A long time ago, on an epic road trip far far away, I found myself in Charleston, SC at lunchtime.
Couldn’t tell you what I ordered; all I remember is the side of grits my meal came with. I’d had grits before, sure, and they were a warm, starchy, sometimes-cheesy addition to my collection of comfort food.
But these grits? Oh my. I still think about them sometimes; they were a creamy, speckled white, toothsome and textured and flavored intensely of salt, cream and corn. To be honest, no other grits have ever come close.
That being said, you can do some tasty, gluten-free things with cornmeal. Especially now, when winter threatens never to leave and the sun feels far away, a bowl of properly-prepared grits does nice things for the soul.
The first step to delicious gluten-free grits is to find a cornmeal you trust. Your gluten-free grocery guide is a good place to look; although you’ll (almost) never see a package of grits that purposefully include wheat, cross-contamination can be an issue.
There is one main dividing line between grits: instant vs. traditional. Instant grits are fine in a pinch, I guess, but I’ve never experienced them to have much taste or texture or other redeeming qualities. Even within traditional grits, there is variety: white vs. yellow corn? Uniform pieces vs. a gravelly mix? Before you commit to a heaping pile of cornmeal, it’s best to try a few different varieties and find one you like.
Most traditional grits cook in a ratio of 1 parts grits to 4 parts liquid. Milk, water, a combination of the two…whatever makes you happy. Here’s the basic recipe that I like to follow:
- Bring your liquid and a pinch of salt to a boil in a high-walled pot.
- Slowly whisk in the grits, to keep them from clumping.
- Turn the head down to a simmer and cover the pot.
- Every 4 minutes or so, lift the lid and give the grits a stir. The goal is to see big, lazy bubbles and not a furious boil.
- Depending on the quantity and temperature, grits should take anywhere from 20-40 minutes to cook.
- Taste to check for doneness, and when they’re cooked through (or al dente to your taste) remove from the heat.
- Add a hunk of butter, some pepper, cheese, salt, or whatever else strikes your fancy.
If you have leftover grits, you can spread them out in a pie dish or (when they’re not too hot) spoon them into a greased cup and throw them in the fridge. Cold grits = polenta, and you can sauté slices of it to delicious effect.
If you’re looking for more adventurous gluten-free grits recipes, here are some to check out:
- Savory gluten-free Amaranth Grits (be sure to use gluten-free soy sauce!)
- Alton Brown’s classic cheese grits remind me of high school sleepovers
- Shrimp and Grits from What’s Cooking America
- Baked Grits with Ham, Wild Mushrooms and Parmesan straight from Alabama
- Hot Tomato Grits, from the Official World Grits Festival (scroll down for recipe)
Have you found a gluten-free grits maker that you like? If so, how do you like to prepare your grits?