If you live in the South, grits are probably part of the fabric of your eating life. And lucky you, is all I have to say. Grits are a miracle food, delicious and versatile, and easy.
Both hard core Italian cooks and hard core Southern cooks may bristle at this statement, but grits and polenta are pretty much interchangeable, at least for the purposes of our breakfast concept. They are both ground up stone-ground corn, ground to a variety of textures in both cases (you can find coarse ground polenta, coarse ground grits, fine ground grits, medium ground polenta, and so forth).
Traditionally, grits most often (but not always) come from white corn. And traditionally polenta usually (but not always) comes from yellow corn. But just spend time in any market, from your local chain supermarket to a specialty store, and you’ll see quite a variety. And usually the kind of corn and the way it’s milled results in grits being creamier, while polenta has a slightly more grainy texture, though it sure can still be creamy. Especially when generous amounts of milk, cream, and butter enter the equation.
I often use quick-cooking grits (or polenta) because in less than 10 minutes you can have your breakfast or lunch or dinner, as long as you have your toppings at the ready. If you have a little more time, the texture of the longer cooking varieties is a bit more interesting. Note that the cooking time depends on the kind you choose – be sure to read package instructions. Also note that the amount of liquid each kind requires can vary; again, the package directions are your friend.
Now that that’s settled (kidding – nothing to do with grits vs. polenta is ever settled), let’s talk breakfast. For breakfast I usually like to use a combo of water and milk to cook the grits, season them with salt, and also include a bit of sugar to help them feel breakfast-ey. Then into bowls they go, like any hot cereal.
This is the way to go if you plan to top them with something a bit sweet, like fruit, honey, syrup – in this case a heap of strawberries quickly soaked in a combo of jelly and balsamic vinegar, plus a sprinkle of brown sugar. The balsamic notion comes from the Italians, who like their strawberries drizzled with a bit of the good stuff (and their ice cream as well – do NOT consider knocking this till you’ve tried it).
If you plan to top the grits with more savory items, you might dial back the sugar a bit. One of the bowls has an irresistible combo of a fried egg (pop that yolk, people), bacon, and scallions, with either a bit of maple syrup or hot sauce, as you please. And you also might consider stirring some cheese, such as shredded cheddar, into the grits at the end.
Speaking of cheese…and bacon…and grits…and waffles. So, back to polenta for a minute. In Italian cuisine, polenta is served hot and flowing in a bowl, or alongside an entrée. But is it also sometimes spread out to cool, sliced into slabs, and fried or grilled up and it is delicious that way. So for our grits breakfast jamboree, we’re taking that notion, but transferring it to a waffle maker. And we’re adding cheese and bacon to those waffles. And we’re making whipped bourbon cream (yes, you read that right!).
And by the way, if you don’t have a waffle maker, you can just make the same grits recipe that is called for in the Fried Egg version, and stir in a handful of crumbled bacon (maybe 4 crispy-cooked strips, all crushed up), and then top the bowl with a handful of shredded cheddar and a dollop of the Bourbon Whipped Cream. In short, don’t miss the Bourbon Whipped Cream.
By no means do you have to make all three of these dishes for one breakfast. Any one of them would be a success, and the grits bowls come together really quickly. If you have some friends over, and some extra hands in the kitchen, make them all. Think away on what other toppings would work – there are lots of possibilities. Anything you would consider for topping a bowl of oatmeal would work, and eggs of all kinds would be welcome. Sausages, other cheeses, compotes, and so forth. Same for the waffles. You can lean savory, you can lean sweet, but next time you wander into the cereal aisle pick yourself up a package of grits (or polenta, not to belabor the point) and give your breakfast a kick in the pants.