Perch and Grits: A Twist on a Classic Southern Recipe

Forget the shrimp and substitute wild perch fillets in this tasty dish

I am a little different than most of the people in my home state of Minnesota. While most people rave about catching and eating walleye, I’m not nearly as infatuated with our state fish. Walleye are indeed good to eat and can be fun to catch, but I am a much bigger fan of catching pike. And when it comes to eating, I prefer the smaller and tastier yellow perch.

Granted, I’m a little biased. My love of eating perch stems from childhood summers spent on Leech Lake, where I learned to fish off my grandparents’ dock. I would either steal all my grandfather’s night crawlers, or go dig worms in the woods. Then I would head down to the dock and drop a plain hook with a chunk of worm on it under the boat lift, and catch perch until I had filled a stringer with them. During the spring, just before the ice would go out on the lake, I would take a small chunk of bacon, place it on a small jig, and proceed to fill 5-gallon buckets full of perch. So it’s no exaggeration to say that I have caught and eaten thousands of perch.

perch fillets and grits
The final dish of perch and grits.Jamie Carlson

The majority of those perch were dredged in a cracker-crumb breading and fried, then served on a piece of Wonder Bread with Hellman’s Tartar sauce. I have eaten and enjoyed them many other ways, but fried with some white bread might still be my favorite. But I can’t indulge in that classic overtime there are perch to eat. I recently had a bag of perch fillets in the freezer when I came across a recipe for shrimp and grits. Why not try it out and substitute the perch in for the shrimp?

I love grits, so much so that I convinced a friend of mine to grow some corn so I could dry and mill my own grits. We ended up with a ton of corn and I have been using it to make everything from tortillas and tamales to corn meal and grits. After I decided on perch and grits, I looked at several more recipes and found that there are several different ways to make this dish—it varies by region. I ultimately blended several of those techniques together to get this version of a southern classic.

thick-cut bacon
Thick-cut bacon.Jamie Carlson

PERCH AND GRITS

Ingredients

10 to 15 perch fillets 4 ounces of thick-cut bacon, chopped into small pieces 2 cups grits 1 cup heavy cream 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 8 ounces of smoked cheddar, shredded ¾ cup white onion, diced ½ cup celery, diced ½ cup red bell pepper, diced 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce 2 cups chicken stock 1 cup of all purpose flour Salt and pepper

dredged perch fillets
Flour-dredged perch.Jamie Carlson

Directions

Start the grits and cook per the package directions. This can take up to an hour depending on the grits you buy, so start these early. When the grits are soft and creamy, add the heavy cream, butter, and smoked cheddar. Stir until smooth and creamy.

In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until just crisp, remove the bacon pieces and set aside for later use leaving all the bacon fat in the pan.

frying perch fillets
Frying perch.Jamie Carlson

Season the perch with salt and pepper and then dredge in flour. Bring the bacon fat back up to medium high heat and fry the perch for about 2 minutes on each. Set the perch aside and add the onion, peppers, celery, and garlic, and cook until the onions are translucent. If the pan dries out you can add a couple tablespoons of butter. Stir in two tablespoons of flour and stir until the veggies are covered with flour. Add the Worcestershire and chicken stock and stir until the gravy thickens. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

perch and grits
Perch and grits.Jamie Carlson

Spoon up a large portion of grits into a bowl and place 4 to 5 perch fillets on the grits. Top with the veggies and gravy, and serve with your favorite hot sauce.