Hunt, Then Gather

Lowcountry Fish and Grits

Put the catch of the day on the breakfast table with chef Whitney Otawka’s spin on a coastal classic

photo: Johnny Autry


“Something I think a lot of cooks lack is an access point to nature,” says Whitney Otawka. That’s not a problem for her. As the chef at the Greyfield Inn, on Georgia’s Cumberland Island, Otawka experiences it every time she walks the hundred or so yards from her house to work on the largely uninhabited barrier island, which was once a Carnegie family winter playground. “Restaurant kitchens can be very intense. But here, when you step outside, you’re surrounded by beauty.”

Each season brings a new kind—in summer, the inn’s garden bursts with tomatoes and cucumbers, while winter brings oysters and clams ready for harvest from the wild beaches, tidal creeks, and marshes. She and her husband, Ben Wheatley, also a chef at the Greyfield, sometimes fish from the inn’s dock on the Intracoastal Waterway or wade into the Atlantic breakers with a seine net. “When we are just cooking for ourselves, it’s really nice to go out and see if we can catch a sea trout, sheepshead, or flounder,” she says. For the past two years, she has devoted most of her time away from the hotel kitchen to writing a cookbook, The Saltwater Table, which comes out this fall.

“Fish and grits was the first meal I was served on the island,” she recalls. She couldn’t have been farther from home—Otawka grew up in a small Mojave desert town, and worked her way east from California, with stops in the Georgia kitchens of Hugh Acheson and Linton Hopkins, before she boarded the ferry from Fernandina Beach, Florida, to interview for the Greyfield gig. “What I loved about it is that it was soulful and felt very authentic to the place,” she says. “Shrimp and grits is so ubiquitous. I feel like fish and grits has flown under the radar, but I find it just as satisfying, if not a little bit more so.”

This version is her tribute to that memorable meal, but she’s made it her own—building on a base of rice grits in place of the traditional hominy kind, with luxurious shrimp butter stirred into them as a nod to the familiar flavor of Lowcountry tradition.


Ingredients

  • Flounder and Grits with Shrimp Butter

  • Yield: 4 servings

  • For the grits:

    • ½ cup milk

    • 1½ tsp. kosher salt

    • 1 bay leaf

    • ½ cup rice grits

    • 1¼ cups shrimp butter, divided (recipe follows)

  • For the fish:

    • 4 (5-oz.) flounder fillets

    • 2 tbsp. canola oil

    • 2 tsp. lemon juice

    • 1 tsp. chopped fresh parsley

    • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

  • Shrimp Butter (Yield: 1¼ cups)

    • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, divided

    • 1 clove garlic, minced

    • ½ lb. shrimp, peeled and cleaned

    • ¼ tsp. cayenne powder

    • ¼ tsp. paprika

    • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

    • 1 tsp. kosher salt

    • ¼ cup dry white wine

    • ¼ tsp. Tabasco sauce

    • ¼ tsp. Worcestershire sauce


Preparation

  1. For the grits and fish: In a medium saucepan, combine
    2½ cups water, milk, salt, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the rice grits. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 16 minutes, stirring frequently. When the rice grits are cooked through, add 1 cup of shrimp butter. Stir to combine. Remove from heat and keep warm until ready to serve.

  2. While the rice grits are cooking, lightly season the flounder with a pinch of kosher salt for each fillet. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high. When the oil is hot, add the fillets in a single layer, making sure to leave room between them. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, letting the fish sear to a nice golden brown. Flip and sear until cooked through, about 1 minute. Remove fish from pan. Pour off the excess oil.

  3. To the pan, add the remaining ¼ cup shrimp butter, lemon juice, and parsley to make a quick sauce.

  4. To serve, spoon the rice grits into serving bowls. Top with flounder fillets and pan sauce. Serve with lemon wedges.

  5. For the shrimp butter: In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt half of the butter. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add shrimp, cayenne, paprika, pepper, and salt. Cook until shrimp are just barely done, about 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer shrimp to
    a food processor.

  6. Return the pan to the heat and deglaze with wine. Reduce by half. Add reduced wine, Tabasco, Worcestershire, and remaining butter to the food processor. Pulse until smooth.

  7. Set aside until ready to use. You can make shrimp butter ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


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