Cooking

True Grits

5 formulas for dressing grits, one of the ultimate Southern sides
Blueprint: Grits
Print the guide and take it with you. | Illustrations: Kim Graziano/Tasting Table

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"There are instant grits, but no self-respecting Southerner would eat them, unless they're at a roadside place or something," three-time James Beard Award-winning cookbook writer Nathalie Dupree says. Aside from her comprehensive Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, Dupree literally wrote the book on grits (that would be Shrimp and Grits).

Along with bitter greens and corn bread, grits are one of the most iconic Southern sides. Although they're traditionally a breakfast food, simply dressed with butter and eaten with bacon and eggs, grits are a blank canvas that can take on a whole host of sweet and savory flavors.

So what exactly are grits? They're ground corn, though the resulting cornmeal can vary in texture—sometimes you'll get them with the kernel, sometimes without. Dupree prefers coarser stone-ground versions like Anson Mills and Geechie Boy Mill, which maintain more of the corn flavor.

Some chefs recommend soaking the grits overnight to reduce their cooking time. When you cook them, it's typically with a simple ratio of four parts liquid to one part grits (add a bit more liquid if you're using milk or cream)—but don't always go by what the package tells you.

"Sometimes it'll say that you can cut down on the cooking time, but that's a lie," Dupree laughs. In other words, you're going to need around an hour to get them to the consistency you prefer. "Some like 'em tight; some like 'em loose," Dupree says. "I'm a 'looser.'"

We made five variations (printable version here), playing around with different add-ins and textures. See below for grits so good you'll want to kiss them.

Our basic method to make 2 servings of stone-ground grits: Soak 1 cup grits in water for at least 4 hours or overnight. In a small saucepan, combine the grits and soaking liquid with 1 teaspoon kosher salt (some recipes use less salt; see below), and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring often, until the grits are creamy and tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.


For the grits: ¾ tsp kosher salt + 1 c grits + 3 c water
For the add-ins: 6 oz. andouille sausage, sliced + 1 lb. shrimp + 1 c heavy cream + 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning + ½ c sliced scallions + hot sauce, to taste

This is our rich, meaty spin on shrimp and grits. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage until the fat begins to render, about 3 minutes. Add the shrimp, cream and Cajun seasoning, and reduce the cream by half, about 8 to 10 minutes. Top the grits with the shrimp mixture, sliced scallions and a few good shakes of hot sauce, if you please.

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For the grits: ½ tsp kosher salt + 1 c grits + 3 c water
For the add-ins: 1 c finely grated Parmesan + 4 tbsp sliced almonds, toasted + 2 tbsp capers + ⅓ c roughly chopped green olives + 2 tbsp golden raisins + 2 oil-packed anchovies, roughly chopped + 3 tbsp olive oil

This polenta-like preparation captures Mediterranean brininess at its best. Stir in the Parmesan halfway through cooking the grits. Toss the almonds, capers, green olives, raisins and anchovies with the olive oil and add to the grits.


For the grits: 1 tsp kosher salt + 1 c grits + 3 c water
For the add-ins: 2 tbsp olive oil + ½ c diced green bell pepper + 1 packed c finely chopped collard greens + 1 tsp ground coriander + 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

No need to serve collards on the side when you can stir them right into these herbaceous grits. In a medium skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the green bell pepper and cook until almost tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the collard greens and coriander and cook until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir the green mixture and parsley into to the grits halfway through cooking.


For the grits: 1 tsp kosher salt + 1 c grits + 3 c water
For the add-ins: ¼ c olive oil + ⅓ c diced yellow onion + ⅔ c chopped leeks + 1 c grated white cheddar + 1 c grated Gruyere + 2 tbsp finely chopped chives + black pepper, to taste

Two cheeses meet lots of oniony flavor in this creamy variation. In a medium skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and leeks, and cook, stirring often, until very soft, 10 to 12 minutes. Stir the onion-leek mixture and both cheeses into the cooked grits and top with chives. Season with black pepper.


For the grits: 1 tsp kosher salt + 1 c grits + 1½ c water + 1½ c whole milk
For the add-ins: 2 tbsp butter + 1 Granny Smith apple—peeled, cored and chopped + 2 tsp ground cinnamon + 1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger + 3 tbsp maple syrup + 1 tsp finely grated orange zest

Who needs rice pudding when you can eat sweet grits? In a medium skillet over medium heat, add the butter. When the butter begins to foam, add the apples and cinnamon, and cook, stirring often until tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Add half the apples and the ginger to the grits. To serve, top grits with the remaining apples, a drizzle of maple syrup and the orange zest.

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