Grouper with Peppadew Goat Cheese Cream Sauce
One of my favorite local gourmet stores, The Green Turtle, has a wonderful rotating assortment of ingredients. In this small area of Florida, I've been able to find foie and truffles, and it's my go-to place to find staples like champagne or sherry vinegar. Last week, they had a beautifully red, glistening display of peppadew peppers, and I grabbed as much as they could cram into a small container.
Peppadews are becoming one of those instant-trends among foodies, like ramps or heirloom apples. They're one of those spontaneous pepper breeds that pop up in a particular region and nowhere else, like datil peppers out of St Augustine, Florida. Peppadews are very sweet, with just a little zing of heat to keep things interesting. The heat kick is really mild though, less than a jalapeno and much less than a datil. They're best when ripened to a bright red, but since the peppadew region is limited to South Africa (and seeds are jealously patented and guarded by the growers), it makes shipping to the rest of the world a little tricky. Therefore, the peppadews we find are usually pickled, which adds an acid-vinegar punch to the heat and sweetness.
One of the "classic" (if such a term exists for a pepper that has been shipped for less than a decade) preparations is peppadews stuffed with a soft buffalo or goat cheese, which plays wonderfully off the sweet, tangy, punch of the pepper. I decided to make the peppers into a sauce for fish, melting in the "traditional" goat cheese.
I started the sauce with a chicken-stock and aromatic base. Shallots (and if I had a dime for every shallot I've sliced...), a cup of chicken stock, and thyme sprigs are heated to a simmer on low heat.
I bought around a quarter pound of peppadews and some chevre goat cheese from Green Turtle, really mild and creamy. I took the peppers and pulsed them into smithereens in the mini processor.
I added them to the simmering sauce and stirred them in.
While the sauce simmered, I cut some fresh local grouper into two portions. Grouper happens to be a common local fish here in Florida, but this recipe would work really well with a northern fish like halibut, an African fish like cape capensis, or a European fish like hake or cod. Grouper is a firm, mild white fish, and it is easily substituted regionally, and can even be substituted by chicken cutlets.
I put some flour on a plate and added salt and pepper, then dredged the grouper to give it some flavor and a crispiness.
Once the sauce had reduced by half, I added 1/2 cup of heavy cream and let it simmer some more to thicken and reduce by half again.
I had preheated the oven to 400F, and I heated my 12 inch pan over medium-high until hot. I added some olive oil, swirled it to heat, then browned the grouper on one side. Once golden, I flipped the fillets and added it to the oven.
I wanted to do the (ahem) traditional serving of peppadews as a garnish (which, I have to say again, really works well), so I stuffed a few peppadews with the goat cheese while I was waiting for the grouper to cook.
When the sauce had reduced, and the grouper was four or five minutes from being cooked, I added about 1/3 cup goat cheese to the sauce to melt in and thicken up. A half-lemon of juice helped give it some brightness and depth. A little kosher salt to amplify the flavor a bit, and then I strained the sauce, pressing on the solids to get every bit of flavor out.
I made some rice to help soak up the sauce (toasted bread would work nicely, too). Plating was grouper with sauce over the top, some rice with thyme, and some cheese stuffed peppadews as a garnish.
Deconstruction: This is another one of those sauces that could almost be a really tasty soup. I think it would work with anything from the fish and chicken described above, to maybe some pork loin or tenderloin slices. It's sweet, it's nicely acidic, and man, that punch of heat is just enough to grab attention without needing a pint of ice water. Thyme was probably the perfect herbal accent, and if I wasn't so personally negative toward rosemary, I'd say that would work just as well. It's a very simple sauce, with very few ingredients just working naturally with each other. ----
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