Today we’re talking grits. The real, stone ground, tastes like corn kind. Normally I am not a big fan of specialty ingredients because then the recipes aren’t as accessible to folks, but in this case there’s really no way around it. Stone ground grits have nearly nothing in common with your regular grocery store brands, even the non quick-cook variety. Those are, most often, bleached and devoid of any real flavor. The grits I am talking about are coarse, corny, multi-colored, and insanely delicious. When I made them for my friend Mellissa the night before she ran the Marine Corps Marathon a couple of months ago she exclaimed that they “tasted like heaven.” That’s a pretty ringing endorsement, and I don’t think it really had anything to do with my culinary abilities. This is an instance where, when treated simply, the ingredient just shines. My friend Daniel, a fellow foodie, is from Nevada and had never tasted grits before I forced them on him. He was worried that they would be, well, gritty, but happily discovered that they are creamy with just a little bit of bite. The flavor and texture really reminded him of authentic Mexican flavors from his childhood. I was thrilled.
uncooked, stone-ground grits
I order my grits straight from the people who grow and mill them in South Carolina. I wish there was a more eco and pocket-book friendly way of getting my fix. Maybe one day there will be. When I lived in Charleston I used to visit the grits man at the Charleston Farmers’ Market in Marion Square. His mixed grits and cooking method really taught me just how creamy, sweet, and downright awesome this southern staple can taste. Though I have his name and email address from the front of his packaging, I can’t get a hold of him any longer and don’t find him listed on any Charleston area farmers’ market vendor lists. If anyone knows what happened to him, please let me know. Most recently I’ve gotten grits from Carolina Plantation Rice, but I also like Anson Mills grits, which you will often find on the menu of restaurants up and down the east coast. Because grits expand so much when they cook, it doesn’t take much of the dried product to feed several people.
So, here’s the best method I have found for making grits that you just cannot stop eating. Just a little warning that this is in NO WAY a fast recipe. It takes a long time (how long depends on a lot of factors) and lot of special attention in the form of constant stirring. To put it simply, making grits is a labor of love. You have to give them all of your patience and care, and in return they will nourish and care for you. I like to leave my grits un-cheesed as I find that any amount of cheese overwhelms the delicate sweet corn flavor and can make them gluey. However, I will not judge you if you choose to eat them with any number of toppings, including but not limited to, bacon, cheese, shrimp gravy, red-eye gravy, sausage gravy, or basically any other kind of gravy that you can think of. I will judge you if you are over 5 years old and put sugar on your grits. If you make this distinctly “yankee” mistake I will come after you. I say this with the same grin and menacing gleam of the eye that your bride’s brother would when he says “I’m so happy you’re joining our family. But if you hurt her I’ll kill you.”
The consistency you’re looking for is like risotto – you want to spoon them onto the plate and see them spread out just a little bit, but not too much. If you get them too thick, where they pile up like mashed potatoes, return to low heat and add a bit more liquid until you reach the right consistency. If they’re too soupy then they’re just not done yet. Below is a pretty decent example:
Elizabeth’s Southern Grits (method borrowed from the Charleston grits man)
1 cup uncooked stone-ground grits (mixed yellow and white if you can find them)
4 cups milk
1 cup water (added in parts)
1 stick unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all of the ingredients in a medium-large pot and bring to a simmer over medium low heat. I usually do a teaspoon of salt to start and couple of good cranks of rainbow peppercorns. As soon as the grits start simmering, reduce the heat some so that the pot won’t boil over. Milk has a tendency to do that when left unattended. Make sure to keep stirring every 30 second to 1 minute to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pot. If there’s one thing you don’t want, it is burned grits, which is what happens when they stick. If they do start to stick, scrape scrape scrape away until they’ve all come up. You’ll probably have to do this a number of times before the deliciousness is ready to consume.
Continue the stirring, heat adjusting, liquid adding, and tasting for anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours, depending on the volume you’re making, the pot you’re using, the level of heat you can keep up without boiling over, etc. It’s an art, not a science. When they’re done, the consistency should be as described above and the corn should have just the slightest bite when you taste them (think al dente pasta). Serve with a pad of butter.
This recipe can easily be doubled or halved. One cup of uncooked grits makes a pot that will feed a crowd.