ORIGINAL RECIPE: “Tomato-Bacon Grits,” from Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, by Nathalie Dupree*
TIMING: 45 minutes, and most of it straight-up involved
DIFFICULTY: Not that hard, but you do need to know how to manage more than one thing at once
TOOLS: Large saute pan, medium sauce pan, whisk, and (at least preferably) a wooden spoon with a flat edge
COOK TYPE: Stove top, and possibly the oven
HEALTH: Not really. I am all for some bacon in the diet, especially the nitrate-free, conscientious stuff I buy, but butter, cream, and bacon in one meal is perhaps overdoing it a little. I did lighten it all up a little from the original recipe, mostly in the way of bacon fat (but also by loosening the sauce from a paste to a creaminess), so perhaps it can be an indulgent food that you appreciate. If you love grits and you love bacon… well…
EXPERIENCE: Perhaps this is something a little more suited for the winter time, when you want heavier foods. Then again, it tastes really homey and comforting, so I doubt too many people will object.
I was just looking for a way to use bacon as the primary protein in a dinner, and I was not wanting to go with fried eggs again. So on the spreadsheet, this one popped out to me. I happen to love grits and also to have a nearly-full 25 pound bag of coarse-ground cornmeal in my pantry. I also love bacon. And cream.
NOTE: The cut of your dry grits and the consistency of your finished grits are, as Nathalie Dupree puts it, a personal thing. I am quite fond of using my corn meal for both grits and polenta recipes and sure, you can call me crazy. You can use corn meal here, or you can use whatever grit cut you enjoy. I also like my grits to be thick enough not to run off a spoon, but runny enough to warrant one.
Hot sauce is really necessary for this dish, supplying the acid to really make it pop.
- Either roast 1 package of bacon on a rack over a sheet pan in a 400F oven OR cut it up into lardons and saute it in a large skillet. When it is nice and crispy, remove the bacon from the grease and set aside.
- Add (or leave) 2 tablespoons bacon grease in the bottom of the skillet. Place the heat on medium and add 2 cloves rough-chopped garlic and 2-3 chopped scallions, whites only (setting the greens aside). Saute until the scallions soften, 1-2 minutes.
- Stir in 3 tablespoons all purpose flour and work in until a roux forms around the veggies.
- Add either 2 large, diced tomatoes with their juices or, when out of season, 1 15 oz can diced tomatoes, and 1 1/2 cups half and half and stir well, scraping up the bottom. Simmer until the sauce thickens.
- Taste for salt and pepper and set aside, keeping the sauce warm, while you make the grits.
- In a medium sauce pan, bring 4 cups chicken, shrimp, or veggie stock to a boil. As soon as it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and whisk in 1 cup of grits, cornmeal, or polenta. Continue to whisk until grits have thickened to your liking. Taste for done-ness and if they are not done, add 1/2 cup water and continue to cook. Repeat this until grits are done to your liking.
- Stir 2 tablespoons butter into the grits and taste for salt.
- Crumble the bacon and serve the grits topped with the cream sauce, the onion greens, and a liberal sprinkling of bacon.
Serve with hot sauce and a green salad, as pictured, or even better: with garlic-sauteed greens like collards, kale, or mustard greens.
*Recipe has been changed from the original.