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Summer Cook-In


I’m just back from a vacation “down the Shore,” and while I thought I’d be reporting “sandfuls” of details on good and not-so-good eats, I have to confess I did not go out a whole lot. I did, however, procure some excellent, though unusually pricy, mahi-mahi and grouper from my go-to source, Avalon Seafood—which also has a produce stand packed with goodies, including yummy pies.

The grouper had been caught and brought in that day and, for a first-timer (I’d never cooked it before), it came out deliciously, especially when napped—OK heaped—with a freshly made mango salsa. This refreshing and slightly spiced-up accoutrement also worked well on the mahi-mahi, which was moist, meaty and flavorful enough with just a light lacing of lime, lemon and orange juice, plus a few grinds of black pepper and sea salt. The grill was on the fritz that night, so I wound up pan-searing both fish and, while I would’ve preferred a cast-iron pan or my Calphalon grill pan, the fish did just fine in a Teflon-coated sauté pan.

Another night, at Sylvester’s—I’m a total creature of habit at the Shore, and this spot has been a tradition for the kids and I for years—I had a fantastic piece of tuna. Now, it was probably cooked just a tad too much, because the pink wasn’t as lovely of a shade as I like, but it was fully loaded with Asian flavorings that did not overpower the meaty, bold taste that I love. It was cut from the darker part of the tuna, which a lot of people don’t favor. That cut was steak-y in texture and robustness; I guess, deep down, I am a carnivore at heart. I did feel guilty, though, because I have Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sustainable Seafood Guide app on my iPhone, and tuna is a big no-no. (United States mahi-mahi is a “good alternative,” and grouper is not on the list at all, so I am adding that to my research to-dos.)

I also had some very tasty oysters—a trio that included my favorite, Malpec—at The Princeton. The combination was a nice mix of briny and crisp, clean and vibrant flavors, delivered in both pillow-y, fleshy and al dente bites. If you’re looking for good oysters around here, I have to give a shout out to Villanova’s Azie on Main, which has consistently dished up premium varieties during recent visits.

Shockingly, I only went to Springer’s once, but the banana ice cream I sampled was amazing. If I were making Bananas Foster, I’d make it with scoops of that.

A little taste of my meal at Avalon Restaurant ...I rounded off my week with a trip to Avalon Restaurant in West Chester, where I took my mother for her final Pennsylvania meal before she headed back to California. Chef-owner John Brandt-Lee wowed and spoiled us with his home-style—but still elegant in presentation—dishes and superior service. If the nights stay cool, you should definitely wander that way to enjoy his rustic Italian fare under the stars. I might also recommend showing up with a Cab-Shiraz blend, as it stood up well to the eclectic and very un-shy flavors in each dish, including the charcuterie and cheese plate. Now that I’ve used my leftovers for today’s lunch, I’m ready to get back to a less decadent eating routine and the gym.

But I’m also going to try my hand at grouper again. I just found the below recipe at allrecipes.com, so if you come across some fresh grouper, you’ve got a good starting point. This version looks perfect for the hot weather we’ve been having, and easy to prepare. It will make a nice entertaining dish if you serve it over a bed of couscous that’s got some mint, diced red bell pepper, a little jalapeño and even some sweet corn that’s been sautéed with a little olive oil or butter—and maybe even some cilantro and diced tomato.

Grilled Grouper with Mango Butter
• 1/4 cup butter
1 shallot, minced
1 mango, peeled and cubed
1 tsp. honey
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine (like Chardonnay) or tequila
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
4 six-ounce grouper fillets
1 tbsp. olive oil
Sea salt to taste
White pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the shallot; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about five minutes. Stir in the mango, honey, the 1/4 cup of olive oil, white wine, red pepper flakes and salt. Reduce heat, and simmer until liquid has reduced slightly, about 10 minutes.

2. Brush both sides of the grouper fillets with the 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and season with salt and white pepper.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange grouper fillets on the skillet, and cook until the fish is opaque and separates easily under a fork, about four minutes on each side. Serve the fish with the mango sauce on top.

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