Is there any Southern food as mundane as grits? If those are your sentiments, then, my friend, you are mistaken.
Not all grits are created equally and if you have had nothing but the store-bought kind then you might not know how wonderful they can be.
There are a handful of people in the South who have committed themselves to the art of grit making and what they produce far outshines what is commercially available. Google "Mississippi grits" and look for someone who grinds weekly and hand packs and ships. You will never regret it.
There are four basic products made from dried and milled corn; grits, polenta, masa and corn meal and they are all different. For the purpose of this discussion we'll only talk about grits and polenta. These two similar products are available in different grinds from coarse to pretty fine, but a real connoisseur will argue with you all day long that they are different. Let's leave that discussion to another time.
What rises above the comparison of the two is that something quite wonderful can be rendered from them when treated properly. People have been drying corn and grinding it for thousands of years. It is of course a product of the New World and the early European explores were delighted to find it. Corn in all its guises can now be found all over the world. It was at first probably eaten as a simple gruel, but the distance is vast from that humble beginning to what you might find in some of the best restaurants in the world today.
A final point of contention in the grits controversy is yellow versus white grits. Of course personal preference is the deciding factor in the end but some experts contend that yellow grits have more starch and so absorb more flavors. It seems white grits are found more often unadorned being served for breakfast, but the yellow kind find their way into grit cakes, tureens and the sort of fare found in up-scale restaurants.
GRILLADES AND GRITS
Grillades and grits are traditionally served in New Orleans for a hearty breakfast or
brunch, but they are great served any time at all.
1 pound chuck roast
2 chopped onions
1 chopped bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
3-4 cloves of diced garlic
4-5 tomatoes, peeled
1/4 cup flour
4 cups beef broth
1-2 pinch dried basil
Fresh ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes
Oil as needed
For the grits
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 cup best quality grits
2 cups grated white cheddar cheese
Cube the beef, season with pepper and sear in hot oil until well browned. Remove and set aside. In the same pan sauté the onions, bell pepper and celery for 5-6 minutes, remember to season as you go. Add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes more. Add the flour, stir to incorporate and cook slowly until the flour is well browned. Slowly add the beef stock, whisking as you go. Simmer for at least 1 hour, but remember to taste occasionally and re-season as necessary.
While the grillades are cooking make the grits. Combine the chicken stock and the cream in a large sauce pot and then bring to a simmer. Slowly add the grits, whisking as you go and simmer for about 20 minutes. For best presentation oil small ramekins, add the finished grits and allow to cool before removing from the molds. Place the molded grits on individual plates and top with the grillades. Serve immediately.
A SOUTHERN TUREEN OF GRITS
2 cups chicken stock
1 cups grits
2-3 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped smoked pork sausage
6 cloves chopped garlic
1 cup cheddar cheese
9 ounce package fresh spinach
Black pepper, red pepper flakes, salt as desired
Good quality olive oil as needed
Heat the stock and slowly add the grits, simmer for about 20 minutes or until done. Season to your taste, add the butter and stir to incorporate. Butter several ramekins or other molds and set aside. Sauté the sausage in a little oil until browned, add three chopped garlic cloves and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from heat and set aside. Sauté three chopped cloves of garlic in good quality olive oil for 1 minute, add the spinach and toss until wilted, when cool drain thoroughly. Layer the ramekins with grits, sausage mixture, greens and grits again and top with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is melted and bobbly hot.
This recipe is so versatile it can be served in many ways; serve with just a garnish of cilantro, top with your favorite chile, if you want to get fancy garnish with shrimp in a cream sauce or jumbo lump crab in a brown butter sauce. Use your imagination.
GRITS AND EGGS FOR BREAKFAST
1 cup grits
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup cream
1/3 cup green chilies
2-3 cloves chopped garlic
1 cup best quality cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped ham
1 egg per serving (farm fresh are best by far)
Butter as needed
Salt and black pepper
Combine the chicken stock and the cream in a large sauce pot and then bring to a simmer. Slowly add the grits, whisking as you go and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Sauté the ham in a little oil until well browned, add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Combine the ham and garlic and the green chilies with the grits and stir to incorporate. Melt a little butter in a non-stick pan and over low heat, carefully break the eggs into the pan and slowly cook, without turning, until almost cooked through. Garnish the grits with an egg for each serving. Serve immediately.