Not your mama's grits: Southern staple stars in upscale recipes

July 27, 2011 1:11:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


Grits. No, we don't mean Girls Raised In the South (though I'm certainly proud to be one), or the Christian hip-hop artist GRITS, the Liberal Party of Canada, known as GRITS, or even Kid Rock's first album, "Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast." 


We mean, of course, that Southern staple, that maize-based porridge every self-respecting G.R.I.T. (the Girls) should know how to whip up -- and not the instant kind, either. 


We can thank the Native American tribes of the Southeast for this crushed corn mainstay, sometimes called sofkee or sofkey, from the Muskogee language. 


Southerners tend to be a bit proprietary about this signature food, and no real surprise. According to Wikipedia, three-quarters of all the grits sold in the United States are sold in the "grits belt," from Texas to Virginia. Why, Georgia even went so far as to declare grits their official prepared food in 2002. Similar bills have been introduced in South Carolina. 


Grits are really nothing more than coarsely-ground dried corn. (Ground finely, it's corn meal.) In their most basic comfort-food form, they could hardly be more simple to prepare. Boiling water will get you there. Just cook on low to medium heat, following directions on the box and stirring as you go. 


Seasoned with salt, pepper and butter, they marry perfectly with eggs, bacon, ham or sausage in a down-home breakfast. But to limit their role to the morning meal is short-sighted. We've gathered some recipes today that can elevate the grits repertoire. Even your tried-and-true shrimp and grits may benefit from reading Paula Deen's version with tasso ham, onions, leeks and green peppers. 




There are grits ... 


And then there are grits. Cookbook author Martha Foose, who recently made an appearance at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library for Table Talk, notes that there are several good stone-ground artisanal grits available that boast superior flavor. And, she adds, "It's always good to help the little guy." Foose likes Anson Mills' product. 


Her cheese grits casserole recipe, from her book "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea," made with cheddar cheese, eggs, garlic and hot pepper sauce is included today. It can be assembled the day before, refrigerated and baked the next day. (Add 20 minutes to the baking time.) 


Whitney Miller's shrimp and sausage with grits soufflé is also in today's pages. Miller of Poplarville won the first season of MasterChef and shared her expertise in the June 2011 issue of Self magazine, saying, "My upscale version of shrimp and grits is made with pan seared shrimp, andouille sausage and roasted corn fresh off the cob." The grits soufflé is surrounded by a yellow pepper sabayon, which is the French name for a thick, creamy sauce. This takes a little time to prepare, but is purported to be absolutely mouth-watering. 


Grits. They aren't just for breakfast any more. 








3 1/2 cups whole milk 


2 tablespoons unsalted butter 


1 garlic clove, minced 


1 teaspoon salt 


1 1/4 cups quick-cooking grits 


8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (2 cups) 


1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce 


1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper 


5 large eggs 


1/8 teaspoon hot paprika 




(Source: "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea," by Martha Foose) 






Makes two servings 


Prep time: 20 minutes 


Cook time: 15 minutes 




Two servings cooked grits 


2 tablespoons olive oil 


1/2 cup diced tasso ham* 


2 tablespoons diced leeks 


2 tablespoons diced onion 


2 tablespoons diced green peppers 


20 medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined, with tails on 


1-2 tablespoons white wine 


1 cup heavy cream 


Salt and pepper 


Green onion tops, chopped 


(*Tasso is a Cajun ham, often hard to find outside Louisiana. May substitute salt pork, pancetta of prosciutto, but you'll have to beef up the seasoning, as tasso is very flavorful.) 




(Source: Paula Deen, Food Network) 






Makes six to eight servings 




1 tablespoon olive oil 


1 large white or yellow onion, grated 


1 cup whole corn kernels, either frozen or freshly cut from the cob 


2 cups whole milk 


2 cups water 


Salt and freshly-ground black pepper 


1 cup stone-ground or coarse-ground grits 


2 tablespoons butter 


3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about 3 ounces) 


1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 


1/4 cup chopped fresh green onion greens 




(Source: adapted, "Bon Apetit, Y'all, Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking," 






Makes six servings 




For the corn: 


3 ears corn, unhusked 


3 tablespoons unsalted butter 


1/2 teaspoon salt 


1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 


For the sabayon: 


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 


1/2 cup diced yellow onion 


1/4 cup diced yellow bell pepper 


1 garlic clove, minced 


1 1/2 cups heavy cream 


1 teaspoon salt 


1 large egg yolk Grits 




For the soufflé: 


2 cups whole milk 


1/2 cup quick-cooking grits 


1/2 teaspoon salt 


1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper 


2 tablespoons unsalted butter 


1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (2 ounces) 


2 eggs, separated 




For the shrimp and sausage: 


1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined 


1/4 teaspoon salt 


1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 


Dash of cayenne pepper 


2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 


8 ounces andouille sausage, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch slices 






1/4 cup chopped scallions 


1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley 




For the corn: