Spicy Fried Catfish – Garden & Gun

Southern cuisine can be hyper-regional. Cooks season cabbage differently in Mississippi than in Tennessee. Barbecue styles pass from one side of a state to the other. And then there are the grains, which are often a matter of individual taste.

Chef Greg Collier and his wife, Subrina, who own the famed Leah & Louise in Charlotte and will open a reboot of their popular breakfast restaurant, Uptown Yolk this spring, both grew up in Memphis. He ate the salty gruel his grandmother served with country ham; she lived in a house where sugar was an essential ingredient in the pot of oatmeal. “There is a time and a place for both,” says Greg. “Like when I cook for his family.”

But when it comes to one of his favorite brunch dishes – fried catfish and chowchow over grits – he likes an extra creamy version, mixing white and yellow grits (the former for texture, and the latter for sweetness and color) and simmering them with milk, broth and plenty of butter. He pays just as much attention to the fish. Drawing on his Arizona Culinary School training, he adds smoked paprika and two kinds of pepper to buttermilk before soaking the fillets overnight, and dredging them in a combination of flour, cornmeal and cornstarch to give the crust crispness and flavor.

The real star of the dish, however, is a chow chow made with field peas and spiced up with spicy red Fresno peppers. “With fried foods or oatmeal, your palate kind of goes to sleep,” he says. “It’s like putting hot sauce on fish. It’s fish with vinegar and spices.

Les Colliers keep their Memphis roots, influenced by West African and indigenous traditions, in mind when crafting their menus. “We want to pay homage to our ancestry, black culture and black eating habits, but with a new look that’s not so traditional,” says Greg. Yet at the end of the day, he wants his dishes to remain familiar, like his fish and grits. “When I cook food,” he says, “I want my aunt or my mom or my dad to get it.”

photo: Johnny Autry

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