Cooking Great Grits

Nothing says “southern cooking” like a big bowl of grits.

Most Americans have never eaten grits; some confuse “grit” with “dirt”. To those folks I say: Thanks! More grits for me.

To the un-initiated let me say: grits are just corn. In gourmet circles, it’s known as polenta. It’s not new, and it’s not just Southern: grits were being eaten by Native Americans thousands of years before Europeans ever showed up in America. My Cherokee ancestors would soak corn in a mild alkali like lye water for several days to remove the husk and kill the germ (so it wouldn’t sprout in storage). De-hulled and de-germed grain is called hominy. Then, they would dry the hominy, grind it, and sift it. Fine powder from sifting became corn flour, and the coarse meal became grits. Grits would be boiled into a thick soup and eaten, much like they are today.

When Europeans encountered the food they called it “grytts”, which is European for “any grain that’s boiled into a mush”. The Blue Ridge Mountain pioneers quickly acquired a taste for grits. Since corn was a basic foodstuff in the South, and grits store well and are easily flavored, they became a popular go-with-anything food. A few common recipes for grits include shrimp & grits, Jambalaya grits, grits and sausage, cheese grits, and hundreds more. Think of them as Native American mashed potatoes: they go with anything.

There are two kinds of commercially available grits: corn and hominy. I prefer hominy.

I enjoy grits at breakfast. I like them cooked to porridge-consistency and flavored with cheese, butter, and Hungarian sweet paprika. My favorite brand of grits is Quaker, but not the instant kind. Grits need to cook for a while; anywhere from 15 minutes to half an hour. Each brand is milled differently and has slightly different cooking directions. Follow the directions on the package. Here’s my recipe for cheese grits:

Cheese Grits

Ingredients: Grits, sharp cheddar cheese, paprika, salt

Boil three cups of water

Add 1/4-1/2 tsp. salt, to taste

Slowly stir in 1 cup grits (go slowly so lumps don’t form)

Cook on medium heat until grits thicken to the consistency of porridge

Throw in a generous handful of grated sharp cheddar cheese

Add a few shakes of sweet Hungarian paprika just to add some color and flavor

If it’s cold outside and you want something that will warm you up, use half-sharp paprika instead of sweet.

Here are a few other popular ways to cook grits:

 Grits and Red Eye Gravy

Ingredients: grits, 1/2 cup brewed coffee, country ham drippings

Prepare grits according to package directions

Put a slice of country ham into a cast iron skillet and cover with water

Cook country ham slices until browned and remove from skillet.

Add 1/2 cup brewed coffee or water to ham fat; stir up all the drippings to create a brown or “red eye” gravy.

Spoon over hot cooked grits and serve.

 Fish and Grits

Ingredients:garlic or garlic powder, butter, salt, water, milk, yellow corn meal, grits, oil for frying, fish (use a firm white fish like catfish or trout)

Prepare grits according to package directions

Add butter and garlic powder or sauté a clove of fresh garlic in butter and add that

Soak fish in milk, water and salt; drain and coat with yellow cornmeal

Pan fry fish and serve with grits as a side dish

And of course like all southern food, they can be fried:

 Fried Grits

Ingredients: grits, water, salt, bacon, butter

Prepare grits according to package directions (4-6 servings), but add a little more grits to make them thicker. Add

Cook bacon until it’s very crispy and crumble it up. Add to the cooked grits.

Add a tablespoon of butter to the grits and stir until it melts.

Pour grits into a greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 3 inch loaf pan. Cool; cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning remove grits by inverting the pan and cut the loaf into 1/2 inch slices.

In a cast iron skillet heat about 1/2″ oil (prefer a mixture of olive and canola; it gets hotter). The oil is hot enough to fry in when it starts to “ripple” but not smoke.

Fry slices over medium heat 5-7 minutes or until lightly browned, turning once.

Enjoy your grits!




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