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La Belle Cuisine
Deserve a Better Name!
Grits take a bad rap. And I for one am getting sick and tired of it! It is no wonder though.
Grits. What a word. Sounds
yucky. Sounds, well... gritty.
Who wants to
eat something vaguely resembling wet, gluey sand? But there you are. In the
Deep South, in the company of a Deep Southerner. Who, of course, insists that
grits are delicious, dahlin’, and that you
at least give them a chance. And
of all how important it is to be Polite in the South, begin
sider. How bad
possibly be? Besides, you want your
realize just how Tolerant, Open-minded, and Enlightened you are.
Should this experience be taking place in
a restaurant run by folks who simply
not give a grit, you might be
unfortunate enough to be presented with a glob
of something accompanying your
ham and eggs that could only be described as
“a flavorless puddle of gruel”
(thanks to Jean Anderson, in “The Grass Roots
Cookbook”). My most profound apologies. This
should never, ever happen.
WHY GRITS GET A BAD RAP!
Please allow me to illustrate just how
bad this can get. My dear sweet
Aunt Josephine was, in her younger days, married to an Air Force guy. They were stationed at Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS. Not a bad assignment. Those
days before Hurricane Camille (long before), the days before the entire
issippi Gulf Coast had gone down the tube and had to be revived by casinos,
and WAY before Hurricane Katrina took Camille's place as the number one
natural disaster in U.S. history.
But I digress....
Among their circle of friends was a bona fide Yankee who daily bemoaned his
misfortune at being deported to God-forsaken Mississippi. (No hate mail, okay? Those were his words, not mine!) Sgt. Yankee liked
to socialize, loved to party,
and often found himself craving a hearty breakfast
in the wee hours of the morning. He,
Aunt Jo and Uncle Bob soon zeroed in on a favorite all-night restaurant on the
highway bordering the Gulf of Mexico. Decent
food, great view, and the price was right.
Surly service, but hey, you cannot have everything.
At least that is what my grandmother always told me. (Do you suppose she
could have been right?)
Anyway, the problem was that Sgt. Yankee not only hated grits, he absolutely
could not tolerate the sight of them. Made
him shudder, he said. And remember.
He was eating breakfast in southernmost Mississippi. Now hear this. Breakfast
comes with grits, okay. Especially
in those days. It was a given.
So Sgt. Yankee,
not being an idiot, soon realized that he must specify
every single time, “Please
do NOT put any grits on my plate.” And night
after night, his ham and eggs were served, of course, with grits. And night
after night, he sent the plate back to the kitchen.
More stern now. "NO GRITS!" One
night it was just too much for him. “Hams and eggs, over easy. AND HOLD THE
GRITS!” You want to guess what
happened next, or shall I tell you? Ham
and eggs. With grits.
Yankee took the plate from the waitress, hurled it through
a huge plate glass
window, stormed out of the restaurant, and drove off into the
he was headed
back to Boston. What did the waitress do? She simply
“Wayell, hayell, he cain’t do that! Them grits
ain’t that bad!”
What can you say? Some folks
love 'em. Some folks hate 'em. Knowing
full well how difficult it will be to impart a Southerner’s
profound passion for
grits to a, well, let us just say non-Southerner, I have
assumed the awesome
of trying to turn you around, should you be
in the grits-hater category. They can be wonderful,
but only if you know what to do with them. Comforting. Downright soothing as
well as tasty…
Now here is a man who understands precisely what I am getting at: Mr.
St. John. He is either a Southern gentleman, born and bred, or he has
in Jackson, MS long enough to have absorbed a clear understanding
of the grits principle by osmosis. I was so impressed with what he had to say
on the subject
that I wrote the
Clarion-Ledger a complimentary letter and
asked for permission
to reprint Mr. St. John's article. To date I have
received no response whatsoever.
Is chivalry dead in the South,
too? I do declare! Be that as it may, I have decided
to pass these words along to you,
as no response is open to interpretation.
as I am
concerned, it means, "No problem, knock yourself out..."
Grits, polenta — what's
by Robert St. John
Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
Grits are the quintessential Southern
Yankee food snobs get a lot of laughs at Southerners'
expense over the topic
grits. While they are laughing, they are steadily
stuffing their mouths with
forkfuls of polenta in trendy Northern Italian
Grits or polenta, is there a difference? I think not.
Grits are small, broken
of corn, so is polenta. Grits are all-American,
and in its current form,
so is polenta.
Italians originally made polenta with chestnut flour.
But after we introduced
corn to Europeans, they began making polenta with
corn. Corn grew well in
northern Italy's climate. It was easy to harvest and
store, and it quickly replaced
the chestnut as a staple in the European diet.
So, in a roundabout way, Yankees
can thank us Southerners for their polenta.
Grits, which were once served only at breakfast in
small Southern diners, are
now served in the hippest white-tablecloth
restaurants across the South.
My friend John Currence at City Grocery in Oxford was
the first chef to bring "white tablecloth grits" to Mississippi. He
has been serving shrimp and grits in
his restaurant on the square since he
opened in 1992.
There are four commandments for grit-eating
Southerners. They are in the Bible somewhere. I think they are in the book of
Lamentations or Habakkuk or another one of those small Old Testament chapters
with a lot of begats in it.
The Grit Commandments are:
1. Thou shalt not use instant grits.
There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth for
those who cook instant
grits. Some believe there is a special place in hell
reserved for people who
eat instant grits. I wouldn't go that far, but I do
know that quick cooking
grits work perfectly well. And, if you can find
freshly ground stone ground
grits, by all means use them.
2. Thou shalt never put sugar on grits.
If you do, the ghost of Minnie Pearl will forever
haunt your dreams singing
all 23 verses of On Top of Old Smokey every night
while you sleep. Salt and
3. Thou shalt use only real cheese.
When using cheese in grits, never use any of those
little plastic wrapped
slices or processed cheese products that come in tubes.
"Real cheese doesn't squeeze!"
4. Thou shalt never, ever, ever put syrup on grits.
♦ Not at the breakfast table when you are all alone,
and think no one
♦ Not while sitting in the secluded corner
the Waffle House.
♦ Not anytime; not anywhere.
If you do, the Southern Food Police
will break down your door, hog-tie you,
ship you off to New Hampshire,
Rhode Island or maybe even Vermont,
you can try some of their syrup on a
steaming hot bowl of polenta.
I developed this andouille cheese grits recipe three
years ago during a total
overhaul of the Purple Parrot menu. It is a very easy
and fast recipe. You can
it as a side dish for breakfast, brunch, lunch or
dinner. Or you can serve
with sautéed shrimp or another seafood. We've
even deep fried andouille
cheese grits, but that is a story for another day.
I love andouille sausage. We use it in a lot of our
recipes. Andouille sausage
is Cajun smoked sausage with a coarser grind than
regular smoked sausage.
It is seasoned with cayenne, garlic and mustard. If
you cannot find andouille
sausage, substitute your favorite smoked sausage
links. [You can find it here.]
There are plenty of foods in addition to shrimp that
go with grits. Spinach,
mushrooms, garlic, peppers, tomatoes all work.
Cheeses such as cheddar, goat, Gorgonzola, Monterey
jack and Parmesan are
good pairings with grits. You are limited only by your
Polenta might be chic in New York City, but we are
smack dab in the middle
of the Deep South, where grits are king.
Grits ... they're not just for breakfast anymore!
Andouille Cheese Grits
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 pound andouille sausage (chopped fine)
1 tablespoon garlic
4 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons Crescent City Grill Cayenne
& Garlic Sauce (or Tabasco)
2 tablespoons Crescent City Grill Creole Seasoning
Creole seasoning of your choice]
1 stick unsalted butter
2 cups white grits (quick cooking)
1 cup cheddar cheese (grated)
In a skillet, sauté the andouille and garlic
in the butter and set aside.
In a stockpot, bring the milk, seasonings and butter to a boil. Immediately
add the grits and reduce the heat to medium. Add the sautéed andouille
the cheddar cheese, stir and cook uncovered for 4-5 minutes.
We thank you, Mr. St. John!
really, really, really want to know how to eat dem grit, jus'
You know you can count on him to kick it up a notch...
Shrimp and Grits
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
Freshly ground white pepper
1/2 cup stone whole grain grits
2 ounces grated white Cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound link smoked sausage, cut in half
and sliced 1/2-inch thick
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry Sherry
2 cups shrimp stock
2 sticks of cold butter, cubed
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons finely
chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 cup Sweet Corn Relish (recipe follows)
a saucepan, over medium heat, add the milk and butter. Season with salt and
white pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil. Slowly stir in the grits. Reduce the
heat to medium low and continue to cook for about 1 hour or until the grits
and tender and creamy, stirring every 10 minutes to prevent the grits from
sticking. Add some water during the cooking process if the liquid evaporates
too much. Remove
from the heat and stir in the cheese.
Reseason with salt and white pepper if
needed. Set aside and keep warm.
a sauté pan, over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the sausage and render for 2
minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Season the shrimp with salt
and black pepper. Add the shrimp and continue to sauté for 2 minutes. Remove
the pan from the heat and add the sherry. Place the pan back over the heat and
flame the sherry, shaking the pan back and fourth several times until the
flame dies out. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside. Add the stock
and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and mound in the
butter. Add the shrimp back to the sauce
< and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from
the heat and stir in 2 teaspoons
of the parsley. To serve, spoon the grits in
the center of each shallow
bowl. Spoon the shrimp mixture over the grits.
Garnish with the corn
relish and remaining parsley. Yield: 4 servings
6 cups sweet corn kernels (from about 12 ears)
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup chopped fresh chili peppers, such as jalapeno
2 cups chopped celery
1 very large sweet onion, such as
a Wadmalaw or Vidalia, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
(about 1 1/2 cups)
1 red bell pepper seeded and chopped
(about 1 1/2 cups)
everything but the mustard, turmeric, and corn in a nonreactive pot
for about 5 minutes. Put the mustard and turmeric in a small
bowl or teacup
and mix together with some of the hot liquid from the pot,
then add the
mixture to the pot along with the corn. Bring to a boil, then
reduce the heat
and simmer for another 5 minutes. Pack the mixture into
6 (1/2 pint)
sterilized jars, seal, and process in a boiling water bath for
Serve this condiment with poultry, beans or rice. Yield: 6 1/2 pints
Can you feel the love?
by the way, I feel honor-bound to inform you that should you be so fortunate
as to have the opportunity to consume a grit or two in the South Carolina
coastal country, be aware that you will be eating “hominy”.
A Charlestonian, in particular, will be quick to correct you.
Only beyond the holy city is the ground product of hominy referred to
as grits. I do declare!
And the grit goes
More grits recipes:
Creamy Grits with Cheddar and Parmesan
Decadently Creamy Cheese Grits
and Grits Frittata
Grillades and Grits
Notes from a Southern Expatriate,
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