November 24, 2014
bouillie de pop-corn
(popcorn grits)
I’m always getting polenta and pancetta confused. Not the actual materials but the words. I think it was in the 1990s when I first repeatedly encountered the words. I was using pancetta in a frisée salad that I learned early in my French cooking days, and polenta was showing up on restaurant menus with increasing frequency.
Along with the polenta on menus came the lore about having to stir it slowly for a long time. When I finally went out and bought some polenta, it was an Italian brand of instant polenta that cooked up in a minute or two. The one time I decided to prepare fried polenta, I bought a plastic tube of pre‑cooked polenta that I cut into disks for frying.
Then grits started showing up on menus in my area. I was familiar with grits from movies and television and from my travels in the South in the 1980s. I never gave them a try. The breakfast buffets in the hotels usually offered plain grits in a warmer, but I always was more attracted to eggs, potatoes, and sausages. I’m not sure if I’ve ever eaten cheese grits or shrimp and grits or even plain grits. So why did I decide to prepare popcorn grits?
First, I love the flavor of popcorn, but I often find it unfulfilling due to its airiness. Second, I ran across a recipe from a local restaurant where I’ve enjoyed the food. Third, I can conveniently purchase yellow popcorn kernels in bulk from the store three blocks from my house. Fourth, when I looked at the recipe I immediately thought: “Maybe I can simplify this?”
neutral oil to lightly coat bottom of saucepan
50 g (14 c)
popcorn kernels
about 200 ml (scant 78 c)
fine salt, to taste
15 g (1 T)
unsalted butter
1. Add the oil to a saucepan over medium heat. Add a couple of popcorn kernels. Don’t cover the saucepan. When the kernels pop, remove them from the saucepan. Add the remainder of the popcorn kernels, and cover the saucepan. Shake the saucepan a couple of times until the popping starts. Continue shaking it until it stops. Pour the popcorn into a bowl.
2. Set four nice specimens aside.
3. Transfer the popcorn to the bowl of a high‑powered, high‑shear blender. Run at high speed using the blender’s pusher to hasten the grinding. Stop as soon as the grinding is completed. Steam from the hot popcorn can cause the ground popcorn to congeal.
4. Spread the ground popcorn on a rimmed baking sheet. Pick out any noticeable pieces of kernel. Add the water to the ground popcorn, and mix with a spatula until the mixture forms a thick porridge.
5. Transfer the porridge to a saucepan, and reheat. Add more water if the mixture seems too thick. Cook longer, uncovered, if too thin.
6. Stir in the salt and butter. Serve warm with a single popped kernel on the side.
Note: If not serving immediately, complete the recipe only through Step 5. Reheat the porridge just before serving.
Yield: four 45‑mil (3 T) servings.

© 2014 Peter Hertzmann. All rights reserved.