In early November, on one of those rare days when the skies roll out wide and blue and the sun shines with the strength of summer, Maggie and I took a day trip to Falls Mill. Located in Belvidere Tennessee, it’s about a hundred miles from home, and over a hundred years back in time.
There, in the bend of a creek, by a rushing cascade, sits a grist mill built in 1873. Outside, a great water wheel churns, powering a system of belts and pulleys that drive huge cutting stones inside the mill. From inside, emanate the slow, almost groaning sounds of the stones in deliberate rotation, a bass line to the melody of water rippling over rocks, falling in sheets from the mill buckets.
And, inside are bins filled with the results: unbolted yellow and white cornmeal and grits. In an adjacent room, a 19th century press is poised to print a stack of white sacks, soon to be filled with those prized grinds.
Jane and John Lovett own and operate Falls Mill, and have earned a reputation for their extraordinary milling. Sustainable practices–from the pure water-driven power to the sourcing of local, chemical-free grains, are part of what makes this so. The milling stones themselves hold the key. Unlike commercial steel rollers which smash the grain and adulterate it due to increased friction and heat, these stones slice the grain, leaving more texture, nutrients, and taste intact.
Chefs and cooks across the country who value that difference order from Falls Mill–especially the white corn grits. They are……..grittier! in the best possible way.
I’ve been having a lot of fun working with their products, baking wonderful cornbread and corncakes, buttermilk spoonbread, and rich grits casseroles. The difference in texture and taste is delightfully Huge.
Today I’m sharing a couple of easy recipes that together make a New Orleans-style dish, often enjoyed for brunch, but good anytime.
Toasted garlic, brown butter, white cheddar and pinch of cayenne combine with these pearly Falls Mill grits to make a luscious casserole.
And, then, the Grillades: (pronounced Gree-yahds)
The grillades are often made with a cheaper cut of beef, such as round steak—but it is acceptable, by NOLA standards, to use pork. Browned and then braised with tomatoes, spice, and the “Trinity” ( onions, bell peppers, celery) it’s a Creole take on stew: hearty and delicious with the grits.
There’s nothing new or surprising about the method. There’s a modest assembly of ingredients. The pieces of meat are pounded, dredged, and browned.
A saute of tomatoes and “The Trinity” form the foundation for the grillades to finish in a long simmer. To add some savory toasted depth, you can make a quick roux, using the leftover seasoned flour. Cook it in a skillet with a little butter and vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, as it acquires a medium brown sheen. Stir in water or broth, and add to the Tomato-Trinity saute.
Grillades, like stews, improve with time.
These fabulous grits, though, are creamy perfection, right out of the oven.
TOASTED GARLIC GRITS
2-3 cloves fresh Garlic, minced
1 1/2 T. Butter
2 cups Water
1/2 t. Salt
1/4 t. Black Pepper
dash or two Cayenne
1/2 cup Stone Ground Grits
1/4 c. Half and Half
1/2 c. shredded White Cheddar
Melt butter in a 2 qt. saucepan on medium heat and sauté minced garlic until it becomes toasty golden brown. Add water. Stir in grits. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Simmer for about 20 minutes—grits will become creamy. Remove from heat. Stir in half of the shredded white cheddar.
Beat egg with half-and-half. Beat mixture into cooked—and slightly cooled grits. Pour into a buttered casserole dish. Dust with remaining shredded cheddar.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes.
1 lb. boneless Pork, cut into chunks, trimmed, pounded (the “grillades”)
Seasoned Flour Mixture: 1/3 c. All Purpose Flour, 1/2 t. Salt, 1/2 t. Black Pepper, pinch Cayenne, 1/4 t. Paprika, 1/4 t. Granulated Garlic
2 T. Vegetable Oil
1 T. Butter
1/2 c. each Diced Onion, Sweet Red Bell Pepper, Celery (aka “The Cajun Trinity”)
1 t. Fresh Thyme
1 can Tomatoes (whole or diced) and Juice
1 1/2 t. Worcestershire Sauce
1 t. Louisiana Hot Sauce
1-2 T. Quick Roux
1/2 c. Water or Broth (chicken or vegetable)
Dredge the grillades in the seasoned flour and shake off excess. Reserve unused flour mixture to make quick roux.
In a skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Brown the grillades well on both sides, a few at a time. Transfer the grillades to a plate. When finished, melt butter over medium heat in the same skillet, scraping any browned bits from the meat. Add the Onions, Bell Pepper, Celery, and Garlic and cook until the vegetables are soft. Stir in Worcestershire, Tomatoes and their juice, fresh thyme.
Make quick roux:
In a separate skillet, melt 1 T. Butter with 1 T. vegetable oil. Add the remaining seasoned flour mixture and stir well, dissolving the flour. On low heat, cook the flour mixture until it becomes toasty brown. Add water or broth and stir well, until thickened. Pour into the other skillet, and fold into the tomato-vegetable meld.
Return the grillades to the skillet. Cover and simmer for 1 hour or until tender. Taste for seasoning, and add a few dashes of Louisiana Hot Sauce to deepen the mild heat.