This is the story of me and a big-ole fish I decided I could scale, fillet and skin while vacationing in Turks & Caicos, British West Indies. It was a grouper of unknown type and weighed about five pounds; I called him Mr. Grouper. Mr. Grouper spent that morning swimming around in the waters around Providenciales – until he was caught by a local fisherman and sold to the local fish plant which turned around and sold him to me. I had my choice, $7/pound as is, or $18/pound filleted. Well, five pounds is not big for a grouper, but when your a VERY rusty fish cleaner in a rented kitchen it’s enormous.
It might have been the rum (there was a lot of rum), but I was confident that I could handle it. After all I cleaned fish with my dad after our day trips to the lake when I was about 10, and how different could this salt water fish be from the little sun fish I caught as a child? The first difference I learned about was that grouper have barbed gills – I found that out after sticking my fingers in his gills. Not a bright idea. What seemed like an hour later (I’m told it was only about five minutes), I was able to extract my fingers and needed only one small bandage to cover my wounds.
There was a struggle, but in the end I managed to scale, bone, fillet and skin the beast. I then threw together the few staples we had on hand in our rental kitchen. I lightly marinated the fish with garlic and lime juice and pressed the meat into a mixture of unsweetened dried coconut and bread crumbs. I then pan fried the fillets and topped them with an warm chutney of mango, onion, ginger and rum. Mr. Grouper turned out to be the best meal of a very well-fed vacation.
Sadly, I don’t have a local, ultra-fresh supply of grouper up here in frozen New England. However, the same sun-drenched island flavors are easy to recreate with thin chicken breasts. You could even make delicious coconut shrimp with the same recipe. It doesn’t matter if you are cooking this meal in a rental kitchen on a tropical Caribbean island or in the comfort of your own home, the flavors will warm you and make you feel relaxed and happy. Enjoy!
Try a few of these Cooking Light recipes to complete your Caribbean meal: