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Grits: A hot bowl of Southern comfort

December 8, 2014

Grits aren't hard, but why not take them up a notch?

Grits.

That one word, for me, conjures up images of the Southern breakfast table (and beyond). With grits, itís understood that the morning will start off right with a warm hug from a bowl, topped with melting butter, maybe some cheese, some crumbled bacon ....

Alton Brown once said, when asked in an interview, that grits is the one dish every Southerner should know how to cook. And I believe he is right. Fried chicken and catfish have become national staples. Northerners and those in the Midwest can have their warm oatmeal, but grits (at least until recently) have been truly a Southern thing.

So what are grits? Basically white or yellow corn kernels that have been (traditionally) ground on a stone mill. The smallest grains are separated out as corn meal; the coarser grind are grits.

Grits are made simply: The purist only uses slow-cooking grits brought to a boil in water and then simmered for about an hour, until the water is absorbed or evaporated and the grits are porridge-like.

For the modern cooks, or folks like me who want things in a hurry, there are quick grits that can cook within 15 minutes. Here, the germ and the hull of the corn kernels have been removed so that the grits cook faster.

And yes, there is something called "instant grits" on supermarket shelves. In this case it means instantly walk away, do not buy unless truly desperate. I know. I went through a phase years ago, before I found an alternative, and bought boxes of this stuff so that I could have hot grits at my office desk. Convenient, maybe. Tasty, well ....

Now I have learned that when I need a fix and Iím running late for work, I just duck in to the Lunch Box on Lady Street and order hot grits to go (usually topped with lots of butter, bacon and cheese).

Anyhoo ... Iím a quick grits girl now. I have learned (and my sister has schooled me in) the art of making good grits.

Anyone can make great grits if you remember the ratio of 1 cup grits to 3 cups water.

Put the grits and water and a little bit of salt together in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes until water is absorbed. Now you have about 4 cups of hot grits.

Plain grits.

Now I have, toward the end of the cooking time, whisked in between a half-cup to whole cup of heavy cream into the grits. Just to give a little depth of flavor. Some folks like to use milk rather than water (or in combination) and others use chicken or vegetable broth.

But to keep it simple is to enjoy a great, classic Southern dish.

Now, if you want to get creative, letís look at what you can top the grits with. Simple and classic means nothing but butter, salt and pepper.

But my sister and I and then some of my co-workers started talking and I thought, since grits arenít just for breakfast, why not offer up some alternative toppings? Not too far out there; the toppings should still complement the grits, you know. Then it came to me: What about a grits bar?

Perfect for entertaining, with bowls of toppings from simple to interesting, savory and sweet. Guests can pick and choose or combine flavors with grits as the centerpiece. So here goes.

Staying simple:

Crumbled strips of crispy bacon

Shredded cheddar cheese

Crumbled goat cheese (plain or herbed)

Sorghum or molasses or honey

Crumbled sausage

Scrambled eggs

Take them up a notch:

Roasted red pepper and onion. Thinly slice a red bell pepper and a medium yellow onion. Place slices of pepper and onion on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in a 400 degree oven until pepper and onion are soft.

Kale (or collard) chips flavored with sea salt and garlic. Remove greens from stems and shred to bite-sized pieces. Chop three cloves of garlic. On a baking sheet, toss greens and garlic with a drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt (add red pepper flakes as an option) and bake in a 400 degree oven until greens start to crisp (about seven minutes).

Cherry tomatoes with garlic and basil. Cut cherry tomatoes in half, chop garlic. In a saute pan, melt 1 tablespoon butter with some olive oil. Add tomatoes and garlic and saute until garlic is just golden and tomatoes warmed throughout. Add fresh chopped basil.

Apple and cinnamon (and nuts). Take one Granny Smith apple and core it and dice. In a saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add diced apple, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a bit of nutmeg and a dash of salt. Saute apples until tender. Optional: Add slivered almonds or toasted pecans for crunch.

Shrimp and gravy. Saute a half pound of shrimp in 3 tablespoons butter until shrimp are cooked (turn pink). Remove shrimp from pan. To make the gravy: Add two anchovies to saute pan and cook until they melt. Add a half cup of flour to the pan and stir and cook until flour begins to turn light brown. Slowly add your liquid of choice (water, milk or wine), whisking constantly until a gravy forms. The amount of liquid will depend on how thin or thick you like your gravy. Finish with 2 tablespoons sherry (NOT cooking sherry, real sherry from a liquor store). Return shrimp to pan.

 

 


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