Nothing says “Southern cooking” like a big bowl of hominy grits. Most Americans have never eaten grits; some confuse “grit” with “dirt.” To those folks, I say: thanks! More grits for me.
To the uninitiated, 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: this food was being eaten by Native Americans thousands of years before Europeans ever showed up in America. My Cherokee ancestors soaked corn in a mildly alkaline 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 hominy grits. The grits would be boiled into a thick porridge and eaten 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 grytts. Since corn was a basic foodstuff in the South, and grytts store well and are easily flavored, they became a popular go-with-anything food. Everyday recipes 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. Corn grits are (dare I say it?) more gritty and hard to chew. I prefer hominy grits.
I often enjoy grits at breakfast. I like them cooked to a thick consistency and flavored with cheddar cheese, butter, and Hungarian sweet paprika. Sometimes I substitute chipotle for paprika. My favorite brand is Quaker, but not the instant kind. Hominy grits must 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:
Great Grits Recipes
Ingredients: Hominy grits, sharp cheddar cheese, paprika, salt
- Boil two cups of water.
- Add 1/4-1/2 tsp. salt to taste
- Slowly stir in 1 cup of grits (go slowly so lumps don’t form)
- Cook on medium heat until grits thicken to the consistency of porridge. Add water as needed.
- Throw in a generous handful of grated sharp cheddar cheese
- Add a few shakes of sweet Hungarian paprika 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:
Hominy Grits and Red Eye Gravy
Ingredients: Hominy 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 it with water. Boil it, then change the water to remove some of the salt.
- Cook country ham slices until browned and remove from skillet.
- If there’s not enough fat in the ham drippings, add a tablespoon or two of bacon grease to the drippings. You can use butter or another fat if you don’t have a jar of bacon grease in your fridge (as every Southern cook does).
- Add a heaping tablespoon or two of flour and mix well.
- Add brewed coffee or water to the fat and flour mixture. Add black pepper to taste. Stir 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, hominy 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 freshly minced garlic in butter and add to the grits.
- Whip an egg and a little milk in a bowl.
- Put some flour or cornmeal in a flat dish.
- Dip the fish in the egg and drop it into the flour mixture. Coat both sides of the fish.
- Pan-fry fish and serve with grits as a side dish.
And, of course, like all southern food, grits can be fried:
Ingredients: hominy grits, water, salt, bacon, butter
- Prepare grits according to package directions (4-6 servings), but add more grits to make them thicker.
- 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 following day, remove the mixture by inverting the pan and cut the loaf into 1/2-inch slices.
- In a cast iron skillet, heat about 1/2″ oil (I prefer olive oil, as it gets hotter). The oil is hot enough to fry in when it starts to “ripple” but not smoke.
- Fry slices over medium heat for 5-7 minutes or until lightly browned, turning once.
If messing with a loaf pan and cooling overnight sounds like too much trouble, just buy a roll of polenta at a grocery store, slice it, and fry it.
Enjoy your grits!