It’s been over a month since our Breakfast for Dinner party, but I was doing some photo editing and discovered that I’d taken pictures of a dish that never got featured. Well, okay, that’s not quite accurate. The truth is, I made this dish for the party, tasted a tiny slice, and when saliva flooded my mouth and my cheeks got warm with appreciation of the spicy cheesy love, vowed to go back for more. Somehow hours passed, and when I made it back to the table only crumbs remained.
This meant that a week later, I felt it was necessary to make it again. It was that good. It was a Jalapeno Cheese Grits Casserole featured on a birthday episode of Bobby Flay’s show “Boy Meets Grill.” It was also one of the more perfect sounding combinations of ingredients I’d heard in a while. Months before the party, I knew I was going to make this. I made very few changes, but I did eliminate the Tabasco sauce and halve the jalapenos. I like some heat, but not so much that I can’t tell what my food tastes like. I also grated extra cheddar cheese on the top of the casserole once I’d spread it into a baking dish. Cheese is the reason I could never adopt a vegan lifestyle. More than bread or bacon, cheese might just be my favorite savory food item.
Out of the oven, this casserole was tremendous looking. The top browned and crusted and gained some topography as not-quite-smooth sections became crannies and crevices. Under this slight crunch of an exterior, the inside sliced through like fresh mozzarella: moist, creamy, a little firm. On the palate, it was tremendous tasting. It was cheesy and spongy with bits of crispness, and a heat that hit the tongue and the back of the throat, not during the chewing process, but after the bite was swallowed and you thought you were safe. Just a pleasant heat, easily washed down with luscious, buttery tender chunks of pot roast and a good dark beer.
As good as it was fresh out of the oven, I admit that my reasons for making this dish again so soon after our party were really all about the leftovers. What’s better than jalapeno cheese grits casserole, steaming and flecked with chiles and strings of cheese? Jalapeno cheese grits casserole cut into fingers just out of the refrigerator, and fried in a pan of sizzling butter. Yes, I fried them.
They spit and hissed as things warmed through and the cheese started melting, but I dueled them with a pair of long-handled tongs and everything worked out just fine. The key, it seems, is to leave them alone longer than you might want to before flipping. I managed for a good two or three minutes per side over medium-high heat, and this magical dark toasty crust formed all over. It looked like the fragile crusty edge of the white on a fried egg when the butter gets too hot. It tasted like a southern fried dream.