Criolla “Shrimp and Grits”

published Jun 22, 2022
Criolla "Shrimp and Grits" Recipe
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

This recipe is a play on a traditional Puerto Rican meal my mom would make when I was growing up that is closely tied to a Lowcountry classic: shrimp and grits.

Being from Puerto Rico and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, there are a fair share of dishes that share similar ingredients and preparations between my two homes. Learning more about the diaspora and foodways through my cooking has been integral to staying connected to my culture and heritage, so making this dish was kind of a full-circle moment for me.

Funche is a cornmeal porridge that’s commonly served in many Caribbean homes. As a kid, I’d often eat it sweet, with milk, sugar, and a little cinnamon. Funnily enough, I didn’t know what grits were when we first moved to Charleston and was surprised to see that many of my friends didn’t eat their porridge sweet, but savory, and often smothered with some butter or a delicious gravy for breakfast.

Growing up in Charleston, I quickly grew to love Lowcountry-style shrimp and grits. I’ve always enjoyed the simplicity of a brown gravy with plump shrimp without the fuss and flair of extra vegetables, cheeses, or cream sauces that you often see on menus today. Because of that, I wanted to keep things simple here as well, with a criolla sauce, or creole sauce, that’s often made in Puerto Rico for easy dinners with seafood or chicken.

This sofrito- and tomato-based sauce comes together quickly and is a wonderful addition to your cooking rotation, as it’s so adaptable. Eating a bowl of this reminded me of my childhood days and the two places I’ve grown to call home.

If You Make Criolla “Shrimp and Grits,” a Few Tips

  • Learn the secret to snappy shrimp: I’ve been adding baking soda to my shrimp seasoning since I learned about this trick a few years ago. The chemical reaction caused by the salt and baking soda helps keep the shrimp snappy and plump when cooking. It’s one of my favorite things to go for a nice contrast in texture — especially in softer foods like soups or stews.
  • Swap out the grits, if you’d like: Sometimes I enjoy this sauce over steamed white rice if I’m not in the mood for cornmeal.

Criolla "Shrimp and Grits" Recipe

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes to 30 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


For the "grits":

  • 4 cups


  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • Pinch kosher salt

  • 2/3 cup

    harina de maíz (pre-cooked fine cornmeal)

For the shrimp:

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 8 ounces

    Campari or Roma tomatoes

  • 2 tablespoons

    unsalted butter

  • 2 tablespoons

    homemade or store-bought Puerto Rican sofrito

  • 1 teaspoon

    drained capers

  • 2

    small bay leaves

  • 2 teaspoons

    tomato paste

  • 1 (8-ounce) can

    salt-free tomato sauce

  • 1 teaspoon

    sazón seasoning, such as Badia

  • 1 teaspoon

    smoked paprika

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    kosher salt, divided

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 pound

    raw medium or large peeled and deveined shrimp

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1/2 cup


  • Honey or granulated sugar

  • Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)


Make the "grits":

  1. Bring 4 cups water, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, and a pinch of kosher salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. While whisking constantly, pour in 2/3 cup harina de maiz. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, whisking often, until thickened and creamy, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat down to the lowest heat possible, cover, and let sit until the shrimp are ready.

Make the shrimp:

  1. Thinly slice 1 medium yellow onion. Quarter 8 ounces Campari or Roma tomatoes.

  2. Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large sauté pan or deep skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until slightly softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons Puerto Rican sofrito, 1 teaspoon drained capers, and 2 small bay leaves. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to soften and the sofrito is fragrant, about 2 minutes.

  3. Add the tomatoes and 2 teaspoons tomato paste. Using the underside of your spoon or spatula, press down on the tomatoes as they cook so they can release their juices to make the sauce. Add 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce and stir until combined.

  4. Add 1 teaspoon sazón seasoning, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, season 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp with the remaining 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.

  5. Uncover the pan, add 1/2 cup water, and stir to combine. Taste and season with a little honey or granulated sugar to balance the acidity of the tomato sauce as needed.

  6. Reduce the heat to low. Add the shrimp and simmer until they start to turn pink and are no longer translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Spoon the stewed shrimp over the “grits” and garnish with cilantro if desired.

Recipe Notes

Sofrito: Sofrito is an aromatic and herbaceous seasoning blend that’s the foundation of savory Puerto Rican dishes. I prefer to make mine fresh and in large batches since it freezes well, but you can purchase it in most produce or freezer sections of large grocery stores.

Sazón: I make my own sazón blend at home but when it comes to store-bought brands, I like using Loisa, Badia, or Iberia. They’re all a little different when it comes to saltiness, so be mindful when seasoning the sauce here.

Proteins: You can substitute fish, chicken, or a plant-based protein for the shrimp in this dish. Growing up, my mom would make this with cod, mahi, salmon, and even tinned fish like sardines.

Vegan or vegetarian versions: If you want to make this vegetarian or vegan, simply use a plant-based butter and omit the shrimp by substituting tofu or another plant-based protein. I’ve made it with crispy tofu (folded in at the end) for my former roommate and it’s so good!

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Sometimes, if there are any shrimp left, I’ll pick them out and discard them and just freeze the sauce itself. I like freezing the sauce for another day and just reheating with a little water or broth for a super easy dinner. That way, all I have to do is add some fresh or tinned seafood for the next batch without the extra work.