Aki usually makes the grits. She enjoys the slow stirring, the tinkering, the pleasure of adding moisture as liquid cooks away, the adjusting of the flame to prevent the bottom of the pot from sticking and occasionally scorching. Let's pause on that last piece of information, the sticking and scorching. I have lost track of the amount of times that the grits have stuck to the bottom of the pan. No matter how gentle the cooking, how careful the stirring, somehow, some way, a distraction always occurs and those grits stick. When grits stick, not only do you have a chance of scorching and wasting a good sixty to ninety minutes of cooking time, you also have to expend a whole lot of time and energy in scrubbing that pot clean. I am not a fan of pot scrubbing, yet somehow I am quite skilled and very practiced in the art of cleaning.
The constant fear of scrubbing pots has forced my brain to look for alternate methods of cooking grits. We have tried the oven, though that process is even slower, we have tried the pressure cooker with its non-stick interior, and still we occasionally find grits glued to the bottom of the bowl. Then it occurred to me. We had caramelized yogurt in a vacuum bag in the pressure cooker to produce amazing results and no mess. I wondered if we could do the same with grits? I filled a bag with 1 part grits and 3 parts water by weight and sealed it tight. I placed the bag in the pressure cooker and added enough water to the pot so the bag would not scorch. I sealed the lid and set the cooker for ten minutes. When the time was up, I let the pressure naturally release and then removed the bag. The bag was intact and I quickly cut it open. I poured the contents into a bowl and stirred the mixture. The grits were on the drier side though they were fully cooked. The next time I tried a four to one, liquid to grit, ratio. The result was perfect grits. Well almost perfect.
There is an ongoing debate about what liquid should be used to cook grits. Purists say water. Gluttons say milk. Aki says skim milk. Thankfully Aki's frugality produced an even more exciting medium. Aki had just made a batch of ricotta and instead of following the directions and pouring the whey down the drain, she saved it for me. I have a list of ideas involving whey as a cooking medium and when Aki handed me a bowl of whey, the ten minute grits cooked in whey went straight to the top. The flavor of the whey has a slight tang from the buttermilk with a rich sweet backbone from the milk. It has a touch of salinity from Aki's seasoning of the curds and the entire combination is a unique liquid which was destined to be utilized in our kitchen.
The grits cooked in whey retain the essence of their corn flavor while being accented by the intrinsic dairy notes in the liquid. The grits are an incredible vehicle to be enjoyed on their own or perhaps gilded with fresh mushrooms, braised carrots, or even a few fresh shrimp.