Is it grits, polenta, or cornmeal?
Every now and then I get a hankering for a good old southern breakfast of grits and eggs, a favorite pairing in the American deep south. These hankerings began long before I ever even heard of polenta.
There is a lot of confusion about grits (hominy), cornmeal. and polenta. In short they are all one in the same, but with differences. All are derived from ground dried corn, otherwise known as cornmeal. The differences between the American and Italian cornmeal is the corn itself. In America, dent corn is used which tends to be more starchy than the flint corn used in Italy. The grind also determines the outcome once cooked. American cornmeal generally tends to cook into a smoother starchy texture, while the Italian cornmeal retains a somewhat more toothsome bite. Does any of that information really help you when faced with the myriad of cornmeal choices in your local markets? Somewhat, but probably not much?
For a more definitive discussion on cornmeal take a look at a previous post on Polenta. (click here)
My advice is to always seek out organic stone ground cornmeal. Commercially ground cornmeal generally will be a finer grind with some of the nutrients lost in the process, and always avoid any processed quick cook varieties!
In any case, cooked cornmeal, calling it what you will, and scrambled eggs are a match made in heaven. For breakfast I prefer using Italian polenta using a quick cook method, which is also explained in the post on Polenta. It produces a toothsome texture with an unadulterated corn flavor that compliments gently cooked scrambled eggs beautifully. For a discussion on How to Scramble Eggs (click here).
Polenta or Grits to serve with Scrambled Eggs Serves 3-4
- ¾ cup ground organic stone ground cornmeal (or Italian Polenta)
- 2 ¼ cups water + more as needed
- 1/3 cup whole milk, heated
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt + more to taste
- 1/3 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon butter
- freshly ground black pepper and flaked sea salt at the table
Prepare ahead; a large sauce pan fitted with a stainless bowl that fits snugly on top of the sauce pan, creating a double boiler effect. Have a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to seal the stainless bowl set aside.
Fill the large sauce pan with water to a level 2 or so inches below the bottom of the stainless bowl when it is placed over the sauce pan. Bring the water to a low boil and reduce to a simmer.
In another sauce pan heat 2 ¼ cups water to a boil and pour it into the stainless bowl set over the saucepan of simmering water. While stirring add the cornmeal in a slow steady stream. Add ¾ teaspoon salt and continue to stir until the cornmeal is incorporated and there are no lumps.
Seal the bowl tightly with aluminum foil and adjust the heat under the saucepan so that the water is just simmering. Cook the cornmeal for 20 minutes, remove the foil and stir until the cornmeal is broken up and evenly mixed together again. Reseal with foil and cook another 20 minutes.
Note: cooking times will vary depending on the size of the grind of the cornmeal and the texture you prefer. The courser the grind the longer the cooking time.
Uncover and stir in the heated milk, ground pepper, and butter and stir until well combined. Reseal and cook another 10 minutes.
At this point in cooking time a finely ground cornmeal should be finished with a somewhat toothsome texture. If you prefer a smoother texture add additional water, seal and continue cooking another 10 to 15 minutes.
Taste the cornmeal and add additional salt if desired. Then whip the cornmeal vigorously to loosen it up and smooth it out before serving. The texture should be neither too thin or too thick. The cornmeal should gently mound somewhat like whipped mashed potatoes. You can adjust the texture with the addition of hot water to thin or longer cooking time to thicken.
Spoon the cornmeal onto serving plates along with scrambled eggs. Grind freshly grated black pepper over the cornmeal and add additional salt at the table.
Note: The cooked cornmeal can be held over the simmered water, or reheated for up to several hours.
For longer storage, transfer the cornmeal to a container, cover, and refrigerate. Once the cornmeal is refrigerated it will be quite firm. To reheat, cut into wedges and gently fry with butter or olive oil.