Grits are one of America's oldest foods, made from hominy, one of the foods American Indians first gave to colonists. Grits are similar to cornmeal except they are made from dried corn kernels that have had the hull and germ removed, which gives them their creamy texture. Although they are traditionally boiled with water, milk or broth before eating, they can also be prepared in a slow cooker, baked in a conventional or microwave oven, or formed into loaves, sliced and fried.
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Baked grits have the same grits/water/salt ratio as stovetop prepared grits: 4 parts water to 1 part grits and 1 scant teaspoon of salt for each cup of grits. Because baking subjects the grits to a dry, intense heat, they need more moisture than those cooked on a stovetop. Because adding more water would deplete the taste of the grain, add a bit of milk and an egg or two to the mixture before baking. Adding butter and a good melting cheese, such as Monterey jack or cheddar, also helps keep the grits moist in the oven.
Microwave-baked grits are the quickest to prepare. Using the same proportions as oven-baked grits, combine the water, grits and salt in a deep microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave on high -- 100 percent power -- for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring about halfway through. If you're adding butter or cheese, stir it in right after removing the dish from the microwave while they're still steaming hot.
Additions and Flavorings
The flavor of grits can easily be elevated. Stir in 1 tablespoon of heavy cream right before serving to add velvety richness. Spice up baked grits with chili powder, ground cumin, cayenne pepper, paprika, hot sauce or salsa. Crushed, roasted garlic and jalapenos give grits a good kick of texture and taste. Stir in cooked sausage, bacon and a couple of beaten eggs into hot baked grits to transform them into a hearty breakfast meal. The heat from the grits cooks the eggs to heavenly tenderness. Combine baked grits with cooked shrimp and grated Parmesan for an elegant appetizer or first course.
Tips and Guidelines
Like any other cooked grain, you should add the salt before you cook the grits. Salting grits afterwards is ineffective as the salt can't penetrate the grain after it's cooked. Always whisk grits before serving to make them creamier as the starch is released. Make sure you know what kinds of grits you're cooking as they all have different cooking times. Quick grits cook in about half the time of regular grits, and stone-ground grits take more than twice as long to cook as regular grits.