How To Make The Perfect: Grits

We're starting a weekly series on how to make the perfect [insert food here]. While none of us are experts on everything, some of us are pretty darn close on at least a couple of things. Stay tuned each week as the Eating Our Words bloggers detail how to make the perfect meatloaf, marinara sauce, fried chicken or beer bread (yes, beer bread).

​Grits are such a maligned food. Served primarily in Waffle Houses and Denny's, the noble hominy porridge is usually reduced to a sad side item in a larger -- and more delicious -- breakfast spread. And for good reason. The grits that one usually receives in restaurants are -- with very few exceptions -- watery, bland, undercooked and entirely unappetizing.

The reality is that grits can be not only delicious, but visually appealing as well. They're simple to make, inexpensive and highly nutritious, containing thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron in addition to fiber. And grits should never be relegated to just a side item. With only the tiniest bit of ingenuity, a $1.59 box of grits can be transformed into a savory centerpiece that will feed an entire table at brunch or a family at dinner. Not bad for a bunch of ground hominy.

The trick to making the perfect grits is simple: Ignore the instructions on the box. They will lead you astray every time. Instead, follow these simple directions and you'll have a delicious bowl of grits in under ten minutes.

The Perfect Grits

Yield: 4 servings

​For your basic grits, you'll need only five ingredients: water, cream, butter, salt and the grits themselves.

Use good butter. This can't be stressed enough. Do not use margarine. Do not use "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter." Do not use butter that's been sitting in the fridge uncovered for weeks, soaking up odors and flavors. Do not use unsalted butter. With only five ingredients, you will be able to taste the nasty, disgusting fake butter you inadvisedly used in the grits, and you will be sorry.

​Bring two cups of water and one cup of cream to a boil. I recommend heavy whipping cream, but if you're trying to be more health-conscious, you can use skim milk instead. Either way, don't use all water when trying to make grits -- you need a dairy component.

Gently add one cup of grits and one tablespoon of kosher salt to the boiling water. Don't reduce the heat immediately, but allow the grits to continue boiling while you stir constantly.

​After two minutes, reduce heat to medium-low and continue to stir. Just like risotto, the secret to great grits is plenty of stirring. Don't forget to scrape the bottom and sides.

​After five to seven minutes, your grits should reach a thick but still creamy consistency (dripping gently off the spoon but not too easily). Remove from the heat, plate and serve immediately. Cold grits are horrid. Garnish with a single pat of butter and enjoy.

​If you're feeling more adventurous, I would suggest the following twists that will transform your simple bowl of grits into a stunning centerpiece. All of these ingredients should be cooked/prepared prior to making your grits and added near the very end of cooking.

  • Chopped bacon, green onions, shredded white cheddar and minced jalapenos
  • Crumbled sausage (I prefer spicy Jimmy Dean) and maple syrup
  • Raisins, dates, dried cranberries, walnuts, a few dashes of sugar and a splash of cream
  • Peeled shrimp, scallions and parmesan cheese
  • Shredded cheese of any variety, a dash of paprika and a few generous dashes of garlic powder
It's nearly impossible to go wrong with a base of perfectly-cooked grits. Go wild and let us know your favorite grits recipes in the comments section below.

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Katharine Shilcutt