I’ll never forget my first experience with grits. I suspect Southerners taste grits right around their first birthday, but I was a full-fledged adult, enjoying brunch with friends in New York City, when the urge struck. Never one to enjoy true breakfast food after about 8 a.m., I opted for the shrimp and grits, the most savory sounding dish on the menu. The first bite was a revelation: creamy yet textured grits, rich from copious amounts of butter and cheese, punctuated with bits of chopped garlicky shrimp. But it was the poached egg with its silky yolk cascading over the grits like a sauce, that put the dish over the top. Hooked!
The word “grits” most commonly refers to ground dried corn. (It’s possible to find other types of grits, but those are generally qualified, such as “millet grits” or “buckwheat grits”.) The corn can be white or yellow and it’s ground to varying degrees, ranging from fine to coarse. Purists prefer stone-ground grits, which retain a rougher texture (“gritty”) and more of the nutrients, specifically fiber. Since stone-ground grits include the plant’s germ, they’re highly perishable. Keep them in an airtight bag, refrigerated or frozen, for about three months.
Cooking grits may sound exotic, but it’s actually quite simple. Bring liquid to a boil (generally water to maintain the flavor of the corn, but broth does add flavor), whisk in the grits and salt, and simmer gently until they’re done. Stir the grits frequently to avoid sticking. The cooking time depends on the grind of the grits; coarse grits may take twice as long as a fine grind. If the grits thicken too much while cooking, simply stir in additional water. I made the recipe below dairy-free, but grits and butter (and cheese) make perfect companions. Don’t be afraid to make the addition.
To this day, I’m still a sucker for grits with a runny egg yolk, but I certainly don’t limit my consumption to breakfast. Use grits as you would polenta (really just another grind of dried corn); I use grits as a bed for stews or sausages and broccoli rabe. If those dishes seem too wintry, try this Creole-inspired shrimp sauté over thyme-flecked grits as a lighter, warm weather option.