By Brent T. Frei 2017-11-06 11:33:16
GRITS ARE A FOOD STAPLE that babies born in the Southern United States are practically weaned on. (Georgia lawmakers even declared grits as the state’s official prepared food.) But many Americans who live north or west of the “grits belt”—stretching from Texas to Virginia—nearly burst with sanctimonious pride in insistence that they never touch the stuff— even with a 10-ft. spoon. What exactly is this foodstuff that inspires such polarizing passions? Grits are made from corn that’s been dried and ground into a coarse meal and then boiled. They can be white or yellow, depending on the color of the kernels. Hominy grits are a style that is made from corn that’s been milled or treated with a lime (calcium oxide) or lye (sodium hydroxide) solution that removes the bran and germ. This results in softer, larger grits that are preferred by some. (One can’t help but wonder what a culinarian of the past expected to achieve from perpetrating a particular act of chemical treachery upon a humble ear of corn. We’ll likely never know.) A bowl of grits is similar to many of the thick, maize-based porridges found all across the globe, such as polenta from Italy and mamaliga from South Africa. Grits also have close cousins in masa, from which corn tortillas are made in Mexico and much of Latin America, and mamaliga, a peasant porridge in Romania. Grits are among the most versatile foods in any pantry. Like rice, pasta, noodles and mashed potatoes, they bring a mild flavor to the table while accepting myriad toppings and mix-ins. While it’s true that grits are far more popular at breakfast, they’re eminently well suited for lunch and dinner, too. It was the now-classic shrimp and grits, more than any other concoction, that helped grits escape their geographic boundaries to land in all types of foodservice operations nationwide. (For example, the next time you dine at one of the 1,700+Denny’s® units sprawled throughout the country, you’re almost guaranteed to find shrimp and grits on the side-dish menu.) One cup of cooked, unseasoned, unadorned grits contains 182 calories and 1 gram of fat, and is a rich source of vitamin B6. Enriched grits also provide folate, a B vitamin that helps the body produce DNA, keeps new cells healthy and might prevent cancer and anemia. And featuring a whopping 38 grams of carbohydrates, a one-cup serving of grits can keep young customers energized throughout the school day—even during strenuous activities in Phys Ed classes! What’s more, grits are easy to cook! (Just be careful not to walk away from the stovetop for too long.) A typical instruction calls for cooks to gradually stir 1 cup of stone-ground grits and a teaspoon of salt into 41⁄2 cups of boiling water in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat and continue stirring for 40 to 50 minutes or until the grits are very thick. (Note: The grind of the grits can alter the cook time significantly. Check package instructions.) Take care: As grits thicken, they can scorch, which is why frequent stirring is necessary. If the grits absorb all of the water before they’re fully cooked, simply add more hot water as needed. Beat in 4 to 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter that’s been cut into pieces, add freshly ground black pepper if desired and voila! Serve hot and delicious in a bowl. You can also store cooked grits in a cylindrical container in the walk-in or a cooler until they have chilled. Once they’ve completely cooled, you can remove the tube of packed grits and slice it into disks, sautéing them in a little oil or butter to create delectable grits cakes. You can even pour out the cooled grits onto a flat surface and use cookie cutters to form fun shapes before they go into the sauté pan. Forever a Bad Rep? Despite all that grits have going for them, many Americans who live outside the South continue to hold their ground, never betting their stomachs—not to mention their taste buds and wallets—on grits. What gives? Grits suffer from a negative cultural image in many parts of the country, concedes Chef Marshal Shafkowitz, executive director and culinary dean of Washburne Culinary & Hospitality Institute, part of City Colleges of Chicago, and the oldest accredited culinary school in the United States. “Grits are a poor man’s food,” he explains. “They always have been. You grind up corn and add water instead of stock. Grits are an inexpensive filler.” But the poor perception of grits beyond the South may be beginning to change, Shafkowitz insists. That’s largely due to the growing familiarity with and popularity of various ethnic and regional cuisines all accross the United States. So, grits can ride on the coattails of polenta and masa, while also attracting interest on their own merit, as “Southern cuisine” attracts interest everywhere from Oregon to Maine. For some, however, they remain a bridge too far. “Grits have traditionally garnered a very blue-collar, Southern reputation that needs to be overcome,” says Chef Steven Petusevsky, a Florida-based foodservice consultant and author of The Whole Foods Market Cookbook—a Guide to Natural Foods with 350 Recipes. “Grits, polenta and masa are all corn-based, but ground differently in size. I think polenta is viewed as upscale, Italian or European and sophisticated—way on the other end of the spectrum from grits,” says Petusevsky. Polenta has caught the wave of popularity with both Boomers and now Millennials. I see it everywhere in urban hipster areas.” Grits, on the other hand, are often perceived as unhealthy, as well as unsophisticated, Petusevsky says. After all, butter is practically mandated, as are such common mix-ins and toppings as full-fat cheeses and bacon. “The truth is, grits are pure comfort food and can be either sweet or savory,” he insists. “It’s all about the marketing and messaging.” Grits Return to (Select) Schools For school cafeterias—primarily in Southern states—that had long enjoyed serving grits, the 2014 federal requirement that all grain products be whole grain-rich resulted in tremendous disappointment among students and school nutrition operators alike. Finding commercial products that were acceptable to both the budget’s bottom line and the students proved nearly impossible in most districts. SNA successfully worked with legislators on Capitol Hill to allow individual state agencies to grant exemptions on this requirement, providing that the school district could demonstrate “hardship” (financial, procurement and student acceptability). Such districts could meet the 2012 requirement that half of offered grains be whole grain-rich. In Spring 2017, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who hails from Georgia, provided an interim rule to support this area of flexibility (as well as others) for states and local districts. The return of grits to menu cycles was welcomed with enthusiasm. Indeed, customers gleefully and thankfully say “Yes!” to grits at South Carolina’s Greenville County Schools, a district with 100 serving sites. Cheddar grits are common at breakfast, and a 4-oz. Alaska pollock fillet atop cheddar grits accompanied by scratch-made carbonara sauce (see above recipe) is served in all middle and high schools every three weeks. Cost-wise, fish and grits are a match made in heaven, according to Joe Urban, the district’s director of food and nutrition services and a former chef and restaurateur. “Grits are cheap,” Urban acknowledges. Alaska pollock is considered one of the highest-quality and most-economical seafoods available to U.S. foodservice operators today, thanks to an ample, sustainable catch and new processing technologies. Although grits are popular, Urban doesn’t count them toward his grains requirements, since he is not using a whole-grain variety. “The whole-grain grits don’t do well here,” he concedes. Urban, who hails from New Jersey, developed a love of grits while operating restaurants for 15 years in Florida. And Greenville is arguably “more” Southern in cuisine preference than Florida, he notes. “We’ve been able to mimic the quality of grits from our customers’ mothers and grandmothers. Kids love good grits and ours are the best.” In fact, Urban boasts, “If I lived in Montana, I’d get them eating grits there. It would take some time, but I’d do it.” If you don’t like grits, you’re probably not alone (and probably not from the South). But versatile, affordable grits are benefiting from an ever-growing interest among American consumers—should your school consider serving them? Quick Grits 1 gal. Water 2 ½ tsps. Salt 2 lbs. Stone-ground grits* 1) Bring the water to a boil in a large, deep pan over high heat. 2) Add the salt, and gradually stir in the grits. Reduce the heat and let the grits simmer. Stir frequently to prevent sticking or clumping until the mixture is very thick, or approximately 30 minutes. 3) To serve, scoop ½ cup (#8 disher) of grits. *Note: To credit grits in your meal pattern analysis, be sure to use a whole-grain product. Recipe, Nutrition and Meal Pattern Analysis: Chef Sharon Schaefer, SNS, www.evolutionofthelunchlady.com, powered by MealsPlus. Photo: www.gettyimages.com SERVES 32 (1⁄2 cup each) PER SERVING 106 cal. 0.4 g fat, 2.4 g pro., 21.9 g carb., 1.6 g fiber, 187.8 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN 1-oz.-eq. grain Mexicorn Grits 2 gals. Reduced-fat milk 3¼ lbs. Butter 3 lbs. Quick-cooking grits* 2 lbs. Eggs 90.75 ozs. Mexicorn, drained 33 ozs. Chopped green chilies 2 lbs. Mexican cheese blend, shredded 2 Tbsps. Salt 2 tsps. Black pepper 1 pint Parmesan cheese, shredded SERVES 48 (¾ cup) PER SERVING 535 cal., 34 g fat, 18 g pro., 41 g carb., 3 g fiber, 806 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN 1.25-oz.-eq. meat/meat alternate, 1 oz.-eq. grain, ¼ cup starchy vegetable Note: This recipe has been modified from its original version to meet K-12 nutrition regulations. To credit grits in your meal pattern analysis, be sure to use a whole-grain product. Recipe: Adapted from Taste of Home, www.tasteofhome.com Modification, Nutrition Analysis and Meal Pattern Analysis: Chef Sharon Schaefer, SNS, www.evolutionofthelunchlady.com, powered by MealsPlus. Photo: Kelsey Casselbury 1) Bring milk and 2 lbs. butter to a boil in a large pot. Slowly stir in grits. Reduce the heat, and continually stir for 5 to 7 minutes. 2) Whisk the eggs in a bowl, and then temper the eggs by adding a small amount of the hot grits into the raw eggs. Transfer the egg to the grits pot and continue to stir over heat. 3) In a separate pot, melt the remaining (1 ¼ lbs.) butter. Stir it into the eggs-grits. 4) Add the Mexicorn, chilies, Mexican cheese blend, salt and pepper to the grits mixture. 5) Divide and transfer the mixture into two 2-in. greased steamtable pans. Sprinkle each with even amounts of Parmesan cheese. 6) Bake, uncovered, at 350°F for 35 to 40 minutes. 7) Scoop ¾ cup (6-oz. spoodle) of grits per serving. • Great spin on traditional grits dishes. This reminds me of a Breakfast Chile Relleno Casserole. • Canned Mexicorn has red and green peppers in it. However, you can sub regular corn (and add a little chopped peppers) or even use frozen corn. • This tasted great. I added ½ tablespoon of cumin and ½ tablespoon chili powder, and they added a great flavor. • The recipe needs more of a splash of green—maybe add some chopped green onion? • I think this recipe would go over very well on Taco Day, served as a side dish or with chicken fajita wraps. “Ho-miny” Grain Parts Does It Take to Be Whole? On May 1, 2017, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that USDA will provide greater flexibility in nutrition requirements for school meal programs to serve menus choices that are both healthful and appealing to students. To that end, he signed a proclamation that began the process of ensuring greater local control in regard to requirements for whole grains, sodium and milk. “A perfect example [of the challenge to schools] is in the South, where schools want to serve grits,” Perdue said in his announcement. “But the wholegrain variety has little black flakes in it, and the kids won’t eat it. The school is compliant with the whole-grain requirements, but no one is eating the grits. That doesn’t make any sense.” USDA allows states to grant exemptions to schools experiencing hardship in serving 100% of its grain products as whole grain-rich for SY 2017-18, and the agency has committed to taking necessary regulatory actions to implement a long-term solution. As Perdue’s statement alludes, whole-grain grits do exist. Some are made from grains other than corn, such as barley or millet, meaning they don’t quite taste like grits made from corn. Some school districts have found acceptance with these products among students, but others find them to be a challenge to satisfy young customers who enjoy corn grits at home. Whole-grain corn grits, which keep the separated germ and bran in the meal along with the gr ound kernel, must come with a CN label or Manuf acturer’s Product Analysis Statement verifying they are whole grain, explains Coleen Donnelly, a K-12 culinary specialist based in California’s Bay Area. She adds that hominy grits do not credit because they’ve had the hull removed. Whole-grain corn grits, because they’re a specialty product, tend to be pricier—sometimes much pricier—than their conventional counterparts, which can pose a financial challenge to K-12 school nutrition budgets. Sweet Potato Grits 1 gal., 2 cups Water 1 gal., 2 cups Reduced-fat milk 3 lbs. Stone-ground grits 2 tsps. Salt 2 tsps. Pepper 5 ½ lbs. Medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and grated 2 tsps. Ground ginger 3 tsps. Ground cinnamon ¼ lb. Unsalted butter SERVES 48 (¾cup) PER SERVING 206 cal., 3.24 g fat, 6.4 g pro., 37 g carbs., 3.2 g fiber, 170 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN 1 oz.-eq. grain, ⅛ cup red/orange vegetable 1) In a large pot, bring the water and milk to a boil. While whisking continually, slowly add the grits. 2) Season the grits with the salt and pepper. Decrease the heat to low, and continue to simmer until the grits are thick, approximately 45 to 60 minutes. 3) Add the grated sweet potato to the grits and simmer until the potato is tender. 4) Melt the butter. Add the ginger, cinnamon and butter to the grits-potato mixture and stir to combine. 5) To serve, scoop ¾ cup (6-oz. spoodle) of grits. Note: This recipe has been modified from its original version to meet K-12 nutrition regulations. Recipe: Adapted from Fox News Food & Drink, www.foxnews.com Photo: Kelsey Casselbury Modification, Nutrition and Meal Pattern Analysis: Chef Sharon Schaefer, SNS, www.evolutionofthelunchlady.com, powered by MealsPlus. • What a fun way to use grits! This could be a yummy breakfast or a great way to focus on veggies at lunch. • If you don’t have fresh sweet potatoes, you can substitute them with canned sweet potato or pumpkin. Just make basic grits and fold the two together. • I tried some with the pepper and some without. It’ s a bit better without the pepper. I also added ½ cup brown sugar, and it tasted similar to a sweet potato soufflé with a different texture. • Grating the sweet potatoes was the worst, and to have to grate enough for 500+ servings would be difficult. Mix-ins and Toppings Ideas to Make Great Grits Even Grander Experiment with these suggestions and your own ideas to discover the combinations that your customers will applaud. Try one ingredient or mix and match! • Chopped jalapeños or mild green chilies • Chopped sautéed onions • Confetti-diced, sautéed bell peppers (green, red, yellow or all three) • Minced fresh garlic or garlic powder • Shredded cheeses (cheddar, Pepper Jack, Swiss, Colby, mozzarella and more) • Fresh, chopped herbs • Sliced sautéed mushrooms • Crumbled bacon • Diced ham • Fully cooked shellfish • Diced cooked chicken or turkey • Creamed chicken or seafood • Pulled slow-roasted pork • Braised bits of beef • Gravy (white, brown and beyond) • Real maple syrup Alaska Pollock Fish & Grits with Carbonara Sauce 4 lbs. Quick-cooking grits 2 ½ gals. Water 2 Tbsps. Salt 2 Tbsps. Black pepper 8 ozs. Salted butter 4 lbs. Cheddar cheese, mild, shredded 13 ⅝ ozs. Alfredo sauce concentrate 2 qts. + 2 cups Whole milk 1 lb. Frozen peas 2 cups Bacon bits, cooked 100 Alaska Pollock filets, 4-oz. pieces, grill-marked, cooked SERVES 100 (4 ozs. fish, ½ cup cheese grits) PER SERVING 430 cal., 11 g fat, 34.7 g pro., 17.9 g carb., 1 g fiber, 664 mg sod. MEAL PATTERN 2-oz-eq. meat/meat alternate 1) Heat the oven to 350°F. 2) Pour 1 lb. of grits each into four 4-in. half steamtable pans. To each pan, add 10 cups of water, ½ Tbsp. salt, ½ Tbsps. Black pepper and 2 oz. butter. 3) Place the pans in a steamer and cook for approximately 25 minutes, until the mixture thickens. 4) Add 1 lb. cheddar cheese to each pan. Mix, cover and hold in a warmer. Maintain an internal temperature of 140 to 150°F. 5) To create the carbonara sauce: Heat a braising pan or steam kettle to 350°F. Add the milk to the pan or kettle and bring to a simmer. 6) Add the Alfredo sauce and whisk until smooth. Add the bacon bits and peas, and mix thoroughly. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. 7) Divide and transfer the carbonara sauce into 2-in. shotgun pans. Cover and place in a warmer. Maintain an internal temperature of 140 to 150°F. 8) Remove the pollock from its packaging. Spray 2-in. steamtable pans with pan coating spray and place the pollock in single layers. Bake in the 350°F oven for 8 to 12 minutes. 9) To serve, scoop ½ cup (4-oz. spoodle) of the grits and top with a 4-oz. fish filet. Top with 1 oz. carbonara sauce. Recipe, Photo, Nutrition and Meal Pattern Analyses: Joe Urban, Director of Food and Nutrition, Greenville (S.C.) County Schools • This is a great way to add more fish on a school menu. T he grits are creamy and delicious and should help t o “reel” in some new fans of fish. • It’s important to keep the items separate until you are ready to serve. • You could turn this into a top-your-own grits bar! • I would try it with the USDA catfish strips. This is very easy to prepare and serve. Brent Frei is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Ill. Recipes published in School Nutrition have not been tested by the magazine or SNA in a school foodservice setting, except for certain “Kitchen Wisdom” selections, which are evaluated by a volunteer pool of operators. When available, nutrient analyses are provided by the recipe source. Required ingredients, preparation steps and nutrient content make some recipes more appropriate for catering applications or adult meals. Readers are encouraged to test recipes and calculate their own nutrition analyses, meal patterns and HACCP steps.
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