tender, about 30 minutes.
- Fold in the Parmigiano-Reggiano, heavy cream, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper. Season to taste with additional salt if necessary. Keep warm on low heat while you prepare the salmon.
- Preheat the broiler to high and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Evenly drizzle both sides of the salmon fillets with 2 tablespoons olive oil, and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place each piece on the baking sheet skin side up.
- Broil until the skin is crisped and the salmon flakes easily, about 8-10 minutes. Divide the grits among plates and top with the salmon (crispy skin side up), sauteed shiitakes, fresh thyme, remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano, and remaining olive oil.
- Category: Fish
- Method: Stovetop/Broiler
- Cuisine: Seafood
Keywords: salmon, broiled, shitake, grits
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep and Saute the Mushrooms, Onions, and Garlic
Remove the stems from the shiitake mushrooms and discard them. Slice the mushrooms into strips. Mince the onion and the garlic.
Add 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to a medium-sized skillet and place it over medium-high heat. When the oil and butter begin to sizzle, add the mushrooms. Saute until they are golden brown and lightly crispy, for about 2 minutes. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and set aside.
Add the remaining butter to a large saucepan and place it over medium heat. When the butter begins to foam and sizzle, add the onion and garlic. Saute until translucent, for about 1 minute.
Step 2 – Make the Grits
Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Add the chicken broth, and bring it to a boil. Gradually whisk in the grits, and cook them over moderately low heat, whisking often, until they are tender and thick. This will take about 30 minutes.
Fold in the Parmigiano-Reggiano, heavy cream, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Taste and add additional salt if necessary. Keep on low heat while you prepare the salmon. You can add more stock or water a few tablespoons at a time to loosen the mixture if it becomes too thick.
To sub in polenta for the grits, the cooking method and time are the same, but the ratio is 1 part polenta to 4 parts liquid. Grits are finer and smoother, while polenta has a flakier, coarser grind and chewier texture.
Step 3 – Cook the Salmon
Evenly drizzle both sides of the salmon fillets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place each piece skin side up on the prepared pan.
Broil until the skin is crisped and the salmon flakes easily, about 8-10 minutes.
Step 4 – Assemble, Garnish, and Serve
Divide the grits among plates and top with the salmon, crispy skin side up. Add the sauteed shiitakes, and garnish with fresh thyme and the remaining grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
The Holy Grail of Grits
Although stone-ground is the gold standard of grits, I think it’s that sharp, aged Parmigiano-Reggiano that makes this seafood supper so noteworthy.
As for the salmon, I prefer to serve this particular fillet skin side up, as its stretch under the broiler results in a spectacular crunch. I mean, wouldn’t you want to show off a fresh tan after a day spent in the sun?
Pro Tip: if you’re after even crispier mushrooms, thinly sliced shiitakes solidify like french fries when tossed in oil and baked at 425°F for 6 to 8 minutes. Hit them with salt after their time in the oven like you would with the spuds.
Searching for more ways to get your salmon fix? Go fishing for these tasty bites next:
How will you cheese-ify your grits? Cream cheese? Goat cheese? Ricotta? Get wild. Share your cheese of choice in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on September 26, 2010. Last updated on March 31, 2021.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”