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Grits are a staple of the Southern breakfast. For those unfamiliar with them, grits are nothing more than coarsely ground, dried corn. If you grind it a little finer, you have the Italian staple, polenta…grind it finer yet, and you have corn meal.
I’ve heard that some places like to combine grits with hominy, which is soaked in lye. Why would you want to soak food in lye, and then actually eat it?
Anyway, there’s not too much to cooking grits. You just boil some water according to the instructions on the bag or container, and then add the appropriate amount of grits. Then, cook it over medium to low heat, stirring as it cooks. Be sure to stir it occasionally, or it will clump up and may even stick. For real “grits” coinsurers, try using milk instead of water when cooking your grits. This will give the grits a creamier and smoother consistency. You can even try adding a little butter, or replacing some of the milk with cream.
People do a lot of things to enhance the flavor of their grits. Some like to add fatback, which is salted pork with the skin attached. It is mostly fat, so when you fry it, you get a lot of salty grease and a crispy piece of skin. Just sprinkle the cooked fatback over your grits to add a little flavor.
I just like to add a pat of butter, and then sprinkle a little salt and pepper on my grits. There is no wrong way to fix them. Spoon the grits on a plate and then cover them with your eggs and bacon. Grits sort of take on the flavor of whatever you eat it with them. If you eat it by itself, it just tastes a little “gritty.”
Cheesy Grits with Red-Eye Gravy
Grits are cooked with milk and butter until smooth and creamy and then blended with grated Swiss or gruyere cheese, baked in a casserole dish and then served with some rich red-eye gravy. What could be better than this?
1 qt. milk
1/4 lb. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup 5-minute grits
4 oz. Swiss or gruyere cheese, grated (1 cup)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (1/4 cup)
Red-eye gravy (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring milk and butter to a slow boil and stir in grits slowly. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until thick, smooth and creamy. Add grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese, salt and pepper. Mix well and pour into greased 2-qt. casserole. Put dots of butter on top and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.
Spoon portions onto plates and cover with red-eye gravy! Makes 6 to 8 servings
Red-Eye Gravy for Grits
1 cup strong brewed coffee
2 Tbsps. drippings from fried country ham
Add coffee to drippings and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve over grits. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Shrimp and Grits with Stewed Tomatoes
Many of the shrimp and grits renditions that I’ve tried were shrimp with some sort of sauce or gravy, served over white grits. My goal was to create a shrimp and grits dish that was much more flavorful than the standard.
2-1/2 cups milk
4 Tbsps. butter
3/4 cup quick-cooking white grits
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup chopped green peppers
1/4 cup fresh, chopped oregano
1 can (14 1/2 oz.) stewed tomatoes
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1-1/2 lbs. uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
Bring milk, butter, chili powder and cayenne pepper to a slow boil; stir in grits slowly. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until thick, smooth and creamy. In a large skillet or saute pan, sauté shrimp, onions and green peppers and fresh oregano over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes. Add stewed tomatoes and simmer another 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in the warm grits and serve with freshly grated Romano cheese. Makes 4 servings.
Stone Ground Grits with Wild Mushrooms
Using stone-ground grits instead of the usual quick-cooking grits provides more of a texture to the dish. Use either the white or yellow variety.
2 1/2 Tbsps. unsalted butter
2-1/4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup stone ground grits
1 tsp. chopped garlic
2 tsp. chopped shallots
1 tsp. chopped chives
1 tsp. fresh thyme
2 oz. bacon fat rendered
12 oz. wild mushrooms (choose from cepe, porcini, cremini, shiitake, oyster, etc.)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a medium saucepan, bring chicken stock and butter to a boil. Stir in grits; return to a boil. Reduce heat, allowing grits to cook another 10-12 minutes at a low boil until thick and having absorbed most of the chicken stock. Stir occasionally to keep the grits from sticking. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream and reduce heat; allow grits to cook slowly another 10 minutes. As the liquid is absorbed, add more cream, cooking the grits until desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Heat bacon fat in a large sauté pan over high heat. Add mushrooms and lower heat to medium; cook 2 minutes. Toss in chopped garlic and shallots and cook an additional 2 minutes. Fold mixture into the grits. Add fresh thyme and chives just before serving. Serve very hot! Makes 4 servings.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.