Somewhere South with Chef Vivian Howard

Crab and Tomato Gravy over Grits

Photo by Victoria Bouloubasis

Photo by Victoria Bouloubasis

This recipe is inspired by the technique shown by Emily Meggett, the matriarch of Edisto Island’s Gullah community. Meggett is working on a cookbook and accepting donations to help with its completion. Check out her website for more information:


  • 1 cup white stone-ground grits 
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cups sliced leeks, white and tender green parts only
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sliced okra
  • 4 cups peeled and diced tomatoes, about 2 large tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • 8 ounces fresh lump crab meat, picked over for shells
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice


Make the grits: Place grits in a bowl of water and stir. The chaff will rise to the top; these are harder parts of corn hulls that will never soften during cooking. Either skim off with a spoon or do as Mrs. Meggett does and drain water slowly, allowing chafe to leave bowl and grits to stay. 

In a Dutch oven, combine the grits and milk and bring this up to a simmer around the edges. Whisk semi-frequently and cook until the grits have expanded and soaked up the milk and are thick; this could take up to 30 minutes. Season aggressively with salt and less aggressively with black pepper. Off the heat, whisk in the heavy cream.

Make the gravy: In a large skillet, melt butter and add leeks and garlic  and saute over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. Lower heat if leeks or garlic take on too much color.  Add the okra and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, salt, sugar and cayenne and cook, covered, about 15 minutes. Just before serving, gently stir in the crab. Add lemon juice and adjust the seasoning with salt and sugar, if needed.

Yield: 6 servings