A kind of carbo-licious porridge made from dried and coarsely ground corn, grits are to Southern cuisine what potatoes are to Northern cuisine – a deeply satisfying staple.
These days we’re starting to see grits all over the country. Oftentimes, they’ll show up at breakfast seasoned with salt and pepper, topped with a pat of butter, and nestled alongside some bacon and eggs. They’re also a signature element in Shrimp and Grits, one of the succulent delights of the cuisine of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, which has also migrated widely.
But wonderful as they are, grits can be a chore – not to say slightly dangerous — to make. I’m speaking of regular old-fashioned stone-ground grits, which trump “quick grits” and “instant grits” in both flavor and texture. Made the usual way, old-fashioned grits need to be stirred relentlessly to avoid clumping. You also have to handle it with care; this hot mush has a tendency to bubble up and burn the cook.
Here’s a way to avoid those problems – make it in the oven instead of on the stovetop. You simply combine the grits and the liquid in a ceramic pie dish (a total of ten minutes hands-on time) and pop it into the oven for 45 to 50 minutes. Then stir in the flavorings – sharp cheddar cheese, in this case — and it’s done. How easy is that?
One note, though. The ceramic pie plate (or any shallow ceramic baking dish with the same capacity) is key. Pie plates made of metal or glass pie just do not conduct heat as effectively.
Start to finish: 1 hour 5 minutes (10 active)
Servings: 4 to 6
2 ½ cups water combined with either 2 ½ cups vegetable or chicken broth or 5 cups water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup grits (not quick cooking)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
4 ounces coarsely grated sharp cheddar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Stir together the water, butter, grits and salt (Note: if using salted vegetable or chicken stock, do not add salt), in a 1 quart ceramic pie plate, set on a rimmed sheet pan. Bake, on the middle shelf of the oven, uncovered, for 50 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir in three quarters of the cheese, stirring until melted, Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if needed. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and put the grits on a shelf in the upper third of the oven, under the broiler until nicely browned. Serve right away.