Everything You Wanted To Know (or Not) About: Grits

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I'm probably going to get reamed for this post from all you Southerns, but I can't help it.

Every time I think about or eat grits, I cannot help but be reminded of that scene in My Cousin Vinny where Vinny is questioning the guy about his grits. It's a classic scene and one that never fails to make me laugh in hysterics, especially the part about liking his grits al dente LOL. So here's a piece of that classic dialogue for you right here:

Vinny Gambini: Oh, oh, oh, you testified earlier that you saw the boys go into the store, and you had just begun to cook your breakfast and you were just getting ready to eat when you heard the shot.

Mr. Tipton: That's right.

Vinny Gambini: So obviously it takes you 5 minutes to cook your breakfast.

Mr. Tipton: That's right.

Vinny Gambini: That's right, so you knew that. You remember what you had?

Mr. Tipton: Eggs and grits.

Vinny Gambini: Eggs and grits. I like grits, too. How do you cook your grits? Do you like them regular, creamy or al dente?

Mr. Tipton: Just regular I guess.

Vinny Gambini: Regular. Instant grits?

Mr. Tipton: No self respectin' Southerner uses instant grits. I take pride in my grits.

Vinny Gambini: So, Mr. Tipton, how could it take you 5 minutes to cook your grits when it takes the entire grit eating world 20 minutes?

Mr. Tipton: I don't know, I'm a fast cook I guess.

Vinny Gambini: I'm sorry I was all the way over here I couldn't hear you did you say you were a fast cook, that's it?

Mr. Tipton: Yeah.

Vinny Gambini: Are we to believe that boiling water soaks into a grit faster in your kitchen than anywhere else on the face of the earth?

Mr. Tipton: I don't know.

Vinny Gambini: Well, I guess the laws of physics cease to exist on top of your stove. Were these magic grits? Did you buy them from the same guy who sold Jack his beanstalk beans?

Hahahaha. Yes, I'm laughing right now.
In addition to being the subject of a classic movie scene, grits are awfully tasty too. Grits are hominy, which is basically dried corn kernels treated with an alkali process. It is a process the indigenous native Americans used throughout north, central, and south America to prepare maize and infuse it with nutrients. It's the process by which they made everything from grits to masa to corn tortillas. Without getting terribly technical about it, the process involved stripping the corn kernels off the cobs and then boiling them in a water solution that had a mix of ash (from various plants) and lime (as in lime water, not the citrus fruit), and then allowed to steep like a tea in that water solution anywhere from a few minutes to a few days depending on what they were making with it. What this process did was allow the kernels to soften and the hulls to loosen, which allowed nutrients like potassium and calcium to then get absorbed back into the kernel.
The nutrient absorbed depended on whatever the natives used as their alkali. Potash, a naturally occurring salt that contains potassium, was used extensively for this process as well as throughout the ancient world for making soaps. So when the natives used potash as their alkali, they ended up infusing their kernels with potassium. If they used a natural calcium bicarbonate from plant ash, they'd end up infusing it with calcium. Some Mayans even used the ashes from burnt mussels shells to provide calcium. It was a rather ingenious way of fortifying a food with more vital vitamins and minerals that helped balance out their diet. Something similar happened when they'd make their beans.
At any rate, the kernels would be boiled with these other natural vitamins and minerals and it would produce plumped up kernels of maize. These kernels were then dried and either used as such or more likely, ground up coarsely to very finely to be used for foods. So grits, comes from hominy which is the coarsely ground maize from this entire ancient process. And are made much the same way even today.
So what do you do with it?
Well, you can combine it and make dough out of it. This will give you arepas which are tasty treats! Or you can  use it as masa harina and make some tamales. Or make tortillas with it. Then you could fry the tortillas and make tortilla chips out of it. Or, you could do what most of the natives and even poorer American Southerns did during the Great Depression and just add it to boiled water to make a sort of porridge.
A staple breakfast food in the South, for example, is grits. Simply boiled in water, the hominy grits are seasoned with a small pinch of salt and topped with butter. It's often served with some fried eggs and some bacon or ham. Or you could spruce up your grits with flavored broths, add cheeses and cream to make it creamier, flavor it with garlic, various spices, and eat it as a sort of polenta or as a side dish to anything from meat to fish to eggs. You could make it, set it in molds and chill it, then fry it up as you would fried polenta. The options are endless frankly!

1 comment:

Lisa Ruminski said...

Oh, that was a hil-freakin-larious scene, wasn't it? I love hominy, arepas, tortillas and tamales but have never liked grits...or cornmeal mush for that matter. Interesting post.