Grits aren’t just for breakfast. This ground corn meal staple of southern dining has long been the “ugly stepchild” of meals relegated to bland supporting roles at the breakfast table; always eclipsed by egg and meat creations enhanced by gravies, sauces and cheeses. No wonder it has been long ignored as a delicious side dish with many intriguing possibilities.
Ever since my long ago childhood, however, I have been a huge fan of this corn meal “delicacy.” That may be because my grandmother always worked hard to enliven her creamy grits by “additives.” When visiting grandkids came, she carefully mixed fluffy scrambled eggs, chunks of spicy sausage or that N.C. favorite fried liver mush to butter drenched grits. Sometimes there was also red eye gravy if country ham was available.
In modern times, grits have been upgraded somewhat. Almost every southern chef, minor or exalted, has a recipe for shrimp and grits where the corn meal base is richly enhanced and “glamorized.”
There is so much more to grits for home use, however, since they are a very easy to make, a filling and rib sticking side dish which is especially true in colder months. First of all, whether you use “quick grits” or premium stone ground varieties, the preparation is simple. Bring salted water [about double the amount of grits to be added] to a boil before adding your grits. Turn the heat to medium-low and stir constantly until combined [2 to 5 minutes depending on the amount being made]. Remove from the heat, add cream [or milk], plenty of melted butter and a healthy dash of pepper. If you want spicy grits, add some red pepper flakes or some shredded pepper jack cheese [or almost any cheese you prefer]. Cover and set aside [or serve immediately].
For a one dish meal, or as a hearty side, grits welcome almost any meats and veggies – don’t rely only on expensive shrimp. Before cooking your grits, select and chop your favorite veggies. For me the thin as-paragus goes beautifully with grits but almost anything else is fine from bell peppers to onions, carrots and even eggplant. Stir fry your veggies with [or without] bacon, sausage or diced ham and add immediately to your prepared grits. You will have a very hearty, one dish meal.
One final thing to remember is that cooked grits keep well for several days in the refrigerator. They become quite dense but just add a little water, milk and melted butter for re-heating. Also, leftover grits can be formed into squares or patties and fried up in bacon grease or seasoned oils for an entirely different side dish later in the week.