Mere days after maligning potato chip mashed potatoes, I’ve logged my happy ass back on to extol the virtues of Smartfood popcorn grits. This may seem hypocritical, but there’s one key difference between the two: the grits are good, while the mashed potatoes are bad.
I did not invent popcorn grits. Anson Mills has a recipe, PBS has a recipe, The Takeout has a recipe, David Chang has a recipe, and—as the Anson Mills website reminds us—“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.” So I am far from the first person to make popcorn grits, but I do think I’m the first person to make it with Smartfood brand White Cheddar popcorn, and I do think I’m smart.
Like most of my good ideas, Smartfood grits were born out of laziness. I was originally planning to write about popcorn grits as a way to use up leftover popcorn, but popcorn is mostly air, and it takes an entire mixing bowl worth of popped corn to make one bowl of grits, so it wasn’t a good fit for a few handfuls of movie-night leftovers.
Instead of make a fresh batch of popcorn, I decided to outsource the labor and buy a bag of Smartfood, which comes not only pre-popped, but dusted with an intoxicating, tangy cheese powder. Once the bag was acquired, all I had to do was boil the kernels, mash them through a sieve, then heat and whisk them with a bit of their cooking water until they looked like “normal” grits. I did not add butter. I did not add milk (I never add milk to grits). I did add hot sauce.
I have no regrits. My only criticism is that they lack the toasted, sweet aroma and flavor of corn that has been nixtamalized, but they’re still better than 80% of the grits I have been served in Portland. They’re smooth, creamy, corny, and a little cheesy, and they take about 12 minutes to make. If their nixtamal-less nature makes you hesitate to call them “grits,” that’s fine—they’re an excellent corn-based porridge either way.
How to make Smartfood popcorn grits
- 1 large (6.75-ounce) bag of Smartfood White Cheddar popcorn
- 3-4 cups of water
Pour the water in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Set a large fine mesh sieve over a mixing bowl. Add a handful of popcorn to the boiling water cook until soft (10-15 seconds). Using a spider or slotted spoon, transfer the mushy popcorn to the sieve. Repeat until you are out of popcorn. Strain the cooking water into a separate bowl or large measuring cup and set aside.
Using a wooden spoon or flexible spatula, mash and stir the popcorn to force it through the sieve, scraping the bottom of the sieve as needed to coax the grits into the bowl below. Keep stirring and smooshing until you have a mass of unpopped kernels and pericarp in the sieve. Return the grits—which will look quite stiff—back to the empty sauce pan and heat over low to warm. Drizzle some of the cooking water back in while whisking until the grits are hot, creamy, and smooth. Garnish with hot sauce and any Smartfood crumbs you left behind in the bag.