If you don’t love these grits, you should see an otolaryngologist.
RECIPE I tip my white hat to food bloggers. They plan menus, shop for ingredients, note copious measurements, and photograph recipes every step along the way. When I cook, my mind is consumed with getting everything plated and served while it's still hot. Seasoning is to taste with measurements by eyeball. Therefore, I am fortunate to snap a few photo just before getting a dish on the table. Documenting the process can easily extend cooking time, but occasionally I am inspired to do so. If this sounds like an excuse to display iPhone 5s food porn, you're absolutely right (though I had to prepare the dish twice, on different days, to get enough photos).
You May Not Have Tasted Your Best Grits
Lacking much nutrition on their own and 89% carbohydrates, grits are often enriched with iron during processing. Similar to polenta and masa, not everyone likes grits. Believe it or not, some have never tried them. Without any help, they are undeniably bland, as are many foods in their natural state. It's possible to prepare unpalatable beans, rice, meat, tofu, or spinach if undercooked, overcooked or unseasoned. To find out how grits really taste, avoid "quick" labeled packages. The cow digestive enzymes, activated in water, can produce a mushy texture.
Considered a Southern staple, there are probably as many ways to cook grits as there are chefs in the Grits Belt (Texas to Virginia). In very basic preparation, bring water to a boil, reduce heat and slowly stir in grits. Continue periodic stirring for about 20 minutes, or until four parts of salted water is absorbed. They take on a perfect porridge-like consistency when done. Stir in a little more hot water if necessary. Grits should slide off a spoon, not run off or clump — too watery or too thick and they're not usually fit for human consumption. Serve immediately since they will continue to thicken as they cool. There's such an art to this that it even spurred Denzel Washington to quip, "You're overcooking my grits" in Remember the Titans (2000). Eat overcooked grits once and you'll understand the sentiment.
Beyond the basics, cooks add their own special hooks like butter, cheese, eggs, flax seed (guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty), cream, garlic, onions, bell pepper, shrimp, sweet potatoes, Cajun spices, gumbo, jambalaya or gravy. I like to scramble an egg and stir it in for a smooth consistency that further enriches the grits with protein. Others load grits with butter and sugar for a hot breakfast cereal that makes you forget about eating until lunchtime. To anyone who says they don't like grits, I say, you just haven't tasted them prepared the way you enjoy yet.
Stumbling Upon a Delicacy
One morning, I had a taste for a breakfast that would keep me satisfied for several hours. So, using the last bit in the box, I prepared some hot buttered grits, topped on my plate with a thin deli slice of cheddar cheese. About a third of a pot remained. Cold grits get quite stiff. You can't just reconstitute leftovers the next morning expecting the same smooth consistency. As B.B. King would say, "The thrill is gone."
I kicked it up a notch, sprinkling what remained with parmesan cheese, flax seed, and El Guapo Pico de Gallo seasoning (salt, chili powder, and citric acid) purchased from Smart & Final. I then spooned the grits into some plastic wrap to form a cookie-dough-like tube and placed it in the refrigerator. To be honest, I heard of fried grits but had never made them. But that's what I had in mind trying. Cold or not, I wasn't going to dump the last bit of grits I had in the waste bin.
It's the next morning — time to cook grits like a chef. I scramble an egg and set it aside. Season some flour with Pico de Gallo, salt and dill. While peanut and olive oil is heating in a skillet, carefully slice the cold grits into 1/4-inch rounds, dip them in the egg wash and then coat them with seasoned flour. Fry a sample until golden colored on each side. (They look like large chicken nuggets.) Taste and make adjustments before proceeding. I'm improvisational. Does the flour need a dash of gram masala? (Stay focused.) Drain the patties on a paper towel as you go.
Lighter Vegan Variation: Substitute nutritional yeast for parmesan cheese; replace the egg wash with almond milk; use Panko instead of flour. After making a batch with Panko sans egg, my wife ate 10 with maple syrup before I could snap a photo.
Now sauté thinly sliced onions until translucent. Add spinach with salt and pepper for a couple of minutes (kick it up a notch with fresh cilantro). Spinach should be vibrant green. For protein, grill some Gardein Chick'n Strips seasoned with low-sodium Tamari sauce. Slice tomatoes and plate the breakfast. Dot some Sriracha sauce on each grit patty and top with spinach. (I may try it with a slice of cheddar next time.) My patties are less than 2 inches round. You'll probably want to eat at least 5 to be satisfied or make larger patties. They are crisp on the outside and moist on the inside with a gritty granularity. The rewarding treat depends upon how the grits are seasoned. The delicious combination of tomato, spinach and spicy sauce raise grits to a whole new level — like crab cakes without the crustaceans.
In the future, I will intentionally make extra grits while looking forward to this delicacy with eager anticipation. To make a quick breakfast item out of them, you can refrigerate the fried rounds and warm them up in a toaster oven. If you don't mind sacrificing the crunch, you can rewarm cooked, battered patties in the microwave.
Freezer warning: The third time I made this, I tried freezing a tube. It takes about 40 minutes to thaw at room temperature or several hours when moved from freezer to refrigerator. Unfortunately, the water tends to separate from the grits during thawing, making them very fragile to work with as they are cut. I also tried the cookie-cutter pan method. They came out nice and uniform but there was some waste. These fried grits are so addictive, they are becoming a weekly craving.
While writing this article, I found a basic recipe for Southern Fried Grit Patties that is somewhat similar. (Cookie cutter for cold grits spread flat on a pan.) It has measurements and more details that I didn't care to include. Feel free to add your flair and let me know how you like your grits.