Friday, April 06, 2007

Them are Grits!

The title comes from a very old joke which I will not repeat here. Today's Food Friday topic is the much maligned and misunderstood Southern food staple the lowly grit.

Grits are just coarsely ground dried corn or corn hominy. The are also known in Italy as polenta. Most people outside the South haven't tried them and if they have traveled through the South and eaten breakfast at a typical meat and three place down here and answered yes when queried, "Ya'll want grits with them eggs?" then they probably also don't like them. The regular old Southern breakfast grits is an acquired taste for sure. I personally just mix them in with my over easy cackle berries and give them a good dose of salt and pepper as otherwise they don't really taste like much. This doesn't have to be the case though. The following recipe for Cheese Grits and the Spoon Bread variation are adapted from a recipe from Elizabeth Terry the chef/ owner of Elizabeth's on 37th in Savannah which is must visit if you are ever in that wonderful town.

Soft Cheese Grits
6 cups of water
1 and 1/2 cups of Grits ( I prefer coarse ground yellow grits or cornmeal or if you are looking for a specific brand Bob's Red Mill brand Polenta or you can use just regular Quick Grits which are white)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1 and 1/2 ounces of sharp Cheddar cheese, grated which should be about a half cup
1/3 cup of light cream or half and half

In a large pan over medium heat bring the water to a nice boil and then add the grits slowly to the boiling water while stirring to prevent lumps. Add the garlic and salt. Reduce the heat and simmer covered for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. The grits should be nice and thick and soft at this point. Now is when you whisk in the cheese and cream. Once the cheese is nicely incorporated you are ready to serve. If you need to keep these them for awhile you can keep them in a water bath for an hour. The grits will thicken as they sit so if need be you can thin them back to the original consistency with a little hot water and a gentle whisk.

These grits are good all by themselves but they truly shine as a backdrop for a spicy shrimp dish. Once classic combo you see on the Georgia coast is BBQ shrimp. This is terribly simple. Take a couple of pounds of shelled and deveined shrimp (this is for six). Take some of your favorite BBQ sauce (homemade or bottled) and put it in a saute pan and thin it with a little white wine so it makes a nice sauce, bring it to a simmer and toss in the shrimp and quickly cook them in the sauce (don't over cook!!!) until they just firm up and curl. You might add a couple of shots of your favorite hot sauce as well (I do). Divide the warm grits into six nice sized shallow bowls and then divide the shrimp as well among the six bowls placing the mixture on top of the grits. Garnish with something fun like red and green pepper confetti and a some parsley and you are ready to go.

Another great way to serve shrimp with these grits is to make a cajun variation of the BBQ Shrimp. Saute 1/2 cup each of celery, green pepper, onion and a minced clove of garlic in a couple of tablespoons of butter in a nice big skillet until they soften. Sprinkle in a Tablespoon of flour or so and cook for a minute. Add a teaspoon of hot sauce, a couple of shakes of Worcestershire sauce and then a cup and a half of dark stock(veal or beef), or cup of chicken or vegetable stock and a half cup Madeira )or even a cup and a half of brown sauce or gravy from the jar or bag, I won't tell). Stir to thicken and then add 2 pounds of peeled and deveined shrimp and cook over medium heat until the shrimp are just done. Serve this the same as with the BBQ shrimp.

The grits make a great background for all kinds of similar dishes and really add a nice mellow harmony to spicy dishes. I won't mention that they can also extend a meager portion of expensive shrimp or meat into a nice filling dish. The recipes above are generous for six and could be extended to 8 and still be a nice meal with a salad thrown into the mix. Use your imagination and you could find all kinds of things to serve atop the grits. Did someone say a melange of sauted assorted mushrooms in a nice thick Madeira sauce? It is about fiddlehead ferns in a Dijon wine sauce?

Oh Yeah!

The spoon bread variation on this dish is nice as well and will work just as well as the foundation of a dish like the shrimp dishes above. Make the above grits recipe and instead of serving it as is stir in 4 lightly beaten large eggs (make sure you temper the eggs or you'll have scrambled eggs and grits). 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg. Pour this mixture into an 8 quart buttered casserole or souffle dish and bake for 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven. This needs to be eaten right from the oven. Spoon bread, by the way, is one of my favorite things in the whole world and this is a good and easy variation. Spoon bread is the white man's shortcut for make a traditional native American corn pudding which, if done properly, takes hours. If anyone would like to know how to make the real deal (Indian pudding) let me know.


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