Now’s the time for puttin’ on the grits. In a place where grits are practically a religion, it’s not easy to impress. When some of Charleston’s finest chefs began raving about the grits coming from a small farm in Edisto, I couldn’t help but go for a drive and find out first hand.
Edisto Island is a flat, subtropical barrier island just south of Charleston. Most of the land is a jungle of oak trees tangled in Spanish moss, magnolia trees, palmettos, and yuccas standing high above a woodland floor. Great white and blue herons and pelicans populate the sky high above the tidal creeks and marshlands that meander through the forests. Alligators roam in search of prey while whippoorwills and cicadas create music as the sun goes down.
Approaching the island on Hwy. 174, Geechie Boy Market and Mill is situated on the right side of the road. The grits are the work of Greg Johnsman who takes a decidedly old-fashioned approach. Inside the rustic wooden store is an old gristmill where each batch of corn is ground daily, ensuring optimal freshness and flavor that has chefs so excited.
When cooking grits, I believe the secret to flavorful creamy grits is to use a combination of chicken stock and half and half or cream and cook very slowly over low heat for an extended period of time. The flavorful liquids add so much more than water alone. Long, low heat during the cooking process allows the grits to bloom, absorbing the liquid and swelling up instead of the liquid just simply evaporating from the pot. Once you have eaten freshly ground whole grain grits, the bland instant store-bought grits will never taste good again.
1 1/2 cups stone-ground grits
3 cups chicken stock
3 cups milk
freshly ground black pepper
4-5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup half and half or heavy cream
Hot sauce, optional
- Place chicken stock and milk in a large stockpot. Season with Kosher salt and black pepper. Add grits to the liquid and let it sit for about 15 minutes to begin hydration. Turn the heat to medium high and bring to a simmer. Once liquid simmers, reduce heat to very low and continue to cook, whisking once in awhile, for about 1 hour. At this time the liquid will be mostly absorbed and the grits will have lost their gritty texture and be soft and creamy. If consistency gets too thick you can always add more stock
- Stir in the butter, Parmesan cheese and heavy cream or half and half. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve warm.