How to Make Grits From Fresh Hominy

How to Make Grits From Fresh Hominy
Photo: Claire Lower

True grits are usually made with dried, ground hominy — corn that has been soaked in an alkaline solution to render it more nutritious and delicious. This is harder to find in the Pacific Northwest than one might think. Even though Portland practically has a fetish for southern food, most of the “grits” you find in area grocery stores are sold as “grits aka polenta,” which is not what I’m looking for. Not at all.

That extra soaking step is what makes grits taste like grits. Without calcium hydroxide (or some similar caustic substance), your ground corn porridge is bland and blah. Nixtamalization — which you can learn all about here — is the key to giving it the toasty, sweet, aromatic notes that make this particular bowl of breakfast mush better than the others.

There aren’t however, many recipes for turning freshly nixtamalised corn into grits. There are a few that show you how to dry and grind your corn and then turn that into grits, but I simply don’t want to do all of that. Luckily, if you can make risotto (and have a food processor) you can make grits from fresh hominy. I was only able to find one recipe for doing so (on the Anson Mill’s site), so I used that as a template and — because I cannot help myself — made a few adjustments.

But, before we get to that, you should familiarise yourself with the process of transforming corn into hominy, so go do that if you haven’t already. Once you’ve made at least a cup of the stuff, all you’ll need is water, salt, and a little butter for flavour. You will not need cream or milk. The creaminess in grits comes from their own, naturally occurring starch, not dairy, so please save the milk for your cereal and the cream for your coffee.

Grits made with freshly nixtamalised corn are — depending on how finely you break them down — a little more toothsome than the kind you buy pre-ground. They retain some of the hominy’s chewy texture, which I enjoy, but the more finely you prepare them with the food processor, the closer to “regular” grits they will be.

Those larger bits will come out chewy, so pulse a little past this point. (Photo: Claire Lower) Those larger bits will come out chewy, so pulse a little past this point. (Photo: Claire Lower)

Once you’ve pulsed your hominy into something that looks like grits, it’s almost exactly like cooking risotto, the only difference being that you do not toast them in fat before you add liquid, as doing so will coat the little corn bits and prevent them from absorbing water. Toast them in a dry pan until they are hot and fragrant and start to stick to the end of a wooden spoon, then gradually add salted water, stirring with each addition, until they soften and swell and release their starch. Then — and only then — should you add butter to taste.

Fresh Hominy Grits

Ingredients:

  • At least 1 cup of freshly prepared hominy (not dried or canned)
  • At least 2 cups of water per cup of hominy
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons of butter per cup of hominy, divided

Add the hominy to your food processor and pulse until it is broken down into fine, grit-sized pieces. The smaller your bits, the quicker the grits will cook, and the creamier they will be (though those little toothsome bits can be fun). Add the grits to a dry stainless steel pot, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until they are hot and fragrant and steaming. While the grits are heating, lightly salt the water and bring to a boil in a separate sauce pan (or kettle).

Once the grits are hot and starting to stick to the end of your wooden spoon, start adding water, about 1/3 cup at a time, stirring with each addition until it is absorbed. The grits will be quite tight and firm looking at first; just keep adding water and stirring until they soften and swell. Eventually, they will loosen up and release their starch, which is what will make them creamy.

How to Turn Corn Into Hominy (aka Nixtamal)

Even if you haven’t eaten straight up nixtamal (known in the Southern U.S. as “hominy”), you have most likely consumed nixtamalised corn in one form or another. Tortillas, masa dough, proper grits, and even Fritos are all made with corn that has undergone nixtamalisation, a process wherein corn is soaked...

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Taste as you go. It’s possible your grits will look the part before they are cooked enough, so keep cooking until they are soft on your teeth, adding more water as needed to keep them from dying out. Once they look and taste right, add one tablespoon of butter (per cup of hominy you started with), stir, taste, and adjust with more butter or salt if needed. Serve with hot sauce, cheese, prawn, and/or more butter.

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