Friday, September 30, 2011

Pan Fried From-Scratch Cheese Grits with Homemade Mixed Berry Syrup

Even a life-long north-easterner (pronounced, “Yank-ee”) like me knows that if you’ve never had well-made grits, you’re missing out on something special.

Grits are generally made from either hominy or cornmeal, the difference being that, for  hominy, the dried corn is treated with lye to remove the germ and hard outer shell before the corn is ground. (Like sausage, it’s best just to enjoy hominy grits without thinking too much about how it’s made.) Real hominy being hard to find in some places, most home-made grits are made with coarse, stone-ground cornmeal. Grits are a member of the same dried-corn porridge family as polenta and corn meal mush. (The latter may sound like a derogatory term, but it’s what the dish is actually called.) What are the differences between grits, polenta, and cornmeal mush? The easy answer is that polenta is made from cornmeal a bit finer than the coarse kind used for grits, and mush is made from a cornmeal that’s finer still. Like most easy answers, though, there’s still a lot of disagreement among folks who know. The important thing, if you’re making cornmeal grits, is to use coarse, stone-ground cornmeal. Use something too fine and the texture of the finished product won’t be right.

Although grits can be made part of any meal – shrimp and grits, for example, is a classic southern dinner – they’re often made for breakfast. One common approach is used in this recipe: the grits are put into a loaf pan and allowed to cool overnight to a form a loaf. Come morning, the loaf is cut into slices, coated with egg, and pan fried till they look something like pancakes. Add your favorite syrup or similar topping, and you’ve got a seriously good breakfast. (In the photo above, I combined them with turkey bacon, fried egg substitute, and a slice of home-made cranberry-banana bread. It tasted wonderful.)

This recipe makes a loaf half the size of a two-pound loaf pan. I’m going to call that 4 – 6 servings, though how many slices make a “serving” is, in this case, very much a matter of individual judgment.

A couple of other items to note:
  • If you’d rather serve the cheese grits in the usual way instead of making a loaf, you can. Just skip the steps that involve pouring the grits into a loaf pan, letting them cool into a loaf, slicing the loaf, and pan-frying the slices.
  • Even though making the grits from scratch using cornmeal is easy, some folks may still prefer to use packaged grits to make the loaf. If so, it’s not a problem; just make the grits as per the directions on the package, and pick up the recipe from there.
  • Cheese grits are usually made with cheddar cheese, but you can use any you like. In this recipe, I used goat cheese. The important thing is that the cheese you choose should melt well.
To make the grits:

Heat one quart of fat-free half-and-half in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat just until steam begins to rise from the surface. (Overheating, or heating too fast, may cause the half-and-half to separate.)

Add ½ tablespoon of kosher salt to the half-and-half, and then slowly add 1 cup of coarse stone-ground white cornmeal, whisking constantly while the cornmeal is being added.

When the cornmeal is incorporated into the half-and-half, lower the heat, cover, and let the mixture cook and thicken till smooth, about 15 minutes, whisking thoroughly about every 2 – 3 minutes. (If you’re using packaged grits instead of making them from scratch, make one quart of the grits as per the directions on the package and pick up with the next step.)

Remove the pot from the heat, and add ½ teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper, 3 tablespoons of butter substitute, 4 ounces crumbled goat cheese (or other desired cheese), and a few drops of hot sauce to taste. Mix until well combined to form cheese grits. (If you want to serve the grits as is without forming the loaf, this is when to serve them.)

Pour the grits into a buttered loaf pan, cover with foil, and refrigerate overnight until the grits forms a firm, gelatinous loaf that can be turned out onto a cutting surface.

Melt butter substitute in a skillet. While the pan is heating, cut the loaf into slices ½” – ¾” thick. Dip the slices to be fried in egg substitute to coat.

Pan fry each side till well-browned, about two minutes per side. Serve immediately, topped with syrup or other desired topping.

As an extra bonus, let’s make the mixed berry syrup shown in the plate in the photo. (This recipe makes about one pint, so you’ll have plenty left over for other delicious meals!)

Put a small glass plate in the freezer.

Put 1 cup of sugar and the juice of one lemon in a saucepan, and mix till combined. Turn the heat on very low. When the sugar-lemon mixture has just melted (don’t let it burn!), add 1 pound of mixed berries (frozen ones that you’ve thawed will work just fine), 1 tablespoon of butter substitute, and ¼ teaspoon of ground nutmeg. Mash the fruit and let it cook down, stirring often. Every so often, put a few drops on the glass plate you chilled in the freezer to check the texture. When the syrup on the plate is the texture you want, remove the saucepan from the stove and pour the syrup into a container. Seal the container and refrigerate until ready to serve.

So there you have it: cheese grits from scratch, pan fried to deliciousness and topped with home-made mixed berry syrup. Life is good, folks.

If you prefer your recipes in cookbook-style format, just send me a note and it will be sent!

Hope to see you next week for another tasty, reduced fat recipe! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)


  1. Butter substitute... hmmpphh.. hee hee. :) I definatly needed this. So it sort of like polenta? Great blog.

  2. Thanks, Kim, and welcome back! Yep, butter substitute. You know me, the anti-Paula. lol.

  3. Well, Ben, I don't know if you remember, but I'm from Brooklyn, not the South, so I've never had Polenta! On the other hand, maybe if I were Italian, I'd surely have had it being from Brooklyn. LOL!
    So I'll have to take your word that it's good, unless you and your wife want to invite me over to try yours. ;)
    And I didn't know you were the anti-Paula Deen!
    P.S. I WOULD definitely eat your delicious looking cranberry bread!

  4. Thanks, Gloria! If you like things like grits, polenta is worth trying. You should be able to find it in a lot of Italian restaurants. I am mostly a grits guy myself. :-)

    As for the Paula Deen thing, well, I like her work and have even found it inspiring at times, but since I do primarily reduced fat cooking I have to adapt much of what I've learned from her. (I imagine she would be appalled at my use of things like butter substitutes, egg substitute, and turkey bacon. lol) Her life story, too, is a real pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps one, and something I respect as well.

    Thanks too for liking the cranberry banana bread! I thought I had posted the recipe for that but couldn't find it in the archive, so I may not have. I will check again and, if it turns out it is not on the site yet, I will look to get it on there soon.


  5. I LOVE grits! Don't eat them nearly enough. This looks delicious.

  6. Thank you, Melissa. :-) I really hope you decide to give these grits a try, then. I had always enjoyed the packaged kind, but when I tried them made from scratch (which really is not very different from making the packaged kind), the difference was striking.