Meatless Monday Challenge

Creamy Pan-Fried Fish and Grits

on August 14, 2020
last updated April 22, 2024
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Creamy Fish and Grits without the heavy cream! The crispy, crunchy exterior of this pan-fried white fish pairs perfectly with coconut milk-based grits.
Creamy Fish and Grits - Featured Image

Creamy Fish and Grits that require no heavy cream? Uh-huh!

This recipe uses the subtly sweet, naturally creamy goodness of coconut milk to create a scrumptious grits-and-sauce combo, topped with perfectly crispy pan-fried fish coated in a mixture of Parmesan, Panko, and crushed almonds.

Close up of Fish plated on grits

Why not shrimp and grits? Don’t get me wrong, I love shrimp and grits as much as the next gal. But sometimes ya gotta switch it up!

As a food blogger with an education in environmental science, I’m always trying to come up with recipes that have a lower environmental footprint.

And while shrimp is great to enjoy on occasion (check out my Blackened Shrimp over Old Bay Mashed Potato recipe for a treat!), there are certain fish that are sourced a lot more sustainably!

The crispy, crunchy exterior of this garlic-butter-fried fish is exactly what these creamy coconut grits need to create the perfect bite. And the best news? This Panko, Parmesan, and Almond coating can be used for any fish in any dish.

Creamy Fish and Grits Tips & Tricks

Gather Your Ingredients First

While this recipe can work well with most fish, I highly recommend using flaky white fish like tilapia, catfish, cod, snapper, flounder, or halibut. This type of fish cooks a lot quicker than say a tuna steak or salmon. If you’re looking for a salmon recipe, check out this roasted salmon!

Aside from your fish, here’s everything you’ll need:

  • Grits. Original Stone Ground or Quick 5-minute grits can work.
  • Vegetable Broth. This is my prefernce, but you can also use chicken broth or vegetable or chicken stock.
  • Coconut Milk. Both the flavor and viscosity of coconut milk is perfect to add a subtle sweetness and creaminess to this dish, but you can also opt to use heavy cream or whole milk if preferred.
  • White fish. Any thin, mild-flavored fish that cooks fast will do. My preference is domestic catfish (pictured) or tilapia.
  • All-purpose Flour. This will go directly on the fish to prep it for the crispy outer crust.
  • Egg. The egg will help the outer crust adhere to the flour-coated fish.
  • Crushed Almonds. For nuttiness and texture.
  • Panko Bread Crumbs. For crispiness.
  • Grated Parmesan. To amp up the salinity and flavor in the crust.
  • Crushed Red Pepper. For a little kick.
  • Salt & Pepper. For seasoning.
  • Coconut Oil. For frying. You can sub olive oil if you prefer.
  • Garlic. To flavor both the fish and the sauce.
  • Harissa Paste. To deepen the color and flavor of the sauce.
  • Scallions for garnish. Optional, but recommended for freshness and crunch.
panko, white fish, crushed almond, flour, harissa, egg, parmesan, vegetable broth, scallions, grits, garlic, coconut milk, black pepper, salt, crushed red pepper, coconut oil, tomato paste

Timing Matters

Get your grits goin’ first. They take the longest to make. Cook them completely in the vegetable broth before adding the coconut milk and you’ll be lickin’ the bowl clean.

Time yourself—5 minutes each side for the fish should get you a crispy exterior and flaky interior. Over or undercooked fish is no good!

The butter browns pretty quickly. Adding the coconut milk and harissa immediately after removing your fish will stop your brown butter from turning to burnt butter.

Tailor It to Your Taste

Harissa is spicy. This recipe calls for 1 teaspoon which will provide just a touch of heat. If your face turns red at the sight of a jalapeno, start with 1/2 teaspoon. If you keep an emergency bottle of Tabasco sauce in your bag “just in case”, maybe add more!

Taste test the sauce before pouring it over your grits to see if any salt and pepper are needed. I usually add just a pinch. The fish is pretty flavorful, so you don’t want it to be overwhelming, but bland is boring.

Portrait of Fish and Sauce on Grits

Sustainable Seafood

This recipe is delicious with really any white fish! The fish pictured here is catfish. You’re looking for a thin, mildly-flavored fish that cooks fast, with or without whiskers.

When choosing your fish, there are many factors you can consider to ensure you are making an eco-friendly choice. When it comes to catfish, U.S. Farm-raised catfish is a sustainable choice. Other sustainable choices for this dish include Barramundi, Atlantic Mackeral, and Atlantic Whiting.

Green tip: Look for Marine Stewardship Council and Friend of the Sea labels on your fish to ensure they were harvested sustainably.

The Fish Is the Star, and She’s A Diva, Too

Every band has a front-man. Yes, the grits and the sauce are important, too. But that crispy fish—that’s really what gets the crowd going. Take care to coat and cook it evenly. You can achieve this in four simple steps.

Step 1: Before coating fish, it’s best to dry it off so the flour sticks. Simply dab it between two paper towels and you’re good to go.

Step 2: Coat the fish evenly in the flour/spice mixture.

Step 3: Transfer to egg wash and dunk both sides.

Step 4: Use your fingers to press fish into the Parmesan, Panko, and almond mixture.

And there you have it! Fry her up in garlic butter on both sides and you’ve got golden brown crispy deliciousness just begging for a pile-o-grits to rest on.

crust, eggs, flour

Should You Have Leftovers

If you have leftover fish and grits, it’s best to store them separately in air-tight containers in the refrigerator. The fish will last for 3-4 days and the grits will last up to one week.

To reheat, preheat your oven to 275°F and add leftover fish to a baking dish or sheet. Cover with tin foil and bake for 15-20 minutes until internal temperature reaches 145 °F.

The grits can simply be reheated in the microwave or over the stovetop.

Green tip: Did you know that of the billions of pounds of food wasted annually, it is estimated that 50% of it happens in our homes? Avoid food waste by properly storing, reheating, and consuming your leftovers!

Fish and Grits Frequently Asked Questions

What sides go with Fish and Grits?

Because you’ve got rich and creamy covered with the grits, I highly recommend serving your fish and grits up with something fresh.

Consider this Purple Asparagus or Grilled Corn on the Cobb. It’s also great with a side salad or any other roasted vegetables.

Can you eat Fish and Grits for breakfast?

Absolutely, yes! Despite its recent popularity being prepared for dinner in fine dining restaurants, both shrimp and grits and fish and grits were actually traditionally a breakfast food!

It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the dish started popping up on dinner menus.

Where did Fish and Grits Originate?

Fish and Grits is a variation to the Southern favorite Shrimp and Grits.

Grits have Native American roots, originating from the Muskogee tribe’s preparation of corn. This tradition was passed down to settlers, who, making the most of their resources on the coast, added local seafood to their grits.

The traditional dish has remained a staple on the Southern coast, primarily as a breakfast food. It wasn’t until the New York Times wrote a piece on Shrimp and Grits served in a restaurant in North Carolina that it grew in popularity and became a staple dish throughout the south and beyond.

What is Usually Served with Grits?

The flavor of grits on their own is very subtle, making them super versatile!

They can be served with either savory or sweet toppings, depending on your preference.

Sweet grits can be served with honey, cinnamon, fruit, peanut butter, jam, and many more options.

Savory grits can be served with cheese, vegetables, seafood, meat, and other various herbs and spices.

Why You Should Make This Fish and Grits Dish

  • The creaminess. And without any dairy? MAGIC!
  • The crispy exterior. The contrast of the golden-brown fish on top of those creamy grits is what dreams are made of.
  • It’s versatile. You can successfully use any white fish. Choose sustainable seafood!
  • The sauce. That subtle coconut with the spicy harissa and garlic comes together seamlessly.

Enjoy this fresh {water} take on the classic Southern delicacy, and make it your own! Let us know how you prepared this dish. And if you enjoyed this recipe, check out these Fresh Fish Tacos with Pineapple Salsa, and this Roasted Garlic Salmon for Two.

Close-up of Fish and Grits in a white bowl

Creamy Pan-Fried Fish and Grits

4.7 from 6 votes
Marley Goldin
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Creamy Fish and Grits without the heavy cream! The crispy, crunchy exterior of this pan-fried white fish pairs perfectly with coconut milk-based grits.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 2 servings




  • ½ pound of white fish
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • ¼ cup crushed almonds
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper


  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon Harissa paste
  • ¾ cup coconut milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • scallions for garnish
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  • Pour vegetable broth into a medium pot and bring to a boil. Add grits into boiling vegetable broth, cover, reduce to a low simmer and cook for about 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, set up three bowls: one with flour, one with beaten egg, and one with your mixture of Panko, Parmesan, Almonds, and seasonings.
  • Dry your fish by blotting it in between two paper towels.
  • Get a large frying pan fitted with a cover hot and add oil and garlic.
  • Cover your fish in flour first, then egg wash, then crust mixture. Repeat for both fillets, making sure the fish is completely covered.
  • Slowly lower your coated fish into the hot oil and garlic. Cover and fry for 5 minutes on both sides. Your fish should have a crispy, blackened crust.
  • Remove fish from your pan and set aside. Keep your pan over medium heat and add tomato paste, harissa, and 3/4 cup coconut milk. Stir occasionally until it thickens.
  • Remove grits from heat and add 1/4 cup coconut milk. Whisk until your grits are nice and creamy.
  • Pour sauce over grits and top with crispy fish and scallions.

Pro Tips

  • Any white fish will work with this recipe—catfish is pictured here.
  • Always pat dry the fish before coating it. It will help your flour, egg, Panko, Parmesan, and almond mixture stick.

Share This Recipe

Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Keyword Fish and Grits, Fish Dinner, Healthy, Southern Cooking
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4 thoughts on “Creamy Pan-Fried Fish and Grits”

  1. 4 stars
    That fish in the photo looks like “Basia”.
    It is farmed in Vietnam in an extremely polluted river and they are frequently injected with steroids to make them bigger…AVOID!!!!!

    1. Hi Duane!

      As thoroughly discussed in this post, the fish pictured is actually U.S. farm-raised catfish. There are resources within the post that can help you find the best fish for you, keeping sustainability front of mind.

  2. 5 stars
    BEYOND delicious! I used sea bass and holy moly did it not disappoint! My husband and I are still raving about how delicious this was. It will definitely be in our regular dinner rotation!

    1. Kim! I am so glad you enjoyed this and will be adding it to your dinner rotation! That means the world!

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