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Food Friday Tips : Grits

Grits
Ray Sawhill via Flickr
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Tune into Food Friday this week when Chef Jasper Alexander of Hattie's Restaurant in Saratoga Spring joins Ray Graf in the studio to talk Southern cooking and soul food!

Grits suffer a great paradox and are one of the most misunderstood Southern delicacies.  Basic sustenance to a Southerner, yet comic fodder for anyone outside the south. 

It goes much deeper that that though.  Most people who did not grow up in the South or do not have southern roots don’t even know what grits are, let alone if they like them or not.  It’s not entirely their fault. 

If you live outside the South you probably have only been exposed to instant or quick grits.  Good news!  You haven’t really had real grits, so its time to come into the fold.  For clarity's sake lets establish few things.  Real grits are stone-ground dried corn, period, end of story.  Quick grits, where the germ and hull have been removed or instant grits which are cooked, dehydrated and re-ground have about as much in common with stone ground grits as a loaf of naturally leavened French bread does with Wonder Bread.  It’s just not the same thing. 

Real grits are ground whole, hull, germ and all and have delicious sweet corn flavor and wonderfully creamy yet slightly grainy texture when cooked.  They and can be either white or yellow based on the color of the corn they are made from.  Yellow grits tend to have a more pronounced corn flavor and smoother texture than white grits. While you're still not likely to find stone ground grits in your typical grocery store, they are generally available at health food and specialty grocers around the country.  You can also order quite easily online. 

Despite being dried, fresh stoned ground grits are quite perishable and should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.  One of the best things about grits is their versatility.  They can be cooked with water, milk, cream or stock depending on your application.  They can be made and served creamy or refrigerated, cut into shapes and fried, which gives them a nice crispy exterior.  I have even cooked them in coconut milk and sugar and used them as a component to a dessert. They are great plain with just salt and butter, with cheese or with bacon or country ham folded in.

This recipe is creamy grits in their most basic form and will provide an excellent base for experimentation for the grit novice:

Basic Grits

Ingredients:

4 cups milk

1 cup stone ground grits

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Directions

1. Pour milk into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat. 

2. Once the milk boils, add the grits and reduce heat to medium. Stir constantly until the mixture begins to simmer so that there are bubbles breaking surface consistently but not vigorously. 

3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer while stirring every 2-3 minutes for about 60 minutes. The grits will continue to thicken and you may need to add more milk or water as necessary to adjust the consistency for your particular taste or application. The longer you cook the grits and the more frequently you stir, the better they will be.  Once your arm has given out, add the butter and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper.

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