Getting Cheeky with Grouper

One of best things about food blogging, besides getting to meet other bloggers from all over the world, is discovering all kinds of new foods and great ways to prepare them. In my blog travels I have learned so much. The talent out there is truly humbling!
One of the things I've been hearing about and seeing a lot of lately are fresh fish cheeks. Cheeks? Fish have cheeks? Yup, apparently they do. The cheek of a fish is the tiny pocket of meat found just below the eye. In many cultures, the cheeks have always been considered the best and most tender meat of the fish. Those in the know consider these tasty little morsels a delicacy. Halibut cheeks are prized in the Pacific Northwest, while grouper cheeks are sought after along the Gulf Coast.
I'm a little embarrassed to say that, not only had I never eaten fish cheeks before, but until I started following the blogs, I had never seen nor heard of them either. I know, I know, I should be stripped of my Mario Batali garlic slicer. But, I swear on my KitchenAid mixer, I'll try to do better!
About a week ago, I was scrolling down in my Google Reader, when something caught my attention. Amy over at Nook & Pantry had written a post about Halibut Cheeks on Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes with Chive Oil. Oooh! I clicked to read it and immediately began to drool all over my keyboard! Those succulent nuggets of crispy, golden cheeks called out to me. Of course, I knew that my chances of ever having an opportunity to actually taste them were pretty slim. Like I said before, I've never seen any kind of fish cheeks around here.
A few days later, I stopped by a local fish market looking for flounder, and what do you suppose I found? Fish cheeks!!! Grouper cheeks, to be exact! Can you believe it? What luck! I swear, it was kismet! Actually, I kinda, sorta thought for a fleeting moment that maybe this was a gesture from God because of all the sh*tty luck I've been having lately. Anyway, Divine Providence or not, those grouper cheeks were mine, mine, mine! I bought them all.
I prepared the fish very simply, much like Amy did. I seasoned it with salt, pepper and a dash of garlic powder. Then, I dusted it with a little flour and pan fried the cheeks in a mix of olive oil and butter. I served them over a mound of Israeli cous cous cooked with sauteed shallots, carrots and peas. You could use any combination of vegetables you like. I really like it with zucchini and red onion too. Whatever you have in the fridge is fine.
The verdict? It was fabulous! Those grouper cheeks were flaky, sweet and buttery, just like I knew they would be. The cous cous was the perfect unassuming little backdrop for them. From now on, I'll definitely be on the lookout for any kind of fish cheeks I can find. And, if I ever do find them again, I'm going to grab them!
Pan Fried Grouper Cheeks
1 1/2 lb grouper cheeks
Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
1/3 cup flour
3 tbsp butter
3 tbsp olive oil
Season the fish with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Coat them in flour, patting off the excess. Set aside.
Heat oil and butter In a large skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. Pan fry the cheeks on each side until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes per side.
Israeli Cous Cous with Sauteed Vegetables
4 tbsp butter, divided
1 large shallot, diced
1 carrot diced
1 cup frozen baby peas (or any vegetable you like, diced)
2 cups dried Israeli cous cous
2 cups water or chicken stock
Melt 2 tbsp butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Saute shallots and carrots until softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables and saute until tender.
Add cous cous and saute with vegetables about 1 minute.
Pour in water or broth and the rest of the butter. Bring to a boil. When boiling, lower heat, cover and simmer until liquid is absorbed and cous cous is tender, about 20 minutes.
Fluff and serve.
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Manggy said…
Susan, I love fish cheeks, but I didn't know fishmongers sold them that way! Also, I've only really eaten Tilapia cheeks so they are extremely tiny cheeks. But this looks good! (I won't count on ever seeing individual cheeks being sold, though :/ )
Helene said…
Fish cheeks rock! It took me a while to get B. to try them but now he loves them! Lovely preparation too!
Peter M said…
Now I know why my parents always asked to have the fish eat the fish cheeks!

I've been seeing some decent grouper fillets of late...I'll have to take one for the team.
When I was in Newfoundland years...and years ago they had cod tongues on the menu, which were actually their cheeks I was told. A grouper is a huge fish so plenty of tender meat to eat there...more than say.. Kokanee or bass cheeks.
Nicole said…
Great post! The one and only time I went fishing, I caught a couple of grouper. But the guys on the boat skinned and prepped the fish for me. I didn't get any cheeks. I didn't really know about them either.
I had Alaskan Hallibut cheeks in Soldotna, AK. They were amamzing. I thought the same cheecks? (as I raise one eyebrow). I guess it being the most tender is right....I mean, fish have these tiny little mouths that open and close about 2 cm to let the scum of the ocean in and then filter it back out through their gills. They don't chew a damn thing....lazy frickin aquatic masters of the sea. At least the fish I know.
My cheecks, however, would not be a delicacy. Since I am constantly shovelling food in my mouth and is probably the toughest meat on my body.

*note to cannibals.....Stacey has tough meat
I grew up eating grouper, hake, monkfish, cod cheeks... for us they are delicacy! I found them at Whole Foods once but they were not very fresh which is the key. I love it that you made a dish with cheeks. Fabulous!
Rachel said…
This looks fabulous!! I love fish cheeks.
Susan, I couldn't agree with you more! I love learning about new types of food - fish cheeks included. I have tried so many new things ever since I started blogging, it's amazing!
That dish look delicious.
Anonymous said…
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Susan @ SGCC said…
Manggy- Oh boy, I'll bet tilapia cheeks are tiny! I had never seen the grouper cheeks before that day, so I know it's not a regular thing. I wasn't asking any questions, though. I just grabbed them and ran!

Tartelette-Thanks! They sounded a little weird to me at first too. But, I'm always game to try new things.

Peter- Lol! You're probably right. They were probably hiding out eating fish cheeks after you went to sleep at night! ;)

Val- Cod tongues! Hehehe! Now I've heard everything! Were they good?
I'm dying to try some of the "other" cheeks too.

Nicole- Thank you! Uh oh. You can bet those guys had grouper cheeks for dinner that night.

Obsessive- I've heard that the halibut cheeks are the ultimate. I stopped in that same fish market today and asked if they could get me some. They're gonna let me know.

Oh come now! Your sweet cheeks? Tough? Never! ;)

Aran- Wow! How lucky! You're right, though. I always ask to smell and poke the fish before I buy it.

Rachel- Thanks! I'm a cheek lover now too!

Patricia- Absolutely! I'm getting a real education. And not only about food, either. I'm learning about cheaters and apparently from the comment below yours, about trolls too!
Anonymous said…
MMMmmm yumm, cheeks are the best part. That's my favorite part of getting whole steamed fish at chinese joints:-) Incidentally, there are other meats with these little mystery bits of deliciousness. Like chicken (or any poultry for that matter) have the "oysters" They're two little roundish pieces of meat that are often overlooked along the back (oppsite side from breast) near the thighs.
test it comm said…
That fish dish looks really good. I am going to have to pick up some grouper to try.
Anonymous said…
I love fish ... but I hardly ever cook it at home. My wife doesn't really like fish. I keep telling her to try different kinds of fish because they all have different flavors. Your dish looks very good! maybe she would give it a try.
RecipeGirl said…
Hmmm... I have definitely never had cheeks before. And that Israeli couscous looks so darn cute that I'm going to have to try that too!
Peabody said…
I have only ever had halibut cheeks but I love those. So I bet these are super tasty too.
Anonymous said…
Hi Susan, I've never heard of fish cheeks either! I don't think we can get them in the UK - although I could be wrong! We don't get grouper though, I'm pretty sure of that. I keep seeing recipes fro tilapia too, we definitely don't get tilapia either. They sound delicious though!
Can you believe that guy? Poor soul!
Aaron K said…
I love grouper throat and cheeks. Though they're a royal pain to clean just to get the small bit of meat. -A
Susan @ SGCC said…
Marc- I'm familiar with the chicken "oysters", but all the rest is new to me. I'm going to have to do a blog series on "cheeks"! Lol!

Kevin- Go for it! Just make sure it is "real" grouper. The only place I buy this particular fish is from a local seafood market with their own fishing boats.

Chuck- I'm glad you like the dish. My MIL is allergic to all seafood, so my FIL learned how to make it for himself.

RecipeGirl- You can probably get the coveted halibut cheeks where you are.

Israeli cous cous is a lot more like regular pasta. I like it because it doesn't get gummy.

Peabody- I thought they were really delicious. I would love to try the halibut cheeks!

Helen- From what I understand, all fish have cheeks. Halibut is supposed to be the best. Ask your fishmonger about it. If he gets whole fish, then he has cheeks.

Patricia- Nope. I cannot believe it. I try not to feed the trolls.

Aaron- Lol! I really enjoyed my cheeks, but I don't know that I would be game for cleaning the fish myself!
Anonymous said…
Oh - this looks just beautiful! Fresh and flavoursome and healthy. Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said…
ooh the cheeks, i looove the cheeks! this looks so delicious....mmmm
CookiePie said…
What a beautiful dish! LOVE grouper, LOVE israeli couscous - YUM! And I love the simple preparation - especially with fish, I think you can taste more when there's less going on. Deeelish!
Anonymous said…
My wife is obviously very ill.

I am sorry for her outburst.

Charles T. PhD
Amy said…
OOo! I'm so glad you were able to find some fish cheeks. They look delish!

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