I’ve been seeing a few nice-sized red grouper being brought in from charters recently, so I thought I’d share another easy recipe with you. Grouper sandwiches are very popular on local menus, but they’re not hard to make at home. Next time you get a hankering, consider this recipe.
The first part is finding the right fish. I’d rather catch my own. But if not, when I go to buy it, I want to see the whole fish so I can try to determine how old the fish is. I look at the gills and eyes. The gills should be red or at least pink, and should be wet but not slimy. The eyes should be bulging just a bit and not overly clouded.
It goes without saying that if it has a strong fishy odor, you probably should choose another fish. Even if you wash it and cook it, it will still have a strong smell that could ruin your dinner. A mild scent of fresh fish is normal, but if it reeks like low tide on the Jersey shore, I’m leaving it.
I heard a friend of mine talking about interviewing a chef in New York years ago. She went on to say that the chef said, “fresh fish should smell and taste like water. Now, describe the taste of water.” That made a lot of sense to me. I think it’s kind of hard to describe the taste of water, unless you drink well water. Well water in Florida can definitely have its own flavor and aromas.
When we were kids, my grandfather had a citrus grove in southwestern Highlands County. Sulfur water was used to irrigate the grove, and that smells awful. When the pump was running, the whole grove would smell like hard boiled eggs that had gone bad. The little house by the grove had a softener for the water and it still smelled bad. Don’t buy fish that smells like sulfur water.
I think most of us can agree that fresh grouper does taste like water — as in, there’s not a lot of flavor there. So we usually find ourselves trying to add flavor to it, which is so easy to do. It’s the texture of grouper that I like best. I don’t often eat fried foods but I do love a good fried grouper sandwich. Especially if it’s a nice thick chunk of fish and fried just right.
For me, the breading is the key to making to a good fish sandwich. I don’t try to reinvent the wheel with the breading. There are several brands of pre-made mixes out there that are just fine. I like one called Golden Dipt. It works great with fish and anything else you want to fry.
To keep the breading from falling off the fish, you need some protein glue. A lot of people use eggs or egg whites for this. When I set up my breading station, I skip the eggs and just use buttermilk instead. It sticks to the flour and the breading sticks to it. Order of operations makes a huge difference here. The fish goes into the flour, then the buttermilk, and finally the breading. Get the order wrong and it will come out wrong.
I fry at 350°F. The fish will float when its cooked. I use canola oil in the fryer because I think it lasts longer that some other oils. It has a higher flashpoint, meaning you can get it much hotter for longer periods of time before the oil starts to break down and turn dark on you. After frying the fish, I filter the oil and refrigerate it to use again.
A good sandwich needs the right bun. I wouldn’t put a soft-textured protein like fried grouper on a hard, crusty baguette. I want a soft bun like brioche bun or maybe a pretzel bun. Try to match the consistency of the bun to the consistency of the meat. I find that it’s just better that way, and you aren’t crushing you fresh grouper with that hard bread.
A simple dab of mayo in your sandwich goes along way too. Or you could fancy it up and make an aioli. I have shared several recipes in the past with aioli in them, and I like aioli. But if I don’t have time to make one, I just use some mayo and lemon juice.
I’m not a fan of tomato on fried fish. I feel it takes away from the texture, so instead I just add some lettuce and maybe a slice of American cheese to the bun with mayo and that’s about it. Add a handful of potato chips to each plate and cold beers all around, and you’ve got a delicious and easy lunch for four.
Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more info, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.