This is not the first time I've made this dish. The recipe for Slash & Burn Grouper is also in Michael Ruhlman's book Soul of a Chef. I made this dish, along with the crab tater tots in Soul of a Chef, about three years ago when I first started to really get interested in cooking and the local food scene. It came out great then and it came out great in St. Martin. On a side note, if you haven't read Soul of a Chef, I highly recommend reading it. It's available for only $10.88 on Amazon. The book is broken into three sections; the first section describes the Certified Master Chef exam at the Culinary Institute of America, the second focuses on the early years of Michael Symon and the final section is dedicated to Thomas Keller, chef at three of the countries finest restaurants: French Laundry, Ad Hoc, and Per Se. It's a very entertaining book.
Fresh, Line-Caught Grouper
The most important thing to being a good cook is to use the freshest, best quality product you can get your hands on. It doesn't get much better than line-caught fish fresh from the Caribbean Sea. I found a fresh fish market in Marigot, St. Martin that was open every Wednesday and Saturday morning. They had a wide variety of line caught fish you could either buy whole or have them clean for you. Most of the workers only spoke French so I had some challenges getting my message across but eventually they realized I wanted a large grouper filleted, plus a kilo of miscellaneous fish parts.
My Grouper Being Filleted
If I had a fillet knife I would have tried to clean my own fish even though I haven't cleaned one in about 10 years. Instead, I chose to pay the guy at the market $1 to clean it for me.
Beautiful Grouper Fillets
I am sure my fillets would have looked just as nice.
Yes, those fish eyes are staring at you
To make the dish, the first thing I had to do was make the stock for the sauce. If I had shrimp or lobster, I could have made the simple stock that went with the Shrimp with Dill Vinaigrette. Instead, I bought a kilogram of fish heads, backs, and other parts and substituted the fish parts for the shellfish in Michael Symon's shellfish stock recipe.
I let all the stock ingredients cook over low heat for 45 minutes or so until it had great flavor and was becoming rich. I took it off the heat and strained it, leaving me with delicious, rich fish stock. I also tasted some of the meat from the fish parts I used to make the stock and the meat was very good.
While the stock was cooking I decided to make a quick batch of guacamole to top the fish with, a suggestion Michael makes in the book.
Fresh avocados were prevalent around the island and very tasty. They were actually growing on the grounds of the condo building we stayed in, along with fresh limes, passion fruit, bananas, mangoes, and other fruits.
All the Ingredients for Slash & Burn Grouper
The first step was to cut a pocket in each fillet and fill it with Jamaican jerk seasoning. Because I was staying in a rental condo I was a bit limited in my utensils. The first problem I ran into was the knife selection. They only had serrated knives, which made it difficult to cut a proper pocket in the grouper. Regardless, I did my best and put a tablespoon or two of jerk seasoning inside each fillet.
There is a section in the book on sauteing & pan roasting, the method used to cook the fish. Michael writes that the biggest mistake cooks make when sauteing is to start moving the food around. "Don't touch it, don't shake the pan," Michael writes. "This commonly results in sticking and torn flesh. Allow the food to cook, it will develop a well-seared crust and pull naturally away from the pan if you don't touch it."
I got the best pan I could find nice and hot, heated the oil, dried & seasoned the fish and added it to the hot oil. The book says to brown the fish for 3 minutes, turn it, and put it in the oven for 3-5 minutes (until the fish is 140 degrees). I followed this fairly closely but wish I would have browned it longer because my skin did not get crispy. It also took more than 5 minutes for the fish to cook all the way through in this pan.
Time to Make the Sauce
As with many recipes in the book, Michael finishes this dish with a quick pan sauce that is the perfect finish to the dish. Once the fish was done cooking I removed it from the pan and put it on serving plates in the oven to keep it warm. Next, I deglazed the pan with the stock & lime juice, making sure to get all the crispy, tasty fish bites in the sauce. I brought the liquid to a simmer for a few minutes until it had reduced in half. Finally I removed it from the heat and whisked in butter & the roasted red pepper.
So good it deserved two shots
For the final plating I spooned a little sauce on each plate, placed the fish on the sauce, and topped each piece with a dab of the guacamole. None of the cilantro I found on the island looked very good and neither my wife nor I like it anyway so I left it off.
I love fresh, well cooked fish. I definitely need to work on the latter, but even though I did not cook it as well as Symon would have, this dish was very good. Obviously the quality of the fresh, line caught grouper was superb. The sauce was rich because of the butter, but also had a crisp, refreshing finish from the lime juice & red peppers. The guacamole was the perfect frosting on the cake. I served the fish with white rice that I topped with the left over sauce and a nice bottle of wine.
CostI will provide the approximate cost for each recipe in the book, as well as the source of the products used.
It cost me about $33.27 to make Michael Symon's Slash & Burn Grouper in St. Martin. Too bad we can't get this quality of fish for this cheap in Cleveland! Take the cost of this dish with a grain of salt. The fish was much cheaper than it would have been in the states, but the fish stock & jerk seasoning were much more expensive because I only would have used a small portion of each if I was at home.
Grouper - $10 for a whole fish that weighed about a kilogram
Jerk Seasoning - $6 (had to buy a whole bottle but only used a small amount)
Lime - $1
Red Pepper - $1.27
Butter - $1
Fish Stock (miscellaneous fish parts, onion, carrot, ginger, coriander, bay leaf, salt) - $10
Guacamole (avacado, onion, tomato, lime, serrano, garlic) - $4