December 1, 2011

Cheesy Grits Recipe and a Brief History

Lets talk about grits: a creamy, savory, hearty and totally American dish. Before moving to Seattle, preparing grits took up a small to non-existent part of my cooking repertoire. I first sampled this intriguing dish with a local gathering of friends over a Sunday brunch. I was amazed at its creamy texture and heartiness, resembling a more traditional dish in my parts of the world: cream of wheat, which I do not care for in the least. I particularly enjoy the savory, rich, and luxurious aspects of grits, which I feel is lacking in it's cousin. Some would even go say that if your grits resemble the consistency of cream of wheat, then you haven't made them right.

First off, and before we go any further, we must get a few things straight. Before I embarked upon this adventure, I was extremely confused. Polenta, grits, hominy, cornmeal - it was all such a blur. I have simplified things below, and now we can all get our cards in order.

Grits is a creamy dish, similar to oatmeal or cream of wheat, made with one part corn grits or one part hominy grits and four parts liquid. Based on my research, it appears as though people are also using the term 'grits' to describe the actual grain itself. Grits, the dish, is common the the Southern parts of the US, Georgia and Mississippi.

Hominy refers to corn from which the bran and germ have been removed by soaking in a lye bath. This process is called Nixtamalization and was a truly fascinating discovery by the Meso-Americans. By treating the corn with lye solution, a strong alkali traditionally in the form of wood ash or lime, the corn's bound niacin becomes converted to free niacin, you can prevent Pellagra, a disease caused by niacin deficiency.

Polenta is the Italian word for grits. Polenta is made with cornmeal and broth, while grits use a larger grain (corn grits) and water. Some people refer to polenta as cornmeal mush.

Cornmeal has a slightly coarser grind than corn flour and is finer than corn grits. It is made from ground yellow corn, and is commonly used in cornbread and pancakes.

Corn Flour is a powdery flour made from corn meal. In Australia and Britain, the word corn flour is used synonymously with cornstarch. Corn flour is typically combined with others flours and used in gluten-free baking.

Masa Harina is flour that has been made from ground hominy corn, and is used to make corn tortillas, common in Mexico.

My quest to make the perfect grits has been historically derailed by many failed attempts to find this rare grain in my parts of the world. This time, I finally cracked and resorted to using cornmeal.  The insatiable desire for cheesy grits had to be fed. The resulting texture from using cornmeal was quite different from that of traditional grits, and left something to be desired. It was much thicker, and quickly formed into the shape of the pot. I tried my best to get it thin, but to no avail; I was left with a consistency resembling scrambled eggs. As soon as I make my way back home, I am putting hominy grits at the top of my grocery list. Despite the obvious lack of corn grits, this dish was a hit. My family adored the rich flavors of the cheese and cream, and marveled at the colors. It was creamy, rich, and satisfying. Grits will now become part of my culinary repertoire and I am excited about the journey I am about to embark on, in the world of corn.

serves 4
recipe adapted from Alton Brown

1 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup coarse corn grits, cornmeal can be substituted
3 tbsp butter
1 cup aged cheddar, shredded
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet onion, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 cup crimini mushrooms
20 - 25 jumbo shrimp or prawns
1/4 cup white wine
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 cup cream


1. In a large pot, bring the milk, cream, and water to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low. Slowly add the cornmeal and stir. Continue to stir with a wooden spoon, the whole time, and cook until all of the water has been absorbed. If your grits become too thick you can add some boiling water to thin them out.

2. Once the grits have reached the desired consistency, remove from the heat and add the butter and cheese and stir. Season with salt and pepper.

3. In a large frying pan, fry the garlic and onion with butter on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the red pepper and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.

4. Add the mushrooms and fry until tender. If you are using raw shrimp, cook until they have turned pink. If you are cooking frozen shrimp, fry until thawed and warm to touch. If you are using precooked thawed shrimp, cook for only one minute.

5. Turn the heat to medium-high. Push the shrimp and vegetables to one side of the pan. Add the white wine and chili powder to the opposite side of the pan, and stir. Once the wine starts to boil, add the cream and combine. Spread the shrimp and vegetables evenly over the pan allowing the sauce to mix throughout. Continue to cook for 5 - 8 minutes.

6. Scoop some grits into a bowl and top with the shrimp mixture and sauce.


  1. Mmm! I have yet to try grits that I actually like (maybe because most grits I've tried weren't totally homemade...yuck!), but this is a very convincing recipe!

  2. Totally. When they are done right, it's pure awesome.

  3. Yes, please! Your photos are SUPER DELICIOUS! Let me know what you think of my site:

  4. what a fabulous blog full of gorgeous recipes. Going to make myself a coffee and browse more :) grits is such an american thing (we dont tend to have anything similar in the UK) but when im in cali i love them!

  5. Check out the best place to get grits in the US... maybe the world... Charleston. The grits here are famous and cheesy and rich, especially with crawfish and butter!