Shrimp and Grits with Smokey Tomato Cream Sauce

Let's make some smokey tomato sauce!

Generally speaking, I always skip to the ingredients and instructions when I find a recipe, cook it, then read any digressions the author has written at a  later date IF I like what I made. By all means, dear reader, if you understand where I'm going with this, go ahead and riff away with some smokey tomato juice. I'm sure you could use this vibrant and rich ingredient in about a million ways. Bloody Marys and tomato gravy immediately come to mind.

For this one, I will discuss all the techniques and other stuff first, while putting the equipment list and the ingredients at the end. I would like to emphasize that all of spices are really just guidelines. Take a taste while cooking this sauce and let your pallet guide you!

How to smoke tomatoes 

We'll start with the smoked tomatoes, and I will forewarn you that this recipe is probably not for the novice. Obviously you will need a grill or a smoker. There are ways to smoke food in commercial ovens, but that's too complicated to cover here. 

Smoking Roma Tomatoes in our Commercial Kitchen

For those who are into smoked food, this will be a no-brainer. Of course, you want to slice your tomatoes in half to get more smoke on them. Unsurprisingly, romas are the best for this, since they are a sauce tomato. However, I see no reason why you couldn't use slicers or any kind of tomato for this. After all, this time of year it could be said that some suffer from an overabundance of this delicious fruit. For this recipe I'd recommend smoking at least 4 good-sized romas.

So if those beautiful slicers on the counter are showing a bit of age and you've had your fill of them, stretch out their goodness by smoking them. The delicious smokey juice they make will last for a few days in the fridge, and for even longer if you freeze it. With more delicate skinned tomatoes, you will want to smoke them in a roasting pan or the like. You will want to save every drop of their precious smokey liquid. Don't use any container on your smoker or grill that you don't mind having a fairly permanently smoke-burnished finish, though.

As for other considerations while smoking tomatoes, you want indirect heat, even cold smoke would be good. Smoke is what you're going for, cooking is more of a incidental thing. You don't want to dry the tomatoes out too much, since juice is what you're after.

In the batch pictured below, we smoked some romas about an hour over a fairly low flame. We used a bit of leftover tomato juice in the fridge to spread out our sauce.

Once you have your smoked tomatoes, just liquefy them in a blender or food processor.

For the next step, you will extract the juice from the the pulp in the liquified tomatoes with a China hat. I really work all the juice out. Discard the pulp into the compost or trash. Now your juice is ready for action!.

What is Shrimp and Grits?

Shrimp and Grits with Smoky Tomato Sauce

I've cooked them up a number of different ways. Most were good, but not all.

The only contention I feel comfortable making here is that "Shrimp and Grits" is a dish that always contains at least two elements, and they are self-evident. I've seen some recipes that introduce some interesting variations, and in my days at the farmer's market people have relayed their myriad approaches and philosophies.

To me, shrimp and grits are a combination of two dishes, grits that have been prepared simply (salted and buttered), topped with a sauce that contains the shrimp. The two elements are prepared separately and combined right before serving.

I guess you could just throw some shrimp into your grits and let them poach in there until they are done, but I confess I would never do that (sorry if the person who related this approach to me is reading this). But do what thou wilt.

With the exception of the smoked tomatoes in this specific instance, I always start the grits first, since this will take some time. Comparatively, shrimp take practically no time.

For the sake of brevity, here's a link to some grits preparation instructions, with some opinions and guidance on the topic. For this specific dish, I go with a simple buttered grits. If I want to get fancy, I'll use some Coarse Blue Grits. The sauce is truly loaded with strong flavors, so no need to get to complicated with the grits. No need to crowd too many things into this dish, a simple preparation provides a nice foil to the rich smokiness of the sauce.

Note: this can be made as a pescatarian dish if you leave out the tasso ham. If you are serving to carnivores and pescatarians, some bacon crumbles can be added as a garnish at the end for the meat-eaters.

Roux or just sauce?

The proper roux is optional. Smoking the tomatoes seemed to make a fairly thick tomato juice (compared to regular store-bought tomato juice). I will include some quick roux directions, although as I already said, the cooked-down sauce will have a thickness on its own. But if a thicker sauce is desired, read the following.

I make a quick roux with melted butter and wheat flour. Usually, I will melt some butter in a bowl in the microwave (don't cook it), or in a small saucepan on the stovetop. I don't bother separating out the solids, since I'm not picky about leftovers if I wind up reheating the sauce or if it sits on heat awhile. Do be aware that the sauce may separate if it sits awhile or you reheat it. Of course, if you have some ghee on hand, you could always use that.

Add some all-purpose flour to the melted butter a very little bit at a time while stirring rather vigorously. Be sure to avoid lumps! When you get a uniform whitish paste, you have a white roux.

Set aside until your sauce is ready.

Gettin' Saucy

Many sauces of this nature are allium-based (onion based). More generally, from the onion family. In this case, I used finely sliced leeks, but scallions or green onions have worked fine in the past for me. Whichever you use, they should be cooked down to practically nothing by the time you serve this dish.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan or pot on low-medium heat. Cook the leeks in the butter 7 to 10 minutes or so until they are soft and translucent. You can throw a pinch of salt in there to help this along. Move them around a bit to avoid burning them. 

Throw in your finely cubed tasso ham now, if you go that route.

Time to use that smoked tomato juice! Go ahead and add it to the pot and simmer about 5 minutes.

Add your spices to the the mixture and let them steep another 5 minutes.

Add the secret ingredient, fish sauce!

SLOWLY add the cream to avoid curdling it. Usually, I just add enough to give the sauce a color I find appealing. Simmer a few more minutes.

Now is the time to add your roux if you like, stirring in bit by bit.

Add your shrimp. When they turn pink-reddish and shrink up a bit, they're done.

Ladle out onto a bowl of grits, top with the crumbled bacon and garnish with minced chives.


Serves 4

Special Equipment


  • Smoker or Barbecue Grill and smoking wood (hickory chips work fine)
  • Blender or Food Processor
  • China Hat Strainer and Pestle


  • 3 cups dry stone-ground grits prepared
  • 1/2 Pound Shrimp, Peeled and Deveined
  • 1 Cup finely sliced leeks or scallions or green onions
  • 2 Cups Smoked Tomato Juice
  • 2 Cups Heavy Cream
  • 2 Teaspoons Salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped Tasso Ham
  • 2 Teaspoons (or more) Italian Seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme (or more)
  • Dash of old bay
  • Generous Dash black pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon minced garlic (or more)
  • 2 teaspoons Fish Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter (for the sauce)
  • 4 slices of bacon, fried and crumbled (optional)
  • Small bunch of chives, minced (for garnish)