I have combined in this recipe three of my favorite Southern ingredients. Flavor-packed, stone ground corn grits, creamy, sharp buttermilk and, of course, bacon. The trifecta of flavor elevates the simplicity of each ingredient to a new, sophisticated level. Buttermilk adds an elusive edge of tang and the smoky bacon plays off it beautifully. Another reason I love this recipe is that with the burgeoning local food scene, I find carefully, traditionally and creatively made local versions of each ingredient. Many farmers, restaurants are and markets are curing their own bacon, and small producers are grinding locally grown corn and heritage strains on traditional mills to make hearty, rich grits. And as people rediscover the beauty of buttermilk, local dairies selling rich, whole buttermilk, which makes all the differences in recipes like this. Seek out the best versions of these components you can, and prepare to be wowed.
Of course these grits and gravy are delicious at breakfast, but I generally serve this hearty combination as a supper side dish. It’s wonderful beside a good pork roast, with a little gravy drizzled over the pork as well. And imagine this with a plate of fried chicken!
- 2 cups whole buttermilk
- 2 cups chicken broth, plus more as needed
- ¼ cup (½ stick) butter, cut in pieces
- 2 teaspoons of kosher salt
- 1 cup stone ground yellow grits
- 5 strips of bacon
- I medium yellow onion
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups pork stock or beef stock
- generous grinds of black pepper
- Stir the buttermilk, chicken broth, butter and salt together in heavy bottomed large Dutch oven. Cook over medium high heat until the butter is melted and it all comes to a low boil. Stir in the grits and reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 30 – 45 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. The grits should be tender and the liquid absorbed. You may add a bit more broth if needed. When cooked, the grits can be kept covered for an hour or so, then slowly reheated over low, stirring in a little broth.
- Finely dice the bacon and place in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Finely dice the onion, and when the bacon has released its fat and is beginning to brown, add the onions to the pan. Stir to coat the onions evenly in the bacon grease. Drop in the thyme stalks. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and brown and the bacon is cooked, about 5 – 7 minutes.
- Place a strainer over a bowl and pour the bacon onion mixture into the strainer. Stir to release as much bacon grease as possible. Discard the thyme stalks. Measure out 2 Tablespoons of bacon grease and return it to the pan. Whisk in the flour and cook until smooth. Slowly whisk in the stock, scraping the lovely browned bits from the bottom of the pot as you go. Simmer until the gravy begins to thicken, stirring frequently, then stir the bacon and onions back in the pot. Simmer until the gravy has thickened to coat the back of a spoon. Season generously with black pepper. The gravy may be made several hours ahead. Reheat over low, stirring in a little extra stock if you think it needs it.