Food & Drink

Grits: A hot bowl of Southern comfort


That one word, for me, conjures up images of the Southern breakfast table. With grits, it’s understood that the morning will start off right with a warm hug from a bowl, topped with melting butter, maybe some cheese, some crumbled bacon.

Alton Brown once said that grits is the one dish every Southerner should know how to cook. And I believe he is right. Fried chicken and catfish have become national staples. Northerners and those in the Midwest can have their warm oatmeal, but grits (at least until recently) have been truly a Southern thing.

So what are grits? Basically white or yellow corn kernels that have been (traditionally) ground on a stone mill. The smallest grains are separated out as cornmeal; the coarser grains are grits.

Grits are made simply: The purist only uses slow-cooking grits brought to a boil in water and then simmered for about an hour, until the water is absorbed or evaporated and the grits are porridge-like.

For the modern cooks, or folks like me who want things in a hurry, there are quick grits that can cook within 15 minutes. Here, the germ and the hull of the corn kernels have been removed so that the grits cook faster.

And yes, there is something called “instant grits” on supermarket shelves. In this case it means instantly walk away. Do not buy unless truly desperate. I know. I went through a phase years ago and bought boxes of this stuff so that I could have hot grits at my office desk. Convenient, maybe. Tasty, well…

I’m a quick grits girl now. I have learned (and my sister has schooled me in) the art of making good grits.

Anyone can make great grits if you remember the ratio of 1 cup grits to 3 cups water. Put the grits and water and a little bit of salt together in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes until water is absorbed. Now you have about 4 cups of hot grits.

Plain grits.

Now I have, toward the end of the cooking time, whisked between a half-cup to whole cup of heavy cream into the grits. Just to give a little depth of flavor. Some folks like to use milk rather than water (or in combination), and others use chicken or vegetable broth.

But to keep it simple is to enjoy a great, classic Southern dish. Classic means nothing but butter, salt and pepper.

But I thought, since grits aren’t just for breakfast, why not offer up some alternative toppings? Not too far out there; the toppings should still complement the grits. Then it came to me: What about a grits bar?

Perfect for entertaining, with bowls of toppings from simple to interesting, savory and sweet. Guests can pick and choose or combine flavors with grits as the centerpiece.