Fish and Grits – A twist on a Southern classic shrimp and grits recipe perfect for an easy, colorful and wonderfully flavorful weeknight dinner.
For Black History Month, and in honor of Georgia Gilmore and all the work she put it on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement I am sharing my fish and grits recipe. It is a great way to try grits, if you’ve never made them or if you’re open to trying something different.
Of course, when I was conceiving this dish I had Big Boi’s voice in my head singing the ATLiens hook, “fish and grits and all that pimp shit”. I ain’t a pimp, but these grits are tricked out with Zhug sauce, which is essentially the base for this healthier but equally flavorful take on the dish. The high flavor from the sauce makes butter and heavy cream unnecessary. It’s pure indulgent gluttony if you layer butter and lots of cheese on top. I ain’t judging, I’m just sayin…
Food has been at the center of all movements to liberate African Americans. Whether we’re talking the Black Panther’s breakfast plan or the lunch counter demonstrations in North Carolina. However, probably the lesser known are women like Georgia Gilmore who deserve hidden figure status for her role in feeding the movement as well as providing a secret location for the Movement’s leaders to strategize and plan their activities. Her home and others who followed basically created underground supper clubs. Often on the menu were humble foods like pork chops, biscuits and gravy, and grits that sustained, filled and provided the necessary energy for participants. Additionally, the selling of food items helped to finance the cause, particularly the Montgomery bus boycotts. Let us not forget the pivotal role that “soul food” played in black empowerment.
Gilmore herself had lost her job as a cafeteria cook due to her participation in the bus boycott. According to food historian John T. Edge in his book The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, Gilmore sold fried chicken sandwiches and poured the profits back into the Movement. She like many black women was an unsung force of nature who inspired others to follow in her footsteps. She galvanized and organized others to sell baked goods, catfish plates, etc. anywhere black folk were known to congregate. The price of revolution is high, and people don’t think about all the economic costs such as transportation and related costs like insurance, repairs, gas, certifications, inspections, etc. Money raised selling food underground went to these costs.
In honor of Georgia Gilmore and other home cooks of the movement, this fish and grits recipe is for you. Its filling, cheap, and can made in bulk making it the perfect Civil Rights Movement dish. I just found it important that we recognize the contributions of everyday people/sheroes in addition to the recognized and documented leaders. It’s also important to put grits center stage, particularly in the context of “soul food”. Too often we default to the romanticized ghettoization versions of soul food i.e. the quick, convenient, low in nutritional value, fat-laden, diabetes and hypertension causing, can’t eat everyday soul food. Grits are actually real, true soul food, meant for everyday consumption. It’s healthy and complex in flavor and texture. I’m referring of course to the grits most of us grew up on, and not the quick cooking instant microwave whatever.
Grits, a traditional Southern grain made from ground corn, are low in calories and fat and have a decent amount of fiber per serving. They are also rich in iron, thiamin and folic acid, so they’re a healthy indulgence, especially if you don’t stir it too much butter.
This fish and grits recipe calls for old school stone ground grits. Feel free to do a side by side taste test if you don’t know the difference. I love Mac and cheese and fried food, but I can’t eat that dish every day. I grew up in the blackest household ever, but never ate the romanticized version every day. I don’t know anyone who did, but I will say every homemade meal we had was cooked with soul!
From shrimp and grits to fish and grits
Shrimp and grits are super popular nationally, and deservedly so. You can find it in any restaurant serving “southern fare.” You can try my version which is topped with a red pepper gravy. The origin of shrimp and grits goes back to the Native American Muskogee tribe that lived in the southeastern woodlands. According to a Deep South Magazine article,
“the Muskogee would grind the corn in a stone mill, giving it the ‘gritty’ texture we are all familiar with. From this tribe, the preparation was passed down to settlers in the area because hominy was used as a form of currency. There are also known writings from the Gullah Geechee, descendants of slaves from West Africa, that mention meals resembling shrimp and grits. This is most likely because the Gullah slaves would periodically receive allowance or food, including grits. Making the most of their local resources on the coast, the Gullahs would catch shrimp and other fish in nets and cook them in a variety of ways, including with grits.”
Given there a million shrimp and grits recipes including my aforementioned one, I decided to change things up and swap fish for shrimp. Plus, shrimp ain’t cheap.
What type of fish should I use?
This dish is really all about the grits. The dish is versatile and can accommodate any type of fish, so go with your preferred whether that is salmon, tilapia, bass, or even catfish. Same also goes for prep in terms of fried, grilled, baked, etc. I wanted easy, quick, and healthy so I opted for ruby red trout simply pan-fried and finished in the oven. Trout has really good flavor, so I used a simple seasoning of salt, pepper, dried oregano, and Aleppo pepper. I pan-fried it, skin side down for about 3 or 4 minutes and then finished in the oven at 400 degrees for another 2-3 minutes. At the end of the day, don’t complicate this dish. There is so much flavor in the grits, you really just want the fish to be complimentary.
What type of grits should I use?
Use stone-ground grits for this recipe. They have a really nice nutty, real corn flavor and great texture. Stone ground Grits are made from whole dried corn kernels that have been coarsely ground the old-fashioned way: between the two stones of a grist mill hence the name. Because the entire kernel is ground they have a speckled appearance, which for me adds some character (rich corn flavor) and texture. I prefer them also because they are the least processed of the options.
What’s up with the green grits though?
The green color comes from the addition of my collard greens zhug recipe. If you’re not familiar with zhug, it’s an Israeli condiment similar to a chimichurri or salsa verde. Its made simply by blending herbs, fresh green chili pepper, oil, and spices. My version includes collards as a key ingredient. Hominy is common in Mexican and Southwestern cooking. Back in the day, I would eat grits with pretty much anything except sugar. We kept grits in the house since it was so cheap and could feed a lot of mouths.
Dinner or summertime lunch for me was often grits topped with Pace Picante sauce. I discovered zhug later in life and basically subbed it in place of my childhood salsa. Not too difficult to exceed a bland mainstream store-bought salsa, but zhug is so much more. Its flavor is complex and fresh, colorful, and has a heat that you notice, but doesn’t dominate. As a side note when I want great tasting vegan grits, this is my go to. I’m not a fake cheese guy, so I forego cheesy, butter savory notes and just rely on zhug for flavor and almond milk for creaminess.
Fish and Grits Cooking Tips
- My recipe for zhug is simple, easy and great tasting, but if you prefer something already pre-made go with Trader Joe’s Zhug. I use it all the time and it’s pretty damn good.
- Go with stone ground grits for their tasty flavor. They also have more body to them vs. most others which tend to be thin and runny.
- Don’t be passive on the whisk. Whisk skills mean more starches are released which means creamy madness
- Stone ground grits include a few harder bits of corn hulls. They’re edible but don’t really soften. You can easily remove by putting the grits in a bowl of water and removing the ones that float to the top.
- If using cream remember it’s harder for the grits to absorb so be sure to blend with water or stock. It is also better to add the cream later in the cooking process.
- If you’re using a commercial stock be mindful of salt content
- If you have the luxury of time, soaking grits in their cooking liquid for a few hours or overnight is a pro level move. Hydrating the kernels will not only reduce cooking time but will also enhance both texture and flavor. The faster the grits cook, the more corn flavor they will have
- If adding salt, do it at the beginning of cooking as cooked grits don’t absorb salt too well
- Eat immediately. Grits are best served hot!
Making Fish and Grits w/ Zhug Sauce
If you make this delicious fish and grits recipe feel free to make adjustments as you see fit. Also, please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.
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Fish and Grits with Green Zhug Sauce
- 1 lbs Trout or your favorite fish
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Dried basil
- Aleppo pepper optional
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 cup water or stock
- 1 cup almond milk
- 1/4 cup Zhug Sauce
- ¾ cup stone ground grits
- 1/4 tbsp butter or olive oil
- Feta cheese optional
- Fresh herbs optional
- Season fish with spices and let fish come to room temperature
- Heat skillet on medium high heat. Add oil once skillet is hot. In the meantime pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F
- Add fish skin side down and cook for 4-5 minutes. Then remove skillet from heat to finish in the oven for 2-3 minutes.
- Remove fish from skillet and let rest. Douse with a little bit of lemon juice.
- Combine water, almond milk and grits in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring once or twice.
- After about 5 minutes add zhug and oil/butter and cook until thickened about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Keep covered. (The grits will thicken slightly as they stand.)
- Top with fish, fresh herbs (parsley and/or cilantro) and a white cheese like feta or Mexican Quesa Fresca