Tuna and grits is a classic Bahamian combination, appropriate for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but traditionally eaten for breakfast. When I’m away from home, it’s a comfort food and a way to fight homesickness; I know a lot of Bahamian students and expats feel the same. Then, when I get back, tuna and grits is one of the ways I feel welcomed and grounded. At some point not long into my return, someone somewhere has this combo on the table. There’s no need for a special request, it just is; as much a part of the landscape as palm trees and colourful cement buildings.
Last year I met and admired a wonderful woman. In hopes of starting a friendship with her I invited her to breakfast one Saturday. I brainstormed a whole list of menu ideas before I decided to tell her more about myself through this simple classic. The morning came and I offered tea, orange juice and homemade muffins, then announced that the star of the meal would be tuna and grits. She was surprised at the combination and asked for only a little, but found she loved it and had seconds. I was so pleased to be able to share a bit of The Bahamas with her and that she enjoyed it as much as she did.
Is tuna and grits truly an odd pairing? I can’t judge since it’s as ordinary to me as peanut butter and jelly, and almost as plain. Grits: preferably yellow. Polenta works in a pinch but has a slightly different flavour probably owing to its completely different mouth feel. Boil them in salted water and be generous with butter when they’re done. Tuna: from the can, tossed with lime juice, mayonnaise and finely diced onion. That’s the salad at it’s most basic, but you can add celery, habanero or goat pepper, sweet pepper (why), apples (my family’s spin) and/or mustard (I love a little). Those are the most popular add-ins I’ve seen, but you can get creative. Don’t go crazy though, the tuna has to shine through. It doesn’t share the stage with any other ingredients (if you’re thinking tomatoes, walnuts or grapes, you’re heading in the wrong direction). The result should be smooth, a little crunchy from the onions (and celery), tangy from the lime, and possibly with a sweet and spicy kick if you’ve used apples and pepper. On a plate or in a bowl, two colours asking to be swirled together: yellow and grey, like you’ve seen on all the pinterest wedding boards.
The meal is simple enough to make, but takes more time and foresight than toast or cereal, so growing up it was more of a weekend affair. Tuna and grits means eating with family, a morning spent registering the blue sky, bougainvillea and birdsong.
How did Bahamians start making tuna and grits? I’m now wondering. There are other “and grits” combinations: sausage, egg, sardines, corned beef, so the question takes us back into food history and socioeconomics. All these pairings are cheap, filling and provide protein and carbs to hold you over for hours. It makes sense that they’d catch on and continue to be popular. Whatever the root, I’m home now, and thanks to my mum (for the idea and the grits) and brother (for the tuna), I enjoyed a bowl for breakfast – in case you couldn’t already tell.