Grits: The most misunderstood food in America. Even the grammar is misunderstood. Grits IS a food. The plural word describes A food. I made a mistake in my teenage years that taught me this lesson.
My Dad, an eighth generation Georgia native, grew up with grits. One morning, he was making breakfast for my brother and me. He often did this, because Mom was an RN and, at that time, night charge nurse for emergency services (i.e. boss of the emergency room). Dad was creative, but his favorite breakfast, by far, included grits. On this particular day, he asked if I wanted some grits. Typical smart-ass teenager that I could be, I responded, "I'll have a grit." Well, Dad obliged me. He meticulously picked out one grain of the cereal from the pot and carefully placed it on my plate...right next to the eggs. "Eat that, and you can have more." My Dad was very quick on the come-back. It is one reason I avoided being a smart-ass with him most of the time.
I did not realize just how misunderstood this food is until I started traveling north of the Mason-Dixon line (that now imaginary boundary between the cultures of south and north). The first time I ordered grits in a northern restaurant, one would have thought I had asked for a moon rock. "What?!! What are grits?!" I knew I was in trouble. First, the verb tense was wrong. Second, the look on the waitress' face told me I had spoken a foreign language to her. "You know, it's sort of like cream-of-wheat...." That didn't help. "Sir, we don't have anything like that here."
Grits: Corn that is washed and milled (ground) into granules about the size of a large grain of sand. Thus, the origin of the name. Rub the ground corn in your hands and it feels "gritty"....just like coarse sand. Grits can also be known a "hominy" or "hominy grits." It's the same substance.
In the food world, grits is the universal solvent. One can have it with anything, because, by itself, grits doesn't have a lot of taste. To cook grits, one cup of water is brought to the boil and one-quarter cup of grits is stirred into the roiling water. Turn the stove temperature to low, cover the pot and cook for about 15 or so minutes. Stir occasionally and add about a quarter teaspoon of salt (or to taste). Once the texture of the grits is less than soupy and not yet thick, they are done. This point is problematic for some.
Texture is important in cooking grits. If I am served a cup of grits in a restaurant, and want to put it on my plate, the cooked substance needs to pour thickly but steadily. If it comes out in a clump, this is a true cooking error. Same is true if it runs like.....well, if it is really runny.
Once the grits is ready, anything can happen....and I do mean that. That's why it is the universal solvent of foods. Personally, the basic way of eating grits for me is to add coarse ground pepper, some butter and whatever kind of hot sauce I happen to be enjoying at the moment. Right now, it is a particularly tasty wing sauce.
Hot Sauces: I want to digress here a moment. If one is going to use hot sauce on grits...or any food for that matter....DO NOT (and this is important) buy anything that is made north of an imaginary line between Kansas City, MO and Richmond, VA. That's on this side of the Rocky Mountains (my north-south line that divides east and west...not the Mississippi). West of the Rockies, don't by a hot sauce made anyplace north of a line from San Diego to the Four-Corners.
Why do I say this? Because hot sauces are made from a variety of peppers that are not grown north of those places. Peppers that I am talking about grow in temperate or tropical climates. Those folks understand the temperament of their produce and what spices/herbs/etc. are best added to bring out the best in that particular kind of pepper. No one in New York City will begin to understand this process...or Los Angeles...or Omaha...or Chicago. Just trust me on this.
Grits and...: The universally understood southern breakfast is grits, eggs, bacon (or ham) and toast. Of course, coffee and maybe a juice on the side. Grits is often served with various fish dishes. Grits and seafood is an old southern standard. Ham and grits with greens is a long-standing farm meal. One can find grits being served with a variety of game food. My maternal grandfather's favorite hunting food was either rabbit or squirrel with grits. During the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, southerners could be found eating grits with possum or armadillo. Gator tail with grits is another meal along the bayous and rural areas near swamps [note: if you are in Central Florida and want a truly traditional southern meal, there is a restaurant on the Black Creek that any long-time local can tell you about. There's some good victuals there, let me tell ya'].
My favorite way of eating grits is with eggs. Now, there are ways to do this that are probably as varied as the people who eat grits and eggs. I will forgo that level of discussion and tell you my two favorite grits and egg dishes.
1) A serving of grits with two fried eggs. A serving of grits is the recipe I provided above...a quarter cup of uncooked grits and a cup of water. I like two fried eggs done sunny-side up...very runny. Stay with me here. I put the serving of grits on a plate or shallow bowl and put the two eggs smack on top of the grits (if you are around me, you will hear the expression, "a wad of grits." Heck, one has to call that summary food something). I cut the eggs up and mix the whole shebang together. Don't forget the salt, pepper, butter and hot sauce. I love ketchup, but, no, I don't put ketchup on grits. Hot sauce. That's a tasty meal with bacon or ham. I forgo the toast to watch the carbohydrate intake (grits is a carb).
2) A serving of grits with two eggs cooked into the grits. I have been on this kick for a couple of weeks now. Cook the grits as described above. Just as the cooking cycle is being completed, add the salt, pepper, butter and hot sauce. Stir until well mixed. Pour two eggs into the pot and stir vigorously into the grits...insure that you break the yolks so that the mixture has a smooth and uniform consistency. On low heat, it takes about three minutes of gentle stirring to insure the eggs are cooked into the mixture. Pour into a cereal bowl. Voila! A protein packed breakfast. It takes about 17 minutes start to finish. Very small cleanup. To add some adventure to this recipe, I will occasionally sprinkle in a mixture of shredded parmessan, asiago and mozzerella cheeses. Continue stirring until the cheese is melted and is uniform in consistency. I had that this morning. Also, I will occasionally cook bacon crisp and crumble it on top of the bowl of grits with this recipe.
As I said, variations are only as limited as the imagination. That's why grits are so much fun. Oh, what to buy: Quaker Traditional Grits is more universally found in grocery stores. The absolute best is Dixie-Lily Grits. That brand seems harder to find, since I have returned to Florida. DO NOT....NEVER, EVER...buy instant grits. No, no, no. Some things just aren't right. Two of those things are instant grits and instant oatmeal. Just think of those instant foods as poison, and you will be fine.
Okay, my friends, get your grits in your local supermarket cereal section and have at it. You will not be disappointed. Let me know what you come up with.
Love and Blessings,