Very Southern ingredients assembled with a bit of flare. That is how I think of this Sweet Potato Grits Spoonbread recipe. Whipping egg whites as you would do in a souffle gives the dish a lighter texture. It may look like cornbread in the pan, but it is definitely not.
There are several secrets to this dish: good grits, Gruyère Cheese, and a cast iron skillet. These are discussed below.
Notes on Ingredients
Simply put, there are a lot of bad grits out there. In fact, I would argue that anyone who claims they do not like grits has never had good grits. What you need to look for are old-fashioned coarsely ground grits. The coarse ground grits have more of a nutty taste and certainly not the pasty texture associated with way too many servings of instant or overprocessed grits. My favorite producer is Logan Turnpike Mills from Blairsville in North Georgia. However, there are other fine producers.
Melted into the spoonbread, strong Gruyère cheese offsets the sweetness of the potatoes. If not available, Swiss cheese or similar strong cheeses will work.
Notes on Technique
Cast Iron Skillet
Extremely important to the success of Sweet Potato Grits Spoonbreads is the cast iron skillet. The cast iron makes for a crispy crust all around the spoonbread. This enhances the taste by toasting the Gruyère cheese.
Adding the Eggs
You are not going to get a big rise out of this dish like you would a soufflé. The grits and the sweet potatoes are too heavy and will weigh it down. Nevertheless, you want it to rise, and you want the most from the egg whites. Therefore, note the technique used of adding a bit of the egg whites to the grits mixture, to lighten the mixture, then adding the mixture into the egg whites. We then fold the mixture and the whites to maximize the effect of the whites.
Similar as we would do with a souffle, we start with a hotter oven at 400°F, then reduce immediately reduce into 375°F. This allows the spoonbread to get off to a quick rise before setting.
The standard recipe for coarse ground grits is four parts liquid to one of grits. Because the sweet potatoes contain a good deal of moisture, I call for a scant cup of water. The exact amount can depend on the potatoes. The goal is to require at least 25 minutes of stovetop cooking to fully cook the grits but no more than 30 minutes.
- 1-2 Tablespoon butter
- Scant 1 cup water
- 1 cup low-fat or whole milk
- 1/2 cup stone-ground grits
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated. (This should yield about 1 1/2 cups of grated sweet potatoes)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Ground pepper to taste
- 2 ounces Gruyère Cheese, grated
- 2 eggs, separated
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 12-inch iron skillet well.
- Place the grits in a large, heavy saucepan. Some coarse ground grits (like Logan Turnpike) require rinsing to remove husks. Rinse and drain off the water, if required.
- Combine the water and milk into the grits, and stir well. Add the sweet potato and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Add the salt and pepper.
- After reaching a boil immediately decrease the heat to low and simmer uncovered, stirring often and scraping from the bottom, until the mixture is creamy and thick -- at least 25 minutes but no more than 30 minutes. If the mixture appears to dry out early, add a bit of water to continue cooking.
- Remove grits mixture from heat and let cool slightly. Taste the grits and sweet potato to ensure both are cooked and tender. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper as desired. Stir in the cheese until fully incorporated. (see note below, about preparing ahead of time.)
- In a large bowl whip the egg whites into soft peaks. Add the yolks to the grits one at a time, stirring to keep the yolks from cooking. Add 1/3 of the whites to the mixture and gently fold in. Add the mixture into the bowl with the remaining whites, and fold in gently, mixing well but keeping as much volume as possible.
- Gently transfer the mixture to the prepared skillet. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden brown on top.
Scant 1 cup water:
Use approximately, 3/4-7/8 cup depending on the moisture of the sweet potatoes. You don't want to overcook but you want to make sure the mixture is not runny, so it is better to be skimpy on the starting water and add if needed,
If needed, the grits, and sweet potato mixture can be prepared 30 minutes to an hour ahead of time. If so, cover the pot when finished and let sit on the counter. When ready to resume it might be necessary to gently warm the mixture adding a bit of water to make it not as thick.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 228Total Fat: 15gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 130mgSodium: 751mgCarbohydrates: 13gFiber: 1gSugar: 5gProtein: 10g
Calculated Nutrition is estimated.