Grouper cakes, a spring specialty

(Picture by Jerry Dilsaver)

The outdoors world makes some serious changes as we enter May. Whenever they happen, we suddenly realize the world is bright and warm, winds lay out more than they blow, and the heavy rains become welcome showers.

By May, most hunting has ended, with turkey season in Mississippi ending May 1. Fishing has been improving all spring, and it’s a great way to enjoy some fresh air and return with dinner.

Calm sea conditions and warmer weather are magnets that most offshore fishermen can’t resist. The waters in the Gulf of Mexico are warming, and the action is heating up. One of the most-anticipated offshore fish around the Gulf is actually a group included in the classification of shallow-water grouper: gag, black, red, scamp, yellowmouth, yellowfin, tiger, graysby and coney grouper, plus red hind and rock hind.

May fishing

With steadily improving weather and sea conditions, fishing become a priority. The good news is that fishing might get even hotter than the weather, as most summer species are arriving. It’s a great time to be on the water and there is a great variety of fish for those who enjoy them.

Seafood is always a welcome addition to the dinner table, and when you catch it yourself, you know just how fresh it is and how well it has been cared for. Whether it’s sitting on a bank, wading a small stream or flat or gently rocking in a boat on the ocean, fishing is a great way to spend a day and more often than not, fishermen bring dinner home from May fishing trips.

This recipe is an excellent way to enjoy fish and will work with almost any fish. However, it is special with the mild flavor of grouper, and grouper are a primary target of offshore bottom-fishermen during May. There is a little bit of prep time involved, but once everything is ready to mix, it goes quickly, and there are soon hot grouper cakes ready to be eaten.

Grouper cakes

Grouper are one of my favorite fish. Their mild flavor lends itself to being prepared in a variety of ways. This recipe came about as a way to use some smaller pieces that were left over after cleaning. Some of my friends call them fritters, but fritters have more breading and less meat. This is a combination that fits somewhere between salmon patties and crab cakes.

Whatever you call it, we liked it so much that we began making sure there were some small pieces left after cleaning grouper. It works well with those pieces from near the tail that aren’t big enough to be meal-size fillets, trimmings from around the bone, meat on the head above the pectoral fins and rib meat. I won’t include the cheeks, as they’re special on their own. A fillet could be cut up too, that’s happened before.

Don’t chop the pieces too small. You’ll still have most of the flavor, but it isn’t quite the same. Try it with larger pieces chopped finely and see for yourself. Aim for cubes about the size of a fingernail. A tip for chopping the grouper is that it is firmer and cuts better when it is cold, like straight out of the cooler or fridge.

Substitutions

(Picture by Jerry Dilsaver)

I don’t add salt because the saltines have  plenty. However, seasoning is always to taste, and if you like a lot of salt, add some pink Himalayan salt. I like the way it seasons. As for pepper, I like it and coarse-grind lots of it into the mix.

I used to crush saltines with a mortar and pestle, but now I put them in a heavy duty quart Zip Lock bag to crunch them up. Not everyone has a rolling pin, but just about everyone has steel drink tumblers, and they make a good substitute for this small job. Don’t crush the crackers to powder, but get them pretty fine.

If you’re not a fan of yogurt, you can substitute the same amount of mayonnaise. If you do this, use real mayo, not fat-free or reduced fat. But if reduced fat appeals to you, try plain Greek yogurt. It reduces the fat and tastes better.

I don’t often suggest brands, but I will with the Sriracha sauce. Texas Pete Cha Sauce is not as hot as some brands, but it has enough bite to satisfy all but hard-core fire breathers. Where it really shines is with its smoky, sweet flavor. It works well in the recipe and mixed with tartar sauce to make spicy tartar sauce. When making the sauce, understand that lighter pink sauce is milder and better tolerated by most. As you add more Sriracha sauce and the color become redder, the spice and heat factor increase also.

Serving options

With this recipe, I make six cakes. This works well as the entrée of a meal and for making sandwiches. I occasionally make these for sliders and use the same ingredients for eight or nine smaller cakes that fit rolls and slider buns.

(Picture by Jerry Dilsaver)

One of the things my wife likes about this recipe is that when everything is blended except the jalapenos, I can make a couple of cakes for her before adding the jalapenos. If you have someone who is not a fan of jalapenos, you can make theirs with a bell pepper or plain, then add spices and the jalapeno pieces for those with more robust palates.

Understand that I still experiment with this and won’t be upset if you change it a little. If you like fish, I believe you’ll like this. Grouper cakes are tasty and fun to eat.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound grouper
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup crushed saltine crackers (approximately 21 crackers)
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp Texas Pete Cha Sauce (Sriracha sauce)
  • 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 3 tbsp minced onion
  • 2 tbsp minced jalapeno pepper, or orange bell pepper for those with milder palates
  • Pink Himalayan salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Canola or peanut oil
  • Lemon and lime wedges
  • Tartar sauce

PREPARATION:

Chop the grouper, parsley and pepper. Crush the saltines and slice the lemons and limes. Beat the egg and mix it with the yogurt, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, garlic, onion and Sriracha sauce, and season (to taste) with salt and pepper.

Using a second bowl, combine the grouper, crushed saltines, parsley and pepper pieces. Mix the yogurt and spices mixture with the fish mixture. Form into six to nine cakes approximately 3/4- to 1-inch thick.

Use a large heavy skillet and cover the bottom with oil, then preheat over medium-high heat. Get this hot but do not allow the oil to smoke. Put half the cakes in the pan and cook until golden brown and crispy, 2 or 3 minutes per side. Remove the cakes and set on a strainer or paper towel. Cook the rest of the cakes and remove to a strainer or paper towel.

Serve grouper cakes with lemon and lime wedges, tartar sauce and spicy tartar sauce.

Spicy Tartar Sauce

Spicy tartar sauce is easily made by mixing Sriracha sauce with tartar sauce. This is done to your personal heat preference. Pink sauce is milder, and as more Sriracha sauce is added the color darkens and the sauce becomes more spicy. Add it slowly and taste before adding more.

Grouper cakes can be served either as sandwiches or sliders with lettuce and tomato or as the entree for a meal. They go well with a potato (baked potato, fries or tater tots) or corn-on-the-cob and salad or slaw. A big glass of sweet tea, or your favorite adult beverage, completes the meal.

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