Popcorn grits pop up on the occasional creative restaurant menu thanks to Chef David Chang, his off-the-beaten-path Lucky Peach magazine, and his coterie of professional chef fans. But lest we forget, the first Native American version of this dish occurred thousands of years ago when native people sand-popped maize and then mashed it into hot water in a hollowed-out stone. That was the original creative process—magical and elemental. To honor Native American cookery, we wondered if we could drive the diverse high and low flavor profiles of our Appalachian Heirloom Sweet Flint Popping Corn into an Anson Mills version of popcorn grits. Pop, sputter, surprise—here they are! Top flavor notes of honeysuckle, base notes of fresh sweet corn, and an array of comforting floral and mineral notes in between. We use chicken stock in the preparation, but if you are in a hurry, water, butter, and popcorn will get you tasty grits with great soft texture in less than 30 minutes. It’s a forgiving and easy recipe.
If you don’t have homemade chicken stock, please don’t sully the flavors of this innocent recipe with tinned, boxed, or otherwise fake chicken stock. Just use water. It’s nicer.
For this recipe, you will need two large paper grocery bags, a large stockpot, a medium saucepan, a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, a hot-air popcorn machine, a large bowl, a vessel for catching unpopped kernels, a large footed colander, a wire skimmer, a food mill fitted with the medium disk, a bowl that fits securely under the food mill, and a whisk.
Fine sea salt
1½ cups (12 ounces) Rich Homemade Chicken Stock or water
1 cup (7 ounces) Anson Mills Appalachian Heirloom Sweet Flint Popping Corn
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cold unsalted European-style butter
Freshly ground black pepper
Cut off and discard the top halves of two large paper grocery bags. Set the bottoms aside
Fill a large stockpot three-quarters full of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon of salt. In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer over medium-high heat and simmer until reduced to 1 cup. Pour the reduced stock into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, cover to keep hot, and set aside. Also set aside the empty saucepan.
Meanwhile, in a hot-air popcorn machine in two batches, pop the corn according to the manufacturer’s directions into a large bowl (fig. 3.1); when you see the popper begin to spit out unpopped kernels, pull the bowl away and replace it with another vessel. Discard the unpopped kernels. Pour the popcorn into one grocery bag and shake the bag to “gravity” any unpopped kernels and loose pericarp (the clear cellophane-like substance in popcorn that gets stuck in your teeth) that snuck through. With cupped hands, transfer the popcorn to the second bag, leaving the detritus in the bottom of the first. Chuck the detritus.
Set a large footed colander in the sink. When the water in the stockpot has reached a boil and the chicken stock stands at the ready, dump the popcorn into the boiling salted water all at once (fig. 4.1) and push down on the corn with a wire skimmer to drown it. It will deflate instantly. Immediately carry the pot to the sink and drain it into the colander. Shake the colander to remove excess water.
Fit a food mill with the medium disk and set the mill over a bowl. Crank the corn through the food mill (fig. 5.1) until none is left in the colander. You should have about 3 cups of popcorn grits (fig. 5.2). Discard the kernels and pericarp that remain in the food mill.
Turn the grits into the reserved saucepan and set the pan over medium-high heat. Add enough of the hot chicken stock (fig. 6.1) to reach a pleasing consistency and whisk vigorously to combine. Cook the grits gently, stirring occasionally, until they simmer and begin to spit, are creamy, and hold their shape on a spoon (fig. 6.2), about 2 minutes. Whisk in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Serve at once. (To keep the grits hot for up to 30 minutes, transfer them to a heatproof bowl, cover with aluminum foil, and set the bowl over barely simmering water in a saucepan. Before serving, stir well and, if necessary, thin the grits with a little hot water.) Serve with Okra with Tomato Gravy or all on their own.