Savory Grits Bar
Ok. I have to give credit to my wife, Betsy, on this one. Before Theo roared into our lives we wanted to host a small party with friends and decided that a brunch situation would be easier and more low key than a dinner party.
To be honest, I was struggling with what to make. I had a list of tarts and fancy quiche recipes that would work, but also required some serious effort on my part. I was starting to stress myself out!
That’s when Betsy came up with the idea for a grits bar. Or… for those New England readers… Grits Bahhh.
It was so simple and people loved it. It’s more of a concept than a recipe as once you get the grits method down you can add almost anything to the toppings list. I stayed mostly in the savory world (with one exception), but you could just as easily do a sweet/savory combo.
It’s super easy to throw together and feeds a crowd!
1) Bring stock, water, and milk to a light simmer over medium heat. Once hot, whisk in grits in a slow steady stream.
2) Stir the grits well, and let simmer slowly. Stir regularly so the grits don’t stick or clump. The grits will need to simmer for 20-30 minutes until they are done. Taste them to know when they are tender. If they are getting too thick, add more water or stock.
3) When grits are thick and tender, season them with salt, pepper, and a knob of butter.
Keep warm over very low heat or in a slow cooker until serving time.
For caramelized onions:
1) Add 2 tablespoons butter to a medium pot over medium-low heat. Once melted, add sliced onions and cook until they start to soften. Add 2 tablespoons of water to speed up the cooking process.
2) Continue to cook until onions are soft and starting to brown a bit, about 20-25 minutes. Add a dash of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of sugar near the end to encourage color and caramelization. If onions get too dark, add a splash of water to slow the cooking.
Prepare all other toppings by grating cheese and dicing veggies. Let people make their own bowls!
Savory Grits Bar: Grits Makin’
This is a bit confusing, but grits and polenta are the exact same thing: ground corn. For the best grits, you want a coarse ground corn and it will frequently be labeled as “polenta”. I have a theory that this is because polenta sounds more exotic, but they are the exact same thing.
So buy a coarse ground polenta or grits and you’re well on your way.
There are two methods to making grits and both work really well.
If you have a slow cooker, you can soak the grits overnight in water and then drain them and add them to a slow cooker with about 3 cups of liquid per cup of grits. Cover them and cook them on low, stirring occasionally for 3-4 hours until they are thick and creamy. Then season them and keep them warm.
If you want a faster method though, you can increase your liquid to about four cups per cup of grits and bring that liquid to a light simmer.
For my liquid, I like to use a combo of stock, milk, and water. You can customize it to your liking, but I wouldn’t use just water as they will end up being a bit plain.
When the liquid is simmering, whisk in the grits in a slow stream. If you just dump them in you’ll end up with a big clump of corn.
Stir the grits regularly as they bubble over low heat. It’s amazing how much they will thicken and soak up all the liquid.
Just be sure to stir them regularly if you are using this method because they can stick to the bottom and clump together easily. After 30 minutes or so they should be nice and thick and tender.
At this point, you’ll want to season these with salt, pepper, and a hunk of butter.
Keep the grits warm until serving. Again, a slow cooker would be your friend here, but you can just keep them warm over very low heat, covered, for at least an hour or so without issue. If they ever start to get too thick, just stir in a bit more liquid.
There are SO many options for toppings for a grits bar. I recommend making a few cooked toppings though. For my version, I chose bacon and caramelized onions but you could get crazy here. Shrimp? Sausage? Mushrooms? All of them would work well.
If you do use bacon though, make sure it’s crispy!
I like to bake mine to maximize crispiness. If you don’t use a wire rack when baking then make sure to dry the bacon on some paper towels so it isn’t too greasy.
For the onions, add sliced white onions to a pot with some butter and a few tablespoons of water. Put them over medium-low heat and let them cook down slowly.
As the onions cook down they will soften and also brown a bit. To encourage the caramelization, add a sprinkle of sugar and a dash of balsamic vinegar.
The whole process will take probably 30 minutes and you’ll end up with these rich, slightly sweet onions that go great on any number of things, but definitely grits.
For other toppings options, I would highly recommend at least one kind of cheese. Cheddar and grits goes well together and try to find a good sharp cheddar. Any cheese would be a solid choice though.
I like to round out my grits bar with lots of veggies. You don’t need a lot of any one veggie, but make a good spread. I used red peppers, scallions, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, and spicy peppers.
It would be amateur to serve grits without butter, so put out some good butter for people also.
The sweet topping that I recommend: maple syrup. Even in a bowl of all savory ingredients, a little drizzle of syrup totally makes everything click.
It’s really fun to let people make their own bowls!
The grits bar was a huge brunch party hit!
I would love to hear your grits bar toppings ideas! Leave a comment!