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Cheese Grits with Roasted Hatch Chilies

By Heidi Allison

Grits are a Southern guilty pleasure that many of us north of the Mason-Dixon Line have trouble fathoming. That is, until you try a really good, savory rendition; then, you are hooked for life. What separates an addictive plate of grits from slop-on-a plate is the quality of the grits, and, the add-ons, such as butter (lots of butter), heavy cream, milk, cheese, shrimp, ham, bacon, pulled pork, sausage, and red-eye gravy. While there are as many regional variations to this iconic Southern side as there are “Confederate states”, eating your grits sweet is not one of them! It is a culinary sin (mortal—not venial!) to sprinkle sugar, or, pour syrup over your creamy, baked or fried grits. It simply is not done!

Similar to other corn-based porridges, such as polenta or thinner farina, grits can be served as a savory breakfast, main or side. Grits, both yellow and white, come in three formulations: instant (don’t bother), quick (good in a pinch) and stone-ground (the best). While any die-hard grits aficionados prefer the more intense, corny flavor of the yellow variety, unfortunately this product is difficult to source unless you live in the South. A well-guarded secret that adds flavor is cooking your grits in something other than plain water--chicken or pork stock are wonderful variations.

In this recipe, the really fresh, rich, complex corn flavor and creamy texture found in perfect yellow grits is duplicated with white grits by cooking the raw grits in chicken stock along with a corn stock and freshly, squeezed “corn milk” (see recipe below.) Another secret: frequently stir the covered grits so that lumps do not form.

Cheese Grits with Roasted Hatch Chilies
Serves: 4

4 ears of Fresh Corn, husks and silk removed
1 cup of Stone Ground White Grits
1 teaspoon Kosher Flake Salt
2.5 cups of Good Chicken Stock
5 ounces Corn Milk (see recipe below)
1 clove Garlic, peeled and smashed
½ cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese
¼ cup Monterey Jack Cheese
2 Hatch Chilies, roasted, seeds removed; then roughly chopped
¼ cup 2% low fat milk

In a large pot, place cups of water and bring to a rolling boil. Add corn; then bring back to a boil. Immediately cover pot and turn off heat. Allow corn to cook in hot water for 15 minutes.
Image of corn milk
When corn is cool enough to handle, removed kernels and place in a juicer—you should have about 5 ounces of corn milk.
Image of corn cobs in boiling water
Place corn cobs back into water and boil until reduced to 5 cups.
Image of chicken stock, corn stock, corn milk, grits and salt in a pot
Place chicken stock, corn stock, corn milk, grits and salt into a 5 quart, heavy-bottomed, cast iron pot (I like Le Crueset) and heat on medium until it simmers. Cover, reduce heat to lowest setting and stir frequently with a whisk until grits soften and thicken—about 45 minutes.
Image of thickened mixture in pot
Whisk in cheese until incorporated. Add milk and whisk until incorporated. Add Hatch chilies and gently fold into grits with a wooden spoon. Remove grits from heat, and add more salt if needed.
Image of Cheese Grits with Roasted Hatch Chilies
Serve immediately.

Notes from the Author:
Grits are economical, and leftovers can be eaten for a second meal. Just place grits in a covered container, and allow to “set up” overnight. Remove grits “log” and slice into ¼-inch sections; then fry in hot oil and top and top with fried eggs for a great Southern-style breakfast!
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