Southern Cooking- Grits and Tomato Gravy
For the Love of Grits
Call me a loyalist. I love grits. I especially love them with cheese. I do not eat oatmeal, and I do not eat cream of wheat, and I most certainly do not put sugar in my grits. And I never use instant grits! I use Quaker Quick Grits, which say “5 minutes”, but I cook them much longer, so that they are creamy. Jim Dandy grits are good too. I’ve used the store brand in a pinch, but they definitely were not as good. Whether breakfast or dinner, cook up some grits, make some eggs, maybe add some biscuits and bacon, and you’ve got a meal. In this article, I’m recommending tomato gravy with your grits.
- 1 cup grits
- 3 to 4 cups of water
- 1 tsp salt
- Pour grits in a saucepan, and rinse a couple times with water, draining water off each time.
- Add 3 cups of water. Add salt. Cover and heat on medium-high for 5 minutes.
- Stir well. If grits are boiling, or close to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook another 5 minutes. Grits should be bubbling at a simmer.
- Check every 5 minutes, stirring well. Add additional water, depending on how thick you like them.
- Cook a minimum of 20 minutes.
My Preferred Method for Grits
Get your grits started before you start your gravy.
- 1 cup Quaker Quick Grits
- 3-4 cups homemade, canned, or boxed chicken broth (or 1 heaping tablespoon chicken bouillon paste with 3-4 cups water)
- 2 tablespoons butter, or more
- Salt to taste
- Pour grits in saucepan, and rinse a couple times with water, draining water off each time.
- Add 3 cups of broth. My favorite is homemade chicken broth. I find that even though I am boiling boneless, skinless chicken, this broth imparts a lot of great flavor. Like “slap your grandma” good. When I don’t have homemade, I use organic boxed chicken broth or chicken bone broth. I keep chicken bouillon paste in the frig for emergencies. If using paste, I add a heaping tablespoon to the water after the first 5 minutes of cooking time.
- Add salt if needed. It is better to cook the grits with salt rather than trying to salt after they are done. If you are using bouillon powder or paste, you may not need any additional salt. If using boxed or canned broth, be aware that many commercial broths have substantial amounts of salt, and you might not need much additional salt.
- Add butter if desired. I highly recommend you try cooking them with the butter at least once. Many people add butter to their bowl but cooking the butter in makes them a decadent treat.
- Cover and start cooking on medium high. The dial settings on my stove burners are marked simmer, low, 2, 3, 4, med, 6, 7, 8, high. I start off on a setting of 6 for 5 minutes. The grits are usually boiling, or close to boiling after 5 minutes. I stir well, re-cover, and turn the heat down to med. I set the stove timer and stir every 5 minutes. Grits must be stirred regularly so they don’t stick on the bottom of the pan, and so they don’t get lumpy.
- Progressively turn the heat down as needed so that the grits continue to bubble, but are not at a hard boil. As they continue to cook, the water will be absorbed and they will thicken, so a hard boil would not be suitable. I usually finish cooking at the 3 setting, but sometimes 2 or simmer.
- Add additional liquid as needed, up to 1 cup, depending on how thick or thin you want them to be. I like mine fairly thick.
- Cook for a total of 20 minutes or more.
Tips & Alternatives
- You could be a purist, and keep your grits simple, adding only salt, pepper, and butter.
- I’ve noticed multiple celebrity chefs cook grits with part milk or heavy cream and part water or broth. This method is touted for especially rich and creamy grits. As a native Southerner, I would say I don’t actually know any family or friends, or even acquaintances that do this.
- You could try adding in some cream cheese at the end of cooking, as an alternative method to achieve a super rich and creamy treat.
- My favorite way to eat this Southern staple is with cheddar cheese. I put the cheese in after I have plated. When you add cheese while cooking, it seems to take more, and if you don’t eat them all, you’ve wasted some perfectly good cheese.
- Fresh, ripe tomatoes are great with grits. I almost always have grape tomatoes at my house. I cut them in halves or quarters and serve them on the side.
- It’s important to know that leftover grits isn’t really a thing. They set and don’t go back to creamy if reheated. I’ve seen recipes for cutting the leftovers into rounds, frying them, and using them as a component to dishes.
- For the purpose of this article, my number one recommendation is to have them with tomato gravy!
If you know anything about Southern cooking in the 60s and 70s, you can imagine that I grew up eating lots of fried meat with rice and milk gravy. My favorite is probably battered and fried cubed steak with rice and gravy. As a tasty variation, my mom occasionally made milk gravy with tomatoes. Tomato gravy is certainly good with some type of fried meat, such as chicken, pork chops, or cubed steak. I suppose you could eat it over rice or potatoes, but we usually had it over grits or biscuits.
Making Tomato GravyClick thumbnail to view full-size
Gravy is best when you start with “pan drippings” in a hot skillet. For example, the oil that you would fry breaded chicken or steak in, which would have some browned flour and pieces of the breading. When we had “breakfast for dinner”, Mom fried sausage or country ham, and used those drippings. If you don’t have pan drippings (or if you don’t have enough), use cooking oil.
- Pan drippings or cooking oil
- 3 to 5 heaping Tbsp plain flour
- 2 to 4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced or 1 can diced tomatoes
- 1 can evaporated milk (this gives the gravy richness)
- 16 oz milk, whole or 2%
- Water as needed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat pan drippings or oil in a skillet over medium-high. Use enough to cover the bottom of the pan at least ¼ inch deep.
- Once pan and oil are hot, whisk in flour 1 heaping tablespoon at a time. I use about 4 tablespoons, but it does seem to vary according to location. When I lived in Illinois, it seemed to take less flour. I’m assuming this has to do with altitude, humidity or some other atmospheric factor. Make sure you use ample flour. You can always add more liquid if the gravy is too thick.
- The flour should be completely blended in liquid oil, and not be a thick paste. Add more oil if the mixture turns to paste. Heat until flour is browned but not burned, whisking constantly.
- Add tomatoes with juice. They should sizzle. Cook the tomatoes on medium high for a minute or 2. You may have a paste consistency at this point. If this sounds too scary, simmer the tomatoes in a little oil in a hot pan and set aside. Then do your oil and flour as above.
- Reduce heat. Add half of the milk quickly, stirring vigorously. It will thicken up quickly. Add tomatoes if you prepped them separately, and blend in the remaining milk.
- Add additional milk or water as needed to have a nice consistency.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Simmer on low for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Serve over grits or biscuits. My mom is partial to refrigerated Hungry Jack Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits.
- If you have leftover gravy (which I always hope for), be warned that it will be thicker after sitting &/or refrigeration. Sometimes I whisk in extra liquid before refrigerating. Either way, you may still need to add liquid when re-heating.
© 2009 rmcrayne