Grits for Lent (or anytime)

Quick and instant grits

Grits. Worshiped in the South, misunderstood in the North, and treated with puzzled amusement everywhere else, grits are a basic breakfast food, a wonderfully complex base for upscale cuisine and about everything in between. For Lent grits can have a particular place. If you don’t much care for the ubiquitous mac and cheese, grits can take boring fish or shrimp and elevate the Friday tradition to almost…well…heavenly levels. And, like pasta and rice, if we learn a couple of basic proportions and think outside of the traditional methods of eating grits, they are one of the most friendly staples for the small kitchen.

Grits for the Masses

The problem with grits is what happened when they went commercial. They started simple. Native American in origin grits were a porridge that, like rice or pasta, would then have a few toppings added. They stored well, even in high humidity, were made from an abundant and easy to grow grain (corn or maze), and had enough substance to carry a hungry hunter from breakfast to coming home after a hard day stalking dinner. Finally, they were easy to carry around. One half a cup of dried grits slow cooked up would easily serve four. Not even rice had that kind of density.

Then food companies got a hold of grits and everything fell apart. Five minute, quick, instant, flavored, and “prepared” plus a whole host of other methods to make grits easy ruined them. From very first time someone suggested that grits needed to be

Most mega marts will cary Red Mill brand products
Most mega marts will cary Red Mill brand products

less…”gritty”…grits were in serious trouble. Almost all of the subsequent ridicule and malignant of this basic dish stems from one simple rule: the quality of the grits is directly proportional to the cook time. The longer it takes to cook grits the the tastier the outcome.

The problem, at least here up north, is finding good grits. Most specialty markets will carry at least one type of stone ground grits that are long cooking and are not commercially produced (or ruined as grits enthusiasts would say). Nationally even mega marts carry Bob’s Red Mill products which are pretty respectable grits. Although most of the time we should always try to shop locally it isn’t a bad idea, if you decide you like using grits, to investigate internet options. And don’t hesitate to use your resources. If you know someone in the South get them to send you a local mill variety. The shipping might end up being more expensive than the product but well worth it. Grits store fine in the pantry. However, if you are really concerned about fancy grits put them in a zip lock bag and store in the freezer between uses.

Grits as a Meal

Stone ground, course ground, or long cooking grits have as many possibilities as pasta or rice when it comes to pairing. What we think of, as a porridge served for breakfast either savory (butter, salt and pepper with eggs) or sweet (less popular but think the usual things we sweeten any hot cereal) is the most base form of this versatile meal foundation. Plus, if you have only had quick commercial grits (and this is true for most people outside of the South) there simply isn’t enough butter in the world to make instant grits palatable. However, once you have the concept of long cooking grits down then you have opened a floodgate of gritty goodness. To name a few options:

Slow Cooking Grits.
Slow Cooking Grits.

Shrimp and Grits (classic)
Any Fish and Grits
Smoked grits (with smoked cheese and smoked paprika)
Chili and Grits (place a scoop in the bottom of the bowl)
Pulled pork and grits (particularly good with a vinegar N.C. sauce)
Sausage and grits (consider smoked sausage, kielbasa, sweet or hot Italian)

Basic Grits for 2

Grits for Lent (or anytime)
Recipe type: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2-3
A basic grits recipe. This is easily doubled or even tripled for great amounts
  • ¼ cup stone ground or course grits
  • ¼ cup rich milk (4%) OR ½ cup water and ½ cup half and half)
  • 1 tbs butter (or more to taste)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  1. Mix the grits, liquid and salt together in a heavy pan.
  2. Bring slowly to a boil then reduce heat and simmer on low for a minimum of 20-30 min
  3. You don't have to cover the grits but it helps them cook a bit faster
  4. After 20 minutes check grits for doneness. Do not hesitate to add more liquid if necessary
  5. Stir OFTEN as grits will stick
  6. When grits are the desired consistency and doneness add butter


This makes enough grits for 2-3 modest servings or two big servings. Even for a single person it is a good idea to double the recipe. The grits keep in the fridge just fine for a few days and they warm up in the microwave quickly and easily. Just add a bit more milk as you reheat. Above all, after an evening meal you can reheat for a couple of quick breakfasts.

Cheese: Add up to one cup of good cheese. Smoked Gouda is particularly tasty

Chopped green onion and grated smoked gouda ready to add to grits.
Chopped green onion and grated smoked gouda ready to add to grits.

Sautéed onions: Take the butter and sauté onions in the butter prior to adding to the grits. You can also sauce peppers and garlic with the onions.
Meat: Crumbled sausage (cooked), crumbled bacon (cooked), diced ham, and/or chorizo/andouille are excellent additions.
Herbs: Fresh herbs are a great addition especially if you are serving with fish. Something as simple as finely chopped parsley (fresh only) or finely chopped green onion completely changes the character of basic grits.
Smoked Paprika, Hot sauce, salsa: Any of these three things will change the character of the grits. A couple of tablespoons of salsa, a teaspoon of smoked paprika (hot or mild), and almost any hot sauce will take grits over the top.

Chili: Yes it sounds crazy to northern ears but we have chili mac and the south has grits and chili. Many places will serve a wide bowl of chili with a scoop of grits in the center. Check out our small batch chili recipe for a great pairing.

Pan Seared Fish and Grits (for 2)

Pan Seared Flounder and Smoked Gouda Grits
Pan Seared Flounder and Smoked Gouda Grits

1/2 cup stone ground yellow grits
2 cups (or more depending on grits) rich milk
2 tbs butter
1 cup smoked Gouda
2 tbs finely chopped green onion

Prepare grits per package. Cook slowly and stir often. Add butter when done. Just before serving with fish add in the cheese and green onion and stir until the cheese is melted. This makes two to three

Flounder fillets seasoned with sea salt, pepper, and smoked paprika
Flounder fillets seasoned with sea salt, pepper, and smoked paprika

hearty portions of grits. (See below for second meal options)

2 6 oz pieces of flakey white fish (like cod, grouper, flounder or pollock)
Kosher or Sea Salt
Course ground pepper
Smoked Paprika
Olive oil

Make sure you pat the fish dry. Dust both pieces of fish with the salt, pepper and paprika. If you don’t have smoked paprika get some. Regular paprika will do in a pinch. In a large skillet sauté both pieces of fish in olive oil turning only once.

Place a scoop of the smoked grits on a plate and place a serving of the fish over each serving of grits. Recommended vegetables include anything green, including Brussel sprouts, sautéed spinach, baby peas, or green beans.

Baked Cod With Grits (for 2)

Baked cod with smoked mayo and smoked gouda grits
Baked cod with smoked mayo and smoked gouda grits

1/2 cup stone ground yellow grits
2 cups (or more depending on grits) rich milk
2 tbs butter
1 cup smoked Gouda
2 tbs finely chopped green onion

(Prepare grits per package. Cook slowly and stir often. Add butter when done. Just before serving with fish add in the cheese and green onion and stir until the cheese is melted).

2 6 oz pieces of cod (preferably the thick loin portion)
2 tbs mayo
1 tsp Smoked Paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Hot Sauce to taste (or red pepper)

Make a paste out of the may, paprika, garlic powder and hot sauce. Even if you don’t like things “hot” add at least a pinch of red pepper. It makes a world of difference. Smear the top of the cod loins with

the mixture (not too thick) and place in a baking dish. Bake for 10 minutes at 400F then check. Fish should be light and flakey. Depending on the thickness of your cod it can take up to an additional 10 minutes to finish. If you have an aversion to mayo just coat the top of the fish with a little olive oil and coat with the rest of the seasonings. You will want to add some salt if not using mayo. The oil/mayo helps keep the fish moist during the baking process.

Working multiple ways

When you make grits, whether for one or two, the recipe listed will serve you through about two meals if you are a modest eater. You are wide open for the second meal but the obvious choice is to reheat your grits (and be prepared to add a bit more liquid) and then serve for breakfast with a couple of eggs cooked the way you like them. If you haven’t had two eggs on top of grits and cheese it is to die for. Plus, since the grits are already cooked, the whole breakfast takes only as long a it takes to cook a couple of eggs.

Finally, don’t stop with the traditional shrimp and/or fish and grits. Almost any meat will do as long as it is seasoned up. A good marinated chicken breast or sautéed point going is a great combination with hearty grits. Check out our idea for quick portend and per with grits. Finally, almost all of us have parmesan cheese in our refrigerator. As long as you lower the salt from the original recipe and add liquid as needed, Italian sausage and parmesan grits would be a meal to make any native of Italy proud.


  1. Another option- take those leftover cheese grits and pour/spread them out into a small plastic container. The next day pop them out (they congeal when they cool), dust them with flour, and then FRY them. Then top them with something good. After all- they’re southern.

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