Here are a few of my favorite breakfast things:
2) eggs poached in anything but water,
3) anything you can drown in hot sauce,
4) melty cheese, and
5) using as few pots and pans as possible.
So when I first thought to poach eggs in grits, I knew it would become my favorite breakfast food, but I didn’t anticipate how technically difficult it would be to come up with a reliable recipe. Here’s the problem: grits set up really quickly once they start to cool, and eggs don’t poach very well when they’re not surrounded by liquid. That’s why Shakshuka (the inspiration for this recipe) works so well—the eggs are totally surrounded by tomato, so they cook very efficiently, and the whites cook through by the time the yolks are runny or jammy. After trying a lot of different versions of this recipe, I finally concluded that there are three tricks to perfect eggs poached in grits:
how to perfectly poach eggs in grits:
1) You have to add enough liquid to the grits in the first place. This is actually just good advice for making any kind of porridge (grits, oatmeal, gurdthu, etc.). By adding a bit more liquid, your grits won’t set too much once they’ve cooled down to hot but no longer literally boiling temperatures. I tested this recipe with Bob’s Red Mill grits (not an ad, these were just easily available), and if you use a different brand, you might need to add more or less water, depending. But even once you’ve added enough liquid, you still need to…
2) work quickly! Once the grits are nicely cooked through and thickened, but still liquid and bubbly, you need to add the eggs right away. Don’t stop to answer a text, don’t stop to take a photo (do as I say not as I do), and don’t dilly dally.
3) When you crack the eggs into the grits, you have to do it from the right height. I know this sounds like a bizarre little detail, but it makes a big difference. If you crack an egg from too low, it will mostly just sit on the surface, it will take forever to cook, and the yolk will harden by the time the whites are set. But if you crack the egg from about four inches above, it will cannon-ball into the grits, very adorably nestling in and cooking to perfection in a few minutes.
There’s a trick to making shakshuka with a thick tomato sauce, where you make little spoon marks to help the eggs nestle into the tomato sauce—I tried this trick a few times with grits, but they just don’t conduct heat well once they’ve started to set, so it’s best to follow the above guidelines for perfect eggs. With these tricks and the following recipe, it’s super easy to poach eggs in grits, and if you don’t believe me, this yolk porn will back me up:
eggs poached in grits, shakshuka-style
yield: 4 servings
active time: 10 minutes
total time: 30 minutes
download a PDF to print
3 1/4 cups water
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 cup grits (not instant)
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, plus more to taste
4 large eggs
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons chopped chives (plus more for serving)
Optional: hot sauce and more black pepper
Bring the water to a simmer in a 10-inch cast iron skillet* over high heat. Then stir in the half-and-half, grits, salt, butter, and black pepper, reduce heat to low, and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until it starts to thicken.**
Once the grits start to thicken, drop in the eggs. And when I say drop, I mean drop—hold a cracked egg about 4 inches above the grits and let it cannon-ball into them. The eggs should not sit on top of the grits, but nestle in (see above photo and notes). Salt them to taste, sprinkle cheese around them, increase heat to medium-low, cover, and set a timer for 3 minutes. No peeking, and make sure the pan is very evenly heated, or some of the eggs will not cook through.
Do not lift the lid during the first 3 minutes. After 3 minutes are up, inspect the eggs by gently poking the whites and yolks. If the whites are still clear, cover and look for another 2 minutes before checking again. If the whites are opaque and nearly set, remove from heat, and let them rest covered for about 3 minutes. A little bit of water might pool around the set whites (careful not to confuse this with uncooked egg whites). You know the whites are done when they feel firm, and the yolks are perfect when they’re still soft. ***
* You don’t have to use cast iron, but cook times vary depending on the material.
** This will depend on the kind of grits you’re using. I used Bob’s Red Mill to develop this recipe, which took about 20 minutes over low heat to thicken, and then a few more minutes to cook all the way with the eggs.
*** This part takes a little trial and error/practice. It’s hard to time this perfectly, and I find that switching between pans and stoves can really mess with the timing. But these are the results I was able to get consistently in my kitchen after lots of experimenting. If they turn out over or under-cooked the first time, but you want to try again, make sure you use the same pan and adjust the timing according to your results.