Anatomy of a Classic

Spiced-Up Fried Catfish

A field pea chowchow brings the heat to chef Greg Collier’s catfish and grits

Photo: Johnny Autry

Southern food can be hyper-regional. Cooks season collards differently in Mississippi than they do in Tennessee. Barbecue styles shift from one side of a state to another. And then there are grits, which are often a matter of individual tastes.

The chef Greg Collier and his wife, Subrina, who own the lauded Leah & Louise in Charlotte and this spring will open a reboot of their popular breakfast restaurant, Uptown Yolk, both grew up in Memphis. He ate the savory grits his grandmother served with country ham; she lived in a household where sugar was an essential ingredient in the grits pot. “There’s a time and place for both of them,” Greg says. “Like when I’m cooking for her 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, stock, and plenty of butter. He pays as much attention to the fish. Drawing from his training at culinary school in Arizona, he adds smoked paprika and two kinds of pepper to buttermilk before soaking the fillets overnight, and dredges them in a combination of flour, cornmeal, and cornstarch to give the crust crispness and flavor. 

The real star of the dish, though, is a chowchow made with field peas and fired up with spicy red Fresno peppers. “With fried food or grits, your palate sort of falls asleep,” he says. “This is like putting hot sauce on fish. It’s fish with vinegar and spice.”

The Colliers keep their Memphis roots, influenced by West African and Native traditions, in mind when they develop their menus. “We want to pay homage to our ancestors and Black culture and Black foodways, but with a new look that isn’t so traditional,” Greg says. Still, at the end of the day, he wants his dishes to remain familiar, like his fish and grits. “When I’m cooking food,” he says, “I want my aunt or my mom or pops to get it.”

photo: Johnny Autry


  • Catfish and Grits with Chowchow (Yield: 4 servings)

  • For the fish

    • 2 tbsp. plus 2 tsp. kosher salt

    • 2 tbsp. black pepper

    • 2 tbsp. smoked paprika

    • 1 tbsp. cayenne pepper

    • 1 cup buttermilk

    • 4 catfish fillets

    • 1 cup each fine cornmeal, flour, and cornstarch

    • 4 tsp. onion powder

    • 4 tsp. garlic powder

    • Oil for frying (use peanut oil if you can)

    • Cajun seasoning

  • For the field pea chowchow

    • ⅓ cup cane sugar

    • 1 heaping tbsp. Diamond Crystal salt

    • 1 tsp. smoked paprika

    • 1 tbsp. pickling spice (made with whole spices)

    • ¾ cup white vinegar

    • 1 lb. cooked field peas, fresh, frozen, or dried. (If cooking dried peas, add a cup of white vinegar to water and simmer for an hour to an hour and a half until tender but firm.)

    • ½ cup each finely diced onion, bell pepper, carrot, and celery

    • ½ cup sliced red Fresno or other hot pepper


  1. For the fish: Stir 2 tbsp. salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, and cayenne into buttermilk. Add the catfish, and soak at least 8 hours or overnight. 

  2. When you are ready to cook, whisk together cornmeal, flour, cornstarch, onion powder, garlic powder, and 2 tsp. salt. Place in a shallow dish for dredging.

  3. Pour oil into a heavy frying pan (preferably cast iron) to the depth of about a half inch.

  4. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil reaches 350ºF. If you don’t have a thermometer, flick a little of the flour mixture into the oil. If it sizzles immediately, you’re good to go. 

  5. Sprinkle both sides of the fillets with Cajun seasoning or salt and pepper to taste, then dredge them into flour mixture. Shake off excess and gently lay into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 2 to 4 minutes, depending on how thick the fillet is. Using a metal spatula, gently turn the fish and cook for another 2 to 4 minutes. Note: Cast iron heats up and stays hot, so monitor the heat as you fry. You may need to lower the heat on the burner.

  6. For the field pea chowchow: Place sugar, half the salt, smoked paprika, pickling spice, and vinegar in a pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. 

  7. Meanwhile, place the peas and other vegetables in a bowl and toss with remaining salt. Let sit for 30 minutes. Drain off any liquid. Pack into a glass jar or a ceramic container. Strain the vinegar mixture and pour over the pea mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours before using.

  8. To serve: Spoon your favorite creamy grits into a bowl, place a fried catfish fillet on top, and then a generous spoonful of chowchow.

Meet the Chef: Greg Collier



Kitchen obsession: 

“I have a bunch of different types of spoons. I plate

with spoons. I taste with spoons. I sauce with spoons.”

Travel wish list: 

Spain, Paris, Vietnam, and the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.

Advice to young cooks: 

“Honor the craft, and never lose sight of improving it.”