You Say Polenta, I Say Grits

In food on 06/29/2009 at 7:43 pm

The first time I had grits, I was in a Cracker Barrel in Florida. I have a thing about mush, so I never ate oatmeal or congee for breakfast when I was growing up. I had no idea about polenta or grits. But these were steaming piles of cheese grits in the trays, so I said, why not? I’ll give it the ol’ college try. Wow, seriously savory deliciousness.

I never tried reproducing the stuff, because somehow I heard through the grapevine that it was a tedious affair. Stirring until your arm was sore for some pudding-like substance is not my idea of efficient tastiness.

When I met the other half, I was introduced to polenta. But for some reason, I didn’t like it. Was it the lack of cheese or the lack of texture? Both. Then the idea of cooling it and cutting it up into pieces, refrying it after dredging in flour….way too much work for not much satisfaction.

One day, I persuaded the other half to make grits, with cheese, and we re-discovered a good thing. What’s the difference between polenta and grits? Nothing but semantics. Both are made from corn, with varying degrees of grind. I prefer coarsely handled, but if you cook the bigger bits long enough, they become creamily indistinct as well.

Traditionally, polenta is not cooked with shredded cheese incorporated at the end. I actually don’t find grits that appealing by itself. The cheese makes it special. The sharper the cheddar, the better.

Yesterday, the other half was busy studying for the bar, so it was up to me to make the grits. For things Americana, we defer to America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. As I scanned the recipe, I had a culinary epiphany. It was a deja vu moment, actually. Making grits is the same idea as making Jell-o chocolate pudding (the cook n’ serve kind, not instant). You whisk whisk whisk in milk until it thickens. For Jell-o, it takes less than 10 minutes, so why couldn’t grits be made the same way?

By golly, it worked.

1 cup coarse ground cornmeal (über-purists, use ‘hominy’ variety)
3 cup whole organic milk
2 cup water
1 cup shredded cheese (any type you like, but sharp adds zing)
parmesan cheese (freshly grated)
salt and pepper
(half this recipe is enough for 2)

Put cornmeal, milk and water in a pot on medium heat. Whisk continuously until surface breaks with bubbles, and grits are thick and creamy, about 7 minutes. Check the texture to taste after another 3 minutes.

Take off the heat, stir in shredded cheese, salt and pepper.

Serve topped with parmesan, accompanying stews, seafood, roasted meats and sautéed veg.

grandpa cracker would be proud

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