Grits have gone gridiron thanks to Deion Sanders, aka “Coach Prime,” star football coach for the University of Colorado Buffaloes.
Long a breakfast staple of the American South, this porridge made from coarsely ground corn and water or milk is now appearing on menus in Boulder, Colorado.
In Sanders’ honor, Boulder brekkie establishment, Village Coffee Shop has added to its menu roster what it bills as “Prime Grits” — well, after a bit of coaching from Sanders that it ought to do so.
Check out Coach Prime’s favorite foods
Deion Sanders has been documenting Boulder-area eateries that he’s tried. Check out this map of the spots he’s stopped at, with comments throughout.
They are indeed. A bit of food science helps to locate that goodness, name its nutrients, and explain which are the better sorts of grits to buy and cook in order to capture that nutrition.
A kernel of corn (the basis of all grits) is made up of four different layers, something like an onion’s layers, each enclosing the next: the tough outermost hull or skin, which is fiber-full; the bran, also rich in fiber and high in B vitamins; the endosperm, a starchy, carbohydrate-rich and flavorful inner layer; and, finally, the germ or core, more perishable than any other layer but also chock full of all manner of proteins, amino acids, minerals and other nutrients.
If ground from the entire grain of corn, grits sport buckets of fiber, vitamins (extra points, Bs!), minerals such as iron and calcium and eyesight-enhancing antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin (which latter gets its name from the botanical name for corn, Zea mays.) Also notable is that all this good in corn makes it to the endzone in a gluten-free package.
Consequently, you’ll get more health and gustatory yardage if you cook whole-kernel grits, stone ground of either white or yellow corn. Other sorts of grits, for example “quick grits” or “instant grits” derive of corn kernels from which either or both the outer hull or inner germ are removed.
These removals allow quick or instant grits to cook, well, more quickly and, most important from a producer’s view, give them a longer shelf life. But such processing also sacrifices several nutrients, as well as much aroma, texture and taste when the cook prepares the grits. Do note that processed grits often add back some nutrients; they are just not the exact ones that the corn kernels kicked off with.
As well, the nutritious content of prepared grits might well be outweighed or even nullified by how they either are prepared or served. For example, a large pat of butter atop a bowl of finished grits differs nutritionally from topping a similar bowl with an alternative fat, say extra virgin olive oil. It’s a choice, to be sure, but one that would be best made diets wide open.
Likewise, finishing grits with honey, maple syrup or brown sugar, or topping creamy grits with bacon, sausage, shrimp or catfish, or mixing in milk, eggs and cheese (as in a recipe here) — all these make a difference in the healthfulness of grits as a dish, hence requiring an eater’s assessment.
But it’s not always solely “healthful” at one far end and “deleterious” on the other. Feeding ourselves is on a scale, isn’t it? Determining whether or not what we consume constitutes “healthy eating” is, in the overall scrimmage of life, your call.
Cooking creamy grits in the oven
While most traditional recipes for grits call for stirring them on the stove, I’m a fan of a simpler method.
The least fussy way to cook raw cornmeal grits is to bake them in the oven. I learned this method from a pair of Italian mammas who’d been making polenta — the famed Italian preparation of cornmeal — that way for decades.
Their reasoning for eschewing the mythical “constant stirring” typically recommended when cooking polenta on a stovetop was simple: Constant stirring is designed merely to even out the pot’s heat by repeatedly bringing up the hotter cooking cornmeal from the bottom of the pot and to the surface, thereby avoiding lukewarm spots (aka lumps).
Why not merely place the pot of cornmeal and its liquid in the oven and surround it with an even, unvarying temperature? Makes sense to me, plus it makes perfect polenta or cooked grits.
This recipe makes about 10 cups of cooked, lightly salted, creamy grits.
1 and 1/2 cups coarse-ground white or yellow grits (see note)
5 cups filtered water
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
Start the grits the night before: Put them in a large bowl and cover with (preferably filtered) water by at least 2 inches. Add the salt and stir well. After they’ve settled for a minute, skim off any chaff that floats, using the edge of a spoon or a fine-meshed strainer. Let the grits soak overnight on the counter.
To cook the grits, first strain away the soaking water by tipping the bowl over a sink and very carefully draining away the water, just until the grains of grits approach the bowl’s edge. Using a spatula, put the soaked grits into an ovenproof pot and add the 5 cups of water.
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the pot on the stove over medium-high heat and give the mix several very healthy whisks. Bring the grits and their water just to a simmer, whisking well a couple of times.
Place the pot in the oven, uncovered (very important), and let it bake undisturbed for 45 minutes.
Then, carefully take up the pot and whisk the grits heartily (including the skin that may form on top), also giving it a turn or two with a wooden spoon to distribute anything that has settled at or sticks to the bottom or along the sides or corner edges of the pot. Put back into the oven, uncovered, for another 20 minutes.
Now, you just need to take the pot out to see if the grits are cooked through sufficiently. They should be creamy and tender but not broken down and mushy. Honor an al dente smattering. If the grits are too runny to serve or for your final cooking purpose for them (for example, to use in the accompanying recipe), give them another 10-15 minutes in the oven and a final whisking.
Note: You’ll want to start with true stone-ground white or yellow corn grits. (I use “pencil cob” grits, so named because the cob is pencil-thin — or close to it—with long, “tall,” shoepeg-shaped corn kernels, long favored for cornmeal or distillation.) Good-quality brands include Anson Mills Coarse White or Pencil Cob Grits, Jim Dandy Regular Grits or Bob’s Red Mill Southern-Style White Corn Grits. NB: This recipe is neither written for nor should use “quick grits” or “instant grits.”
Baked Cheese Grits
From “Gullah Geechee Home Cooking,” by Emily Meggett (Abrams, 2022). Meggett introduces this recipe to say, “There are so many ways to serve grits, and one of my favorites is by adding cheese, which turns the porridge into a mouth-watering soufflé. . . . Enjoy this baked dish for breakfast with bacon or sausage.” Serves 4-6.
1 and 1/2 cups (425 g) coarse-grained grits, uncooked
1/2 cup (120 ml) evaporated milk or half-and-half
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup (115 g) grated sharp cheddar cheese, plus 1/2 cup (55 g) for the top of the casserole
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (170 degrees C). Grease a 9 by 13-inch (23 by 33 cm) baking dish with 1 tablespoon of butter.
Cook the grits according to the package instructions. [Bill St. John note: Or utilize the accompanying recipe.] Add the evaporated milk, butter, 1 cup (115 g) of the cheese, the salt and eggs, mixing well with a spoon.
Pour the mixture into the baking dish. Sprinkle the top of the grits with the remaining cheese.
Bake for 30 to 45 minutes. The grits should be like a thick porridge and should not be runny. Check the grits with a knife or fork to determine when the dish is done.
Note: About the recipe’s cookbook, “Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes from the Matriarch of Edisto Island” by Emily Meggett with Kayla Stewart and Trelani Michelle (Abrams Books, 2022): This cookbook was winner of 2023’s prestigious Art of Eating Prize. Emily Meggett, born in 1932 on the South Carolina island of Edisto, was the pre-eminent Gullah Geechee cook of our time. She died on April 21, 2023.
I was lucky to serve as one of seven judges for the 2023 Art of Eating prize. Emily Meggett lived a remarkable life. This book is a matriarch’s archive, a witness to a place and a people that America may have forgotten or left behind (certainly discriminated against) but who also gave the wider culture so many foodways.”
Reach Bill St. John at [email protected]