Saturday, June 17, 2006

For Manda....


In response to a recent post, the lovely and talented Manda* was moved to inquire, "What the hell are grits"?

This is a most excellent question, thanks for asking! Let's see if I can't clear this up somewhat....

The fine folks at Quaker provide this answer, from the QuakerGrits website:
Grits are made from the milling of corn kernels. The first step in the process is to clean the kernels; then, the grains are steamed for a short time to loosen the tough outer hull. The grain kernel is split, which removes the hull and germ, leaving the broken endosperm. Heavy steel rollers break up the endosperm into granules, which are separated by a screening process. The large-size granules are the grits; the smaller ones become cornmeal and corn flour.

Um, yeah. That's helpful....
Let's see if I can't make it clearer...

OK, for starters, they are a Southern staple food- most commonly eaten at breakfast, but some people (like me) like them pretty much anytime. Despite the claims made at the aforementioned Quaker site, where they insist that grits are loved universally, they really are pretty much consumed exclusively in the SouthEastern United States. It is not uncommon to meet someone who has never tried them, even here in the South.

Basically, traditional grits are smashed up kernels of dried hominy. And hominy is what you get when you take corn kernels, dry them, then soak them in a lye-water solution until they plump way up and the corn germ is removed. (this process is called nixtamalization...) A lot of companies today, however, don't make true hominy grits anymore, but instead you get corn grits, which still contains bits of the germ....
So - to get grits, you take the corn, dry it, soak it, dry it again, and then smash it into bits. (Do you ever wonder who thinks this stuff up??? I mean, what a bizarre, labor-intensive process!)

Grits are cooked by adding them to rapidly boiling water. How long you cook them depends up the size of the smashed up bits. Small smashed up bits are called "Quick Cooking" and are done in about 5 minutes. The stone-ground (aka: larger bits) can take up to 45 minutes. Honestly, there are few things as good as a pot of stone ground grits that have been cooked properly. However, I will admit that even though I recognize how much better they are, I often take the easy way out and go with the Quick kind.

In terms of taste: They can be eaten in a variety of ways - some like to salt and pepper them, others like to sweeten them. Lots of butter is pretty much a given, whether you go the sweet or savoury route. I think one of the reasons why we love grits is that they are a perfect vehicle for cheese. And boy-oh-boy do we love our cheese in America. We don't have the great and amazing cheeses of Europe, unfortunately. We tend to go for quantity vs. quality in our foodstuffs here - case in point: pizza. cheeseburgers. etc. You can cram a whole lot a cheese into a bowl of grits, and I must admit that they're pretty darn tasty.

I realize that I am not making grits sound really attractive, so let me just close with this: I think of them as a Southern Polenta. It's essentially a corn mush which can be dressed up and adapted to reflect many different tastes based on the seasonings which you use. I've even been known to fix up a batch of grits, pour them into a pan and chill overnight and then fry or grill them the next day - just as you would polenta.

OK - now I'm hungry....

Other interesting Grit resources:
* How are grits different than polenta?
* Grits.com
* A very common, easy and popular Cheese Grits recipe



*If you're not familiar with Manda's site, Tree Fall, you should head over there and check it out. You can go right now, if you like, I'll still be here when you get back! Enjoy....

10 comments:

blair said...

Being from the southeastern US, I love grits!! But my husband, who's from all over, declares grits as just a vehicle for salt and butter.

autum said...

Shame on you for ever saying you're not that great of a writer! That was such a beautiful explanation of grits I may have teared up a time or two. I even said (aloud) "get the heck of of town" there at the end. You fry grits? My granny used to do that. I never would have thought anyone else did. I just thought it was more of her necessary thriftiness. There is nothing better than grits with country ham and red-eye gravy. I bet Manda hasn't heard of red-eye gravy either.

manda said...

Ok, I love this SOOOOOO much! It made me laugh outloud and goodness me I learnt something too! Although you pretty much had me lost until you mentioned polenta. Now I have an idea of what you're talking about. Thank you! (d'ya think these would travel well? I kind of want to try them now!)
Now, next question (and this one's Autum's fault). What the hell is red-eye gravey?
Oh and hey, I have one for you - do you guys eat Faggots in the US, they were one of my favourite things as a kid. Loved 'em!

capello said...

My step-monster's mom use to make grits, and they were not all that good.

She also made biscuts and gravy all the time. Again, not my cup of tea.

Guess I'm too much of a Yankee.

autum said...

Did you tell Manda what red-eye gravy was? And No Manda, I have never eaten a faggot. I promise! (I bet that'll get you some fun google hits)

LLA said...

Ah-ha! Obviously, I knew that "faggot" must mean something very different in the UK* - I was just at a loss for what it could possibly be. Thank goodness for Google!

I found a definition at GreatBritishKitchen.co.uk - however, the explanation left me as confounded as the original grits information.
But upon reading further, the author compared it to the Northeastern Scrapple. (which, for the record, I love! My parents lived in Bryn Mawr for a while and developed a taste for it. When they moved back down South, to Tennessee, they would have friends bring them coolersfull of the stuff. We were brought up to think of it as this special treat, since we didn't get it very often. I think I was in college before I realized that it's considered very lowbrow, almost trashy food! And that it's full of the stuff that most people would rather not think about, much less eat! So whereas I never have had faggot, if it's like scrapple, I bet I'd like it. And furthermore, a big bowl of grits would go great on the side!)

Red-eye gravy - guess I'm tackling this one, hmmm Autum? OK -

When you fry up country ham (the heavily cured, salted one) in a skillet, you end up with a lots of good drippings in the skillet. (I think we call them drippings, so we can fool ourselves into thinking that it's not pure fat. Pure, salty fat.)
Once you remove the ham from the skillet, you add some really strong coffee to the drippings that remain. (Usually a ratio of about 1 Tbsp of coffee for every ham slice or about 3/4 cup coffee for 8 ham slices) Optionally, you can add a generous pinch of sugar. You let this simmer for about 5 minutes, and then you call it done.

We had this a lot as children, as both my parents, and all their people are from Kentucky, where red eye gravy rules! As a child, I didn't love it, but I'd like to try it again as an adult.

The "red eye" of the name comes from the little red circles of grease that form in the gravy. Now doesn't that sound good????



*After all, don't you have a dessert called Spotted Dick???

autum said...

oh my goodness, this is the post that keeps on giving... or should I say educating. I don't know what Northeastern Scrapple is but I'm going to google it. I'm scared to google spotted dick, so I'll just trust that it is a dessert.

The Caretaker said...

Sadly, it's tough to find grits here in Seattle. So, it's one of the things I look forward to when I go back to GA each year. (I love the Garlic Cheese grits at Malley's!

katie said...

Thank you for that highly imformative post - I have always been completely ignorant of the properties of 'grits' - I am in doubt no longer.

ra said...

spotted dick is an English pudding. It's a boiled suet pudding with dried fruit in it; currants, raisins, sultanas. It has to be served with Birds custard!