Food & Drink

How Mashama Bailey Makes Fish & Grits

The ‘Outstanding Chef’ winner shares her take on a Georgia classic—a staple on the menu at her new Austin outpost, the Grey Market

Photo: Jasmin Porter

Mashama Bailey (right) and business partner John O. Morisano.

Mashama Bailey is a household name in Savannah, where her restaurant, The Grey, attracts diners from around the world for inspired interpretations of classic Lowcountry cuisine, including za’atar-spiced quail and scallop crudo with pickled okra. But Bailey’s influence has spread far beyond the bounds of coastal Georgia. She’s charmed audiences on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. She’s co-written a book, Black, White, & the Grey, with her business partner John O. Morisano. And this summer, she made history as the first Black woman to win the coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef—an honor as well-deserved for her culinary excellence as it is for the tirelessly welcoming, warm atmosphere she fosters in her kitchens and dining rooms.

“We just really try to be genuine. We try to hire and work with like-minded people. We try to leave things better than we found them,” says Bailey of the culture they’ve built at the Savannah restaurant. “We try to really wear hospitality on our sleeve.”

photo: Jasmin Porter
Diners at the Grey Market in Austin.

As of March, Bailey and Morisano have extended that hospitality to Austin, Texas, where the newly opened Diner Bar and the Grey Market have opened for business in the Thompson Austin hotel.

“Austin’s got this youthful energy to it. The food scene is finding its voice, and it just struck me that there was a place for what we do,” says Morisano, who scoped out the location first. “We thought that if we did something in Austin, it could actually contribute to the conversation about food in that city. And that was our goal. If you can contribute to the conversation, you can start to find your place in the community.”

photo: Jasmin Porter
Baked goods at the new restaurant.

At the new restaurant, which recently started serving brunch, Bailey has worked with local staff to consider the seasonality and signature flavors of Texas’s capital city, but she didn’t leave Georgia behind entirely. On the menu at the Grey Market in Austin, you’ll find Bailey’s signature fish and grits—a staple that stems from one of her childhood favorites.

“I grew up eating fish and grits every Friday night,” she says, recalling days spent at her grandparents’ home in Waynesboro, Georgia. “My grandfather used to go fishing and my grandmother would clean the fish. We would sit around and watch Wheel of Fortune and eat fish, grits, and baked beans.” At the restaurant, Bailey offers two spins on the dish. One skips the fish for vegetarian-friendly greens and grits. The other uses redfish, a common catch in Texas. Here, she’s shared both recipes with a few key tips to keep in mind. 

photo: Jasmin Porter
Bailey’s fish and grits.

First, err on the side of under-cooking your fish: She recommends using a cake tester to pierce the center, then holding the tester to the inside of your wrist (or another sensitive area) to feel the heat. “You want it warm in the center, and the heat will carry over,” she says. “Usually if the fish is hot, you probably overcooked it.”

Her second tip is all about prep work. “Sometimes grits are coarse in the center, which makes you want to keep on cooking them and cooking them,” she warns. To skip the fuss, plan ahead. “Let them soak overnight, strain, and then follow the recipe as is and they will be a lot more tender.”


  • For the grits

    • 1½ quarts water

    • Salt, to taste

    • 1 quart heavy cream

    • 1 pint grits (such as Gristmill)

    • ½ lb. unsalted butter, cubed

  • For the creole sauce

    • 2 tbsp. butter

    • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

    • 2 cups onion, diced

    • 1 cup green bell pepper, diced

    • 1 cup celery, diced

    • 3 cloves garlic, minced

    • 1 tbsp. blackening seasoning (Bailey makes her own, but use your favorite brand)

    • 1 tsp. white pepper, ground

    • 1 pinch cayenne pepper (season to your comfort of heat level)

    • ½ tsp. black pepper, ground

    • 1 tbsp. shrimp powder

    • ½ cup white wine

    • 4 cups shrimp stock

    • ¼ lb. jumbo lump crab meat

  • For the fish

    • Peanut oil, for frying

    • 4 whole fish fillets (such as whiting, trout, beeliner snapper, or black bass; in Texas, Bailey uses redfish), cut into portions (around 6 oz. per plate)

    • 2 cups corn flour

    • 2 cups buttermilk

    • 2 cups yellow cornmeal

    • Salt, to taste

    • Cayenne pepper, to taste

  • For the greens (optional)

    • 1 yellow onion, sliced

    • 1 red onion, sliced

    • 2 shallots, sliced

    • 1 leek, sliced

    • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

    • Salt

    • 4 bunches collard greens, stemmed and washed


  1. Make the grits: In a stockpot, bring the water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Once boiling, add the heavy cream. When the liquid begins to boil again (not before), stir in the grits. Bring the grits to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and then cover and cook for 45 minutes. Check back in with the grits every few minutes and give them a good stir.

  2. Make the Creole sauce: Place a wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Make a roux by melting the butter, adding the flour, and stirring to combine. Continue to stir the roux as the flour toasts and becomes a light brown color (about 10 minutes). Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery, and stir to incorporate. Add the garlic, stir again, and allow the mixture to cook down (about 4-5 minutes). Add a pinch of salt, and keep stirring gently, ensuring that the roux is evenly coating the vegetables. Once the vegetables have begun to soften and break down (after about 5 to 7 minutes), add the blackening seasoning, white pepper, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and shrimp powder. Stir to incorporate. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan. Add the shrimp stock, pouring a little in at first. Stir the mixture, then add the rest. (You might want to switch from a spoon to a whisk at this point.) Reduce the heat and cook the sauce down for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, fold the crab meat into the sauce. Set aside.

  3. Make the fish: In a cast-iron skillet, heat peanut oil to 325℉. Cut the fillets into the portions and set aside. Place three shallow baking dishes or other containers on a work surface. Add the corn flour to the first container, the buttermilk to the second container, and the cornmeal to the third container. Season each container with a pinch of salt. Add a pinch of cayenne to the buttermilk container. Stir or whisk each ingredient to blend the seasonings. Season each slice of fish on both sides with salt. Using tongs or your fingers, dredge a slice in the corn flour, then the buttermilk (be sure to shake off any excess liquid), and finally the cornmeal. Set the slice of fish aside on a sheet tray. Repeat the dredging process for all slices of fish.

  4. Check the temperature of the oil by dusting a pinch of cornmeal into the skillet. If the oil bubbles, it’s ready. Gently lay one dredged piece of fish in the oil, and cook for 1 minute or so, allowing the oil to reheat before adding the other fillets. Add as many fillets as will fit in the pan without crowding. Fry each for about 3 minutes per side, or until the fillets turn golden brown. When each piece of fish is evenly browned on both sides, remove  from the pan. Lay on a rack or paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil. Season again with salt.

  5. Check on the grits. Give them a taste. When there is no longer a hard bite to them, add the butter, stir, and then add the salt to taste. Stir once more and remove from the heat. You want them to have some texture but also taste smooth and creamy.

  6. To plate, add a serving of the grits to a bowl. Ladle the Creole sauce around the edge of the bowl, then place two slices of fish in the center. Serve immediately.

  7. Greens (optional): “We like to smoke collards over pecan wood at the restaurant,” Bailey says. “You can opt to add a bit of smoked paprika to this recipe to mimic the smoky taste. You can substitute your favorite greens or whatever you have on hand. Turnip greens and kale are great over grits, as are mustard greens. In Austin, we get our seasonal greens from local farms like Boggy Creek.”

  8. Make the greens: Sweat the onions, shallots, and leek with half of the olive oil and a nice pinch of salt. Add the collards in increments until they cook down and you can add more. Once all of the collards are in the pot, add the remaining oil and a splash of water. Cook covered until done, about an hour.