Saturday, April 18, 2009

Grits Epiphany: Grits Cakes Perfected

I have been working on making grits cakes that I tasted first at the A1A Ale Works in downtown St. Augustine. They arrived at the table browned, warm, and crispy/crunchy, a perfect foil for a shrimp salad, salsa, or served with freshly broiled fish. Their consistency first reminded me of the mashed potato cakes my mother made on the day after Thanksgiving (provided there were any mashed potatoes left). I have also seen and tasted these cakes (or toast as Paula Deen calls them) also made with polenta. I prefer the texture of the more coarsely-ground grits to polenta.

My versions, cooked in skillets, required too much tender lovin' care to make sure they did not stick, were browned properly, and cooked through enough. Here is my solution inspired by a recipe on Paula Deen's program.

Basically, I cook a double batch of grits the night before. Sometimes I add cheese, sometimes I don't or I augment the liquid with any kind of stock. I add a few tablespoons of butter or Healthy Start margarine. No trans fats allowed!

A standard grits recipe calls for 4 parts liquid to one part grits with some salt added to the liquid. I prefer stone ground grits first, quick grits second, and NEVER instant grits. Bring the liquid to a boil and slowly stir in the grits. Turn fire to low and put lid on the pot. Stir occasionally. When grits begin to firm up, I pour them off into a cookie sheet or rectangular casserole and place them in the refrigerator over night.

When I am ready to cook the cakes the next day, I use a large biscuit cutter to cut out rounds. I place them on a greased cookie sheet sprinkling on seasonings such as paprika, creole seasoning, salt/pepper, or smoked salt. Don't over do it.

At this point, I had tried every-which-way to cook them in a skillet with only mixed results. My best version was in a non-stick skillet. Nothing was easy and nothing finished as consistently as I wanted. I was seeking fool proof, fall-off-a-log simplicity that would knock people out every time with little cost or effort. Plus, most of the work (if you can call it that) is done the night before.

Paula Deen cooked some that caused me to see the light and solved my problems! Thank you Paula.

Instead of cooking them in a skillet, she baked them at 400 degrees for approximately 40 minutes until they became golden brown, flipped the cakes, and did the same on the other side. Using this method your grits cakes will come out perfectly every time provided you check on them to make sure they don't burn up in the oven.

This is an ace-in-the-hole recipe that will make you look like a genius chef. I guar-an- tee it!

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