A Grits Primer


A Grits Primer

Stock photo credit: Robert Walker

     To deconstruct grits is to relegate the dish to a pantry staple. To refer to grits as dry goods puts them in the emergency food category. But historically, grits* is both of those things. Grits has been served to visiting royalty, and it has been used to feed the troops on American battlefields, and it has been used to feed the hungry and poor.

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     Grits is basically ground corn. Poured between two stacked grindstones at a gristmill, the product result is about 55% corn meal (fine), 40% grits (coarse), and about 5% bran or hull that pops off during the milling. There is actually a finer bran that affixes to the grits, and if it’s not rinsed and removed by skimming, it adds a nutty flavor and texture to the dish.

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     There are three types of grits available at the grocery store. Regular, or stone-ground grits is a bit large and coarse and takes about 20 – 30 minutes to cook. This type is more flavorful and has a very pleasant mouth-feel and is, in my opinion, worth the extra care and time it takes to finish the dish. The second type is called quick grits. It’s a bit smaller and cooks in about 5 – 10 minutes. It’s a good second choice, losing little flavor in the reduced cooking time. The third is instant grits. It’s awful. Eat this at your own peril.

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     When I was a teen, I asked my mother how to make grits so I could have them whenever I chose. She said, “Well, honey, you mostly just boil them.” Well, that’s about right. So let me run it down for you. I want you to think of grits as you might a white sauce or béchamel. Think of how many sauces and gravies which can be made from that simple formula of flour, butter, and liquid. That’s what grits is. The platform. The vehicle. Here’s how you start.

     The ratio of liquid to grits is usually 4 – 1. So start 4 cups of water to boil, and slowly…..S L O W L Y …..add 1 cup of grits, stirring constantly. A whisk is good here. DO NOT let any lumps form now as they will never un-lump, and lumps are bad. Continue stirring until you get a smooth mix, about 5 minutes Now, turn it down to a low or medium-low heat. Let it simmer, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes. They are now edible, but I wouldn’t say they are really ready to eat. At my house, my standard serving includes butter, salt, and LOTS of black pepper. It should look a little like wet newsprint. I will also, on occasion, add a handful (maybe ½ cup) of shredded sharp cheddar. My fishing buddy likes his with swiss cheese and Texas Pete hot sauce. An old friend from Up North likes hers with cinnamon sugar. Did I mention that she’s from Up North? I should also pass on this tidbit; they are crazy good if you substitute chicken stock and/or whole milk in the preparation. Rich, velvety awesomeness in a bowl. I said bowl. No plates.

     Here’s the best: Pour a fresh batch of grits into a buttered 9” x 9” casserole dish. They should be seasoned with butter, salt, and pepper (the Trinity of grits). Put the dish into a preheated oven at 350* for about 20 minutes. Now put a big handful, like 1 ½ cups, of shelled and deveined shrimp over the top of the grits, and return to the oven for about 8 – 10 minutes. Do not overcook the shrimp. Now you can cut the firmed up grits into serving size squares and bring to the table with a bottle of hot sauce.

     That’s it. The grits primer. Grits is good. They taste like money, sex, and salvation in a bowl.

     Can I get an “Amen!”?

*Editor’s note: ‘Grits’ may be referred to as either singular or plural. Jule does both, and we let him do what he wants as long as he’s cooking and sharing. Amen.

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  1. MMM

    This is outstanding! I needed it when I moved from New York to Alabama, and tried putting jelly in my first bowl of grits. It was a social faux pas that I almost didn’t recover from. Now, I’m marrying the man that introduced me to South Carolina shrimp and grits.

    • Jule McDowell

      You have learned well and chosen wisely, ma’am. I just served my version of shrimp and grits (with Andouille) to my Northern in-laws and extended kin this past week. I think a couple of them are still in full swoon.

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