You either love grits or you hate them. They’re one of those kinds of things. If you grew up eating them, as did I, they’re comfort food par excellence — we so need comfort food now — whether buttered and tucked under a big plate of eggs over easy with spicy patty sausage or baked up all cheesy in a casserole dish for the Thanksgiving or any other buffet. They do not, as some folks will insist, taste like paste. (I always liked paste myself.) The trouble has come with the advent of instant grits, which while technically kinda-sorta grits, are nothing compared to the pot of goodness made with stone-ground grits that take longer to cook and definitely need more attention than mashed potatoes. I’d just as soon skip grits if they’re instant, but I’m sure they have their place for folks camping with a bunch of kids demanding a hot breakfast 10 minutes ago.
No one in my southern-rooted family ever put fish on grits that I can remember (hush puppies and fried potatoes or rice were our go-tos; family members can correct me, please), but that didn’t stop me from thinking it might be a good idea. I’ve made shrimp and blue cheese grits a time or two, but no fish. When I googled fish and grits, turns out that of course there was a long road to follow — everything from tons of fried catfish with grits to interesting-looking Cajun and Low Country specials. I also checked the hashtag for fish and grits on fb and there were 5,000+ uses! Anyway, if grits are good enough for shrimp or fried fish or flounder, why not pan sautéed salmon? As I’ve said before, I adore the idea of fish on so-good-for-your-heart grains.
below: my Cod with Arugula-Basil Pesto on a bed of quinoa:
And there’s never an end to my wondering what else to do with salmon, which you know if you’re a regular here on More Time. Why I stirred up a pot of grits for my fish is simple. There was a bag of grits sitting in the pantry I’d bought pre-Covid. While grits are totally shelf-stable, they don’t last forever like our midwestern wild rice and the best by date on these was sometime in September. Why not make a bed of grits for those fillets? I also knew a hunk of blue cheese needed a home and there is always part of a 2-pound log of extra sharp Cheddar in my fridge. Put together, they’d dress up those grains with a hefty dose of Tabasco for grins and giggles. Right along with plenty of black pepper, that is. And why not some crispy onions and peppers while we’re at it? That salmon was going to be tickled pink. (Where’s the roll-your-eyes emoji when you need it?) I even thought for a hot second about cooking the salmon in the grits, but soon decided they could go their separate ways until plating when they’d become forever friends.
If you’ve never before cooked grits, I’ll encourage you to snap up a bag of stone-ground grits, cook them, and see what you think. If they’re not to your liking, you can give them to your southern neighbor who’ll be thrilled as a tart apple in a pie. But I think you will like them and maybe then you’ll make some for breakfast one morning as there’ s nothing like a runny egg on grits unless it’s two runny eggs on grits. Don’t forget the butter and plenty of salt and pepper. Or you could bake a big grits and cheese casserole. See below, “The Gist on Grits…” for Nathalie Dupree’s microwave cooking instructions should you be really short on time. And there’s this: grits are cheap eats always ready to go in the pantry. That doesn’t mean they’re not luscious, but they will fill up a bunch of growling tummies for next to nothing. A bowl of grits will stretch a meal like rice only better. Think about one lonely scant cup of spicy chili in the fridge and two hungry adults; spoon it over grits, top with minced onions, and everyone’s full. Same for a smidge of green chile pork or beef stew or chunky vegetable soup. Leftover grits? Heat them gently with a little more milk, water, or butter, stirring all the time until hot, thick, and bubbly. Add what you like, even if it’s just sugar and milk for hot breakfast cereal. Now that you’re convinced or even if you didn’t need convincing, try this:
salmon on two-cheese tabasco grits
- 2 cups cooked stone ground grits, cooked according to package directions plus seasonings—see instructions below
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 2 big shakes of Tabasco sauce, about ¼ teaspoon– or to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 4-6 ounce salmon fillets, skin on and patted dry with paper towels (Take the salmon out of the fridge 10 minutes to warm up a bit before you start cooking.)
- Small red onion, sliced thinly
- ½ red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and sliced thinly
- ½ cup cherry tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese-I like Tillamook.
- 2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese
- WARM BOWLS: Place shallow bowls or dinner plates on rack at center of oven @150 degrees F.
- MAKE GRITS: Make the grits as per package directions (including salted butter), adding an extra ¼ teaspoon extra salt, a ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, and the two big shakes of Tabasco sauce – or more to taste. When done, cover tightly and leave on the burner you cooked them on to keep warm while you make the salmon. If they are too thick when you begin plating, stir in a little extra milk, water, or butter and gently heat again if necessary. They should be creamy. See post (MORE INFO THAN YOU WANTED) for link to cooking directions if needed.
- SALMON AND VEGETABLES: Heat a heavy 12-inch skillet over medium-high flame for 2 minutes. Pour in the olive oil, swirl to cover pan, and heat briefly. Add the onions and peppers; sauté for another 2 minutes. (Stir them regularly throughout cooking to prevent burning.) Push vegetables to the edges of pan and carefully lay salmon fillets in the center, skin side down. Sprinkle everything liberally with salt and pepper. Cook 4-5 minutes or so until salmon skin is crispy and you can see the salmon is cooked about half-way up the sides. Turn, add cherry tomatoes to the vegetables, and cook everything another 2-3 minutes or to your liking. I like my salmon medium, so cook it until it’s just firm, barely flakey, but still juicy at center – about 125 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. (FDA says 145 degrees F for fish.)
- SERVING: Remove warm bowls from oven. Spoon a cup of cooked grits into the center of each shallow bowl or dinner plate and spread them out to provide a bed for the fish. Sprinkle evenly with a tablespoon each of grated cheddar and crumbled blue cheese. Place a salmon fillet on the cheesy grits and top with onions, peppers, and cherry tomatoes. Serve hot. Pass the bottle of Tabasco at the table.
If you liked this, you might like my One-Pan Seared Salmon with Onions and Tomatoes on Lemony Greens (10 minute dinner)
MORE INFO THAN YOU WANTED
The Gist on Grits: What They are and How to Cook Them/THE OLD MILL (inc. microwave cooking directions)
GRITS (Short Stack)/VIRGINIA WILLIS. This little book is no longer available, but keep an eye out; you might sometime see it somewhere! You’ll also find tasty grits recipes in Virginia’s books BASIC TO BRILLIANT, YA’LL and LIGHTEN UP, YA’LL.
LIFE GOES ON
We’re facing more fires in Colorado (2 scary new ones over the weekend) and it’s ugly and frightening. My son and his family can see one from their house way up north of Denver in Berthoud. Prayers, if you pray. Or do your rain dance if you don’t.
So Rosie and I were talking the other night about what we wanted to be for Halloween. She’s thinking Mother Teresa.
Snapped from the car while driving home from the butcher shop:
We have to do things that do our hearts good right now, so here is a fun, spirit-lifting tune for listening/watching. The first is a clever, loving lip-synched and choreographed somewhat shorter version of the original. If you enjoy the Bengsons (second link), you can listen to more on you tube or follow on spotify or buy their album. It’s a great time to support musicians in our world.
- Sarah Goeke and Travis Staton Marrero perform a short piece in their living room in NYC to Abigail and Shaun Bengson’s song: The Keep Going Song.
- The Bengson’s original recording of “The Keep Going Song.”
Sending light, breath, comfort, and good health so that you can cook some grits or listen again to “The Keep Going Song,”