Somewhere South with Chef Vivian Howard

Crispy Mullet with Roasted Jowls, Creamy Grits, and Fried Sage

From Chef Ricky Moore

This recipe is courtesy of Chef Ricky Moore, owner of Saltbox Seafood Joint with two locations in Durham, NC. You can find this recipe in Chef Ricky’s new cookbook entitled, “Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook” (University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

Chef Ricky says, “This is my personal version of fish and grits. I like the meatiness of pork jowls— they remind me of a southern brunch plate— but you can use bacon or country sausage if you prefer.”


For the Grits

  • 2 cups chicken broth, plus more as needed
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • Hot sauce to taste (preferably Texas Pete)

For the Fish

  • 4 ounces pork jowls, sliced
  • 4-6 mullet fillets
  • 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup stone ground or regular grits
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce (preferably Texas Pete)
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 2 cups fine yellow corn flour
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 small bunch of fresh sage leaves


Make the grits: Combine the chicken broth, cream, and water in a large stock pot set over high heat. Once heated through, add the butter, pepper, and garlic and onion powders. Bring to a boil and slowly stir in the grits, whisking continuously to prevent lumps. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the grits are tender, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes.

While the grits are cooking, set a pan over medium-high heat and brown the sliced jowls until crispy. Remove the jowls and drain them on paper towels. 

Check the grits, adding broth to thin the mixture if needed. Whisk in the cheese and hot sauce, cover, and set aside.

Make the fish: Rinse the fish fillets in cold water and pat them dry with paper towels. Cut the fish into ½-inch strips and place the strips in a large shallow bowl. 

In a small bowl, mix together the pepper, garlic and onion powders, and paprika. Divide the seasonings in half. In another small bowl, whisk together the egg, hot sauce, and mustard.

Lightly toss the fish with half of the seasonings. Pour the egg mixture over the seasoned fish and gently toss to coat.

Place the corn flour in a brown paper bag or plastic freezer bag, add the remaining seasonings, and shake to combine. Add the fish to the bag and gently shake to coat.

Fill a large Dutch oven with 3-4 inches of oil and heat the oil to 350 degrees. Remove a few pieces of fish from the bag, gently tapping to remove excess flour. Carefully add the fish to the oil and fry until they are golden brown and flaky to the touch, 7-8 minutes. Remove the fish and drain on paper towels. Continue with the remaining fish.

Fry the sage leaves in the oil remaining in the pan for just a few seconds until they curl and crisp up. Drain the fried leaves on paper towels.

To serve, spoon a portion of grits into a bowl, place a few pieces of fish on top, and garnish with the jowls and sage.

Yield: 4 servings