Grits To Be Proud Of

Published May 4, 2018 | By ashley english


Chances are, if you’re not from the southeastern U.S., you’ve never had grits. Or, if you have, you’ve decided you don’t like them. Or your only association with them is Flo from Mel’s Diner. Well, allow me to state my case for grits, if you will. Here’s an excerpt about them from Southern From Scratch:


“A native American dish, grits are made from hominy, which is corn that has been soaked in lye to move the outer husk, and then ground into a coarse meal. The meal is then cooked in liquid, and seasoned with salt and, historically, an animal fat. It is the inclusion of that fat, I feel, that really differentiates good grits from grits. Without a bit of butter, or even bacon grease, grits fall flat, with relatively little satiating mouth feel or flavor to speak of.

I honestly cannot tell you how many non-southerners, and even some southerners, have told me they don’t like grits. Whenever I hear this, I reply immediately with “Oh, but you haven’t had MY grits.” The thing is, most people have never had grits prepared properly. The quick grits attempting to pass themselves off as the real deal are wholly lacking in the flavor complexity of their whole grain cousins. They’re also served terrible runny, only exacerbating their unappealing nature. Furthermore, most prepared grits are cooked with water and water only.

I didn’t grow up on grits. My mother was one of those southerners convinced she didn’t like them. I had a feeling I would, though, if I could only make them appetizing. After much trial and error, and lots of grits that just didn’t make the cut, I came up with the recipe here. I can immediately think of at least five people I have served them to who maintained an “anti-grits” stance of their own, becoming converts at first taste. Try my grits and see what a difference the right ingredients and the right preparation can make.”


Several summers ago, the self-dubbed Feel Good Book Club that I belong to chose Serafina and the Black Cloak as our monthly selection. Author Robert Beatty and his family live here in Asheville, having relocated from Michigan several years ago, and his publicist, Scott, is a mutual friend. I reached out to Scott, asking if perhaps Robert would like to join our monthly meeting/potluck. Beatty refers to Serafina’s father, or “Pa” in the book, as regularly making a dish of chicken and grits. Scott told me he’d invite the author to join us on one condition: that I serve him a dish of chicken and grits. Turned out that even though he included the dish in the book, Beatty was certain he didn’t like grits himself. Knowing he’d never had my grits, I gladly accepted the challenge. Not only did he and wife Jennifer like what I served him, when he found out I was authoring a book on southern foods, he asked if I’d include the dish in it, and name it Serafina’s Chicken and Grits. Done and done.

Because I want you to like grits, and because I want you to have a go-to grits recipe you can be proud of, I’m sharing my tried-and-true version with you here. I have tweaked, and amended, and edited, and otherwise revisited this recipe for years, until I hammered it out to my liking. I truly hope you’ll come to love grits as much as I do. And, well, if you need to tell someone off with southern panache and sass, a la Flo, you can now do so knowing exactly what good grits taste like.

LOCALS: I’ll be offering up samples of Serafina’s Chicken and Grits this coming Sunday, May 6th. Robert Beatty has a new book publishing in July, Willa of the Wood, and is hosting a dramatic reading and reception for it downtown at the Masonic Temple in Asheville from 2-4. I’ll be there with my three guys and samples of both this dish and the Nettle Pesto Pasta Salad from A Year of Picnics (nettles are a wild food, and Willa, in the new book, is an avid wild foods forager). There will also be birds of prey and wolves, locally made ice cream, live music, and more. Last I heard, tickets were nearly sold out, but I believe there are still some to be had. For more details, pop on over here.


Makes about 4 cups

2 cups cold water
2 cups whole milk
1 cup corn grits
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1. Combine the water, milk, salt, and grits in a medium size heavy-bottomed pot. Stir to ensure all ingredients are fully combined. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Cover the pot with a lid, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Remove the lid, add the butter, and replace the lid. After 5 minutes, remove the lid and stir until creamy. Serve immediately.

Ashley English