The first time I remember eating grits was in Boulder, Colorado. After college, I worked at a fancy-pants restaurant called Q’s in the Hotel Boulderado and we served pan-seared pork chops with blue cheese grits. It was the perfect, albeit not traditional, introduction into the corn-mush dish.
If you are wondering how I, as a southerner, made it until my 20s before I had grits, you aren’t alone. I wondered this, too. I asked my sister about it. Like me, she didn’t have grits at home growing up. I would say her first grits experience was a little more true to our southern roots since she had them in Columbus, Georgia, with our grandfather, aka, Poppa Gus.
I also asked my mom. She first said, “What? Are you going to write about how I deprived you of grits growing up?” I would never do such a thing. Then she said that she and my dad did indeed eat them often but “You guys just weren’t interested in them.” Yes, my mother, who was born in Mississippi, says “you guys” instead of “y’all.” Go figure.
My brother could not be reached for comment, at least not by my deadline. I do know that at least now, he eats grits. He recently sent me a pound of stone ground grits from McEwen & Sons Gristmill in Wilsonville, Alabama. They mill excellent organic corn products.
Let me back up a bit. Though the package was clearly labeled “grits,” my brother didn’t really send me a pound of grits, he sent me a pound of coarse, stone-ground cornmeal. I can turn the cornmeal into grits, polenta, cornbread or hamburger corn pone (Southern fare my family did eat).
What’s in a name? With grits and polenta, not much. Grits and polenta are both made with the same thing — ground dried corn kernels. The terms grits and polenta really just refer to the dishes made from ground corn. Some food companies, Bob’s Red Mills for one, label their coarse cornmeal with both “grits” and “polenta.”
To make matters more complicated, southern grits are often made from white corn hominy, so you will often see hominy grits on menus.
Hominy grits are a bit different. Hominy is hulled corn kernels, stripped of their bran and germ and nixtamalized. Nixtamalization is a process of treating the corn with an alkaline solution, such as lye. This makes the kernels swell to several times their natural size and increases the bioavailability of niacin (a fancy way of saying it’s easier for your body to use). When ground, the hominy grits are, well, grittier, than regular grits. They have more of a tooth to them.
For some people, it’s hominy grits or nothing. For me, I prefer yellow stone ground grits, but then, what does a late grits bloomer like myself know!
Blue Cheese Grits
4 cups water
3/4 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup coarse stone-ground grits
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (more to taste)
- Bring water and salt to a boil in a large heavy saucepan. While stirring, gradually add grits. Stir often with a wooden spoon.
- Reduce heat and cook at a bare simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently. Cook until the water is absorbed and grits have thickened, about 25 minutes. As the grits start to thicken, be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan (they have a tendency to stick).
- Stir in butter, milk, blue cheese and pepper. Continue to heat on low until it is the right consistency, which for some is on the thin side but, for me, is more like mashed potatoes.
- Salt and pepper to taste. I almost always need more pepper.
Participating in Monday-Mania.