I am so happy it’s Progressive Eats time again! This month, we’re featuring a holiday cocktail party menu, and I have a fancy Southern appetizer for you: Pimento Cheese Stuffed Grits Arancini. Because that sounds better than Fried Grits Balls.
Arancini (okay, Fried Grits Balls)
I’m a huge fan of traditional arancini: balls of leftover risotto stuffed with meat, cheese, or both. They’re creamy, crispy, gooey bites of goodness. In fact, I have an arancini recipe on the site already. But for Progressive Eats, I wanted to up my game just a bit while representing my native North Carolina.
And in North Carolina, you’re more likely to find grits than risotto. And what do you make with leftover grits (if there is such a thing)? You make pimento cheese stuffed grits arancini, or the less elegant term: deep fried grits balls.
So here is how this fancy southern appetizer came about. I channeled my polenta making skills but Southerned them up some. I used stone ground yellow grits from Atkinson’s Mill in Eastern North Carolina and cooked them up with bacon fat, salt, pepper, Old Bay (I love it), chicken stock and heavy cream. Then I stirred in some cheddar cheese, because the cheese helps hold the balls together so you can eat them without having them crumble all over the world.
I stuffed my guys with a teaspoon of pimento cheese. Feel free to use one of my recipes, one of your own favorites, or just buy some good quality pimento cheese at the store. I used a North Carolina Brand, Uncle Chris’s. Then they get a quick dip in a thin batter and a roll in some panko and into the deep fryer they go. Seriously, y’all, these Southern fried grits balls are every bit as creamy and texturally satisfying as a traditional arancini recipe, but they’re just a bit out of the ordinary. So if you are Southern, or southern at heart, give these a try. And do what I do: dip them in sweet-hot pepper jelly. I used another NC brand, because I am so fortunate to live in a state where so much deliciousness is made!
Frequently Asked Questions
The next 3 sections contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of my links, I will earn a small percentage. Your cost will not be affected.
How Can I Mess This Recipe Up?
Actually, these are not too hard to make. You do want to make sure you cook your grits long enough so they’re nice and creamy. A good signal that they’re done is that they will pull away from the sides of the pan when you stir. I love this saucier for the job. The sloped sides ensure that there’s no sticking, as long as you are stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.
Be sure to keep the heat fairly low. As it thickens, the grits will want to stick. Do not let them. Just keep stirring and moderate the heat to medium low.
If you don’t get the pimento cheese completely encased in the grits, then you’ll end up with cheese leaking out in the hot fat. It’s pretty easy to get it completely covered, though, and the dip in the batter plus the panko help to keep everything in place. Just take care and do some patching with extra grits if you see any cheese peeking through.
Last up, as with most deep frying, your temperature should be right around 350F. I make sure to take the temperature of my oil frequently with an accurate instant read thermometer, but you can also use the kind that clips onto the side of the pot if you prefer.
How Long Will It Take To Make These Bad Boys?
The grits will take about 20-25 minutes to cook, and then they need to cool to room temperature. That could take an hour or more, depending on the temperature of your kitchen. Stuffing, shaping, dipping, and breading them will take another 20-30 minutes or so, and deep frying is maybe 2-3 minutes per batch.
This recipe, based on 1 cup of grits, makes 16 slightly-larger-than-golf-ball sized pimento cheese stuffed grits arancini, and I only felt comfortable frying 3-4 at a time. So figure 15 or so minutes to get through the whole batch.
Oh, I used this OXO medium cookie scoop to form my arancini. One slightly generous scoop in the palm of my hand, and then enough more to patch any holes or cover up any pimento cheese I couldn’t quite get with the first amount.
Active time is probably around an hour and 15 minutes, so completely doable in stages. You can even stuff them, dip and bread them and the refrigerate them for a few hours until you’re ready to deep fry.
Can I Use a Deep Fryer Instead of a Pot with Oil in It?
Sure you can. Just don’t crowd the pan.
As a kid, I was jealous of my friend’s family’s Fry Daddy. You could absolutely use one of those. I’m not sure about using an air fryer. If you are familiar with using an air fryer, let me know if these might work in one.
Okay, before we make some pimento cheese stuffed grits arancini, let’s check out the creative menu Liz and the other folks from Progressive Eats cooked up.
Welcome to Progressive Eats, our virtual version of a Progressive Dinner Party. Our menu this month features terrific cocktail, appetizer and dessert recipes fit for an elegant cocktail party! All perfect for your entertaining needs during the holidays! Hosting this month is Liz from That Skinny Chick Can Bake.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a progressive dinner involves going from house to house, enjoying a different course at each location. With Progressive Eats, a theme is chosen each month, members share recipes suitable for a delicious meal or party, and you can hop from blog to blog to check them out.
An Elegant Cocktail Party
- Beef Crostini with Blue Cheese Spread from That Skinny Chick Can Bake
- Pimento Cheese Stuffed Grits Arancini from Pastry Chef Online
- Spicy Cheddar Herb Palmiers from Mother Would Know
- Chocolate Cake with Peppermint Buttercream Frosting from Creative Culinary
- Cranberry Panna Cotta from Spice Roots
Please go visit everyone, save their recipes, and make them. I know how talented these folks are. You don’t want to miss out! Tell them I sent you.
And if you haven’t been following along, here are the Progressive Eats archives. Enjoy!
Pimento Cheese Stuffed Grits Arancini
You ready? Let’s go.
These pimento cheese stuffed grits arancini are full of flavor and contrasting textures. This is the perfect fancy southern appetizer for your next holiday cocktail party!
- 3 Tablespoons bacon fat, butter, or oil
- 2 teaspoons garlic paste, such as Gourmet Gardens
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
- 2 cups chicken broth or stock
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup of your favorite pimento cheese
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 large egg
- heavy pinch salt
- 2 cups panko bread crumbs
- enough neutral oil to fill your pot by 2"
- pepper jelly of your choice
Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat for a couple of minutes.
Add the fat and let melt (if solid). Add the garlic, a healthy pinch of salt and pepper, and the Old Bay.
Stir and cook for a minutes, until it's very fragrant.
Pour in the broth or stock and the heavy cream. Increase the heat to medium high, and bring to a boil.
While whisking, stream in the grits. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn the heat down to medium or medium low and cook, stirring frequently, until the grits are very thick and creamy. The grits will pull away from the sides of the pan when they're done, about 20-25 minutes.
Off the heat, stir in the cheddar cheese. Taste and adjust seasonings. Spread grits in a shallow metal pan to allow them to cool relatively quickly.
Have a bowl of water handy. You will want to keep your hands wet so the grits don't stick to you.
Scoop up a generous 2 Tablespoons of room temperature grits. Flatten the ball out into a disc. Cup the hand the disc is in, and press into the center of the disc to create a little well for the cheese.
Spoon in 1 teaspoon of pimento cheese. Do not overfill.
Wet the fingers of your other hand and use them to pull the sides of the "grits disc" up over the cheese. You may not get it all the way covered. That's okay. Just grab another teaspoon or so of grits, knead them with a bit of water so they are nice and pliable, and press over any cheese that is showing. Roll the ball between your palms so it's nice and round. Set aside on a plate.
Repeat for the remaining grits. You should have somewhere between 15-17 balls if you make them about the size mine were--about 1 1/2" in diameter.
Heat the oil over medium heat. Check the oil frequently. It will take a good 10-15 minutes or possibly longer to get up to 350F.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, flour, egg, and salt. Spread the panko in a shallow dish.
Dunk one grits arancini into the batter and let the excess drip off. Then roll evenly in the panko to cover. Set aside on a rack. Repeat with the remaining arancini.
When the oil reaches 350F, carefully lower 3 or 4 arancini at a time into the hot oil. Cook until deeply golden brown. Remove with a spider or large skimmer, allow to drain over the pot for a moment, and then place on several thicknesses of paper towels.
Serve hot with warmed pepper jelly. If the jelly seem too thick, even after heating and stirring, stir in a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar to thin it out. Enjoy!
And that’s it, y’all. Delicious, hot, crispy, creamy, gooey, sweet, savory pimento cheese stuffed fried grits balls. Can’t beat ’em.
I hope you have enjoyed this month’s Progressive Eats extravaganza as much as I have! Thank you for spending some time with all of us today.
Take care, and have a lovely day.