Sporting Life

Harrison Doyle with a black grouper.

A Very Tasty New Year

By Dennis Doyle

Rick Thomas had just streamed out our rigged ballyhoo baits and set the first two medium weight outfits in their holders and was preparing the third line when the first two rods pitched over in hard arcs. My two sons raced for the rigs, though no one was quite prepared for the instant action.

Harrison leaned back against his rod, the reel spewing out line to a running fish, though we had no idea of its identity. The Atlantic Gulf Stream off of Miami is home to countless varieties this time of year, many of them quite sizable and everyone’s imagination was on fire with the possibilities.

Our sights, however, were not set on the more glamorous species. A cold front had recently moved through the Miami area sending the temps plunging down into the low 70s last week and putting a big question mark on just what fish would be responding in the area. 

Captain Jimbo Thomas had suggested we troll the nearby reefs for grouper and snapper on that day as the colder temperatures had made the larger fish, such as marlin, wahoo and sailfish, quite scarce. Since our family was gathered together in Miami for the holidays, it sounded like an ideal solution as those two species were among the top dining choices to be had and we all do love seafood.

We soon lost one of the hookups but the first fish, within minutes, turned out to be a handsome, 12 pound black grouper which would shortly be followed by its near twin. The Miami area is one of the most fortunate locations for saltwater anglers in the whole of the U.S. The Gulf Stream, the warm ocean current that wanders from the Gulf of Mexico up our East Coast to North Carolina then out into the Atlantic, brings with it conditions that favor a large number of fish. And that current comes within spitting distance of the Miami shoreline.

Shortly after landing the two groupers we then lucked into a reef area rich with mutton snappers, a particularly desirable fish, renown for their table quality. Rick, our bait rigger and Jim’s brother, was extra busy that morning rigging one ballyhoo after another as the snappers cruising the reef snacked on them one after another until we had about a dozen resting in our ice chest.

Back at our apartment overlooking the Atlantic that evening, I spent a few moments cutting up some grouper fillets. Dicing the thick white meats into bite-sized pieces I began to prepare a gourmet treat for the family, New Year Ceviche. Putting about a pound of the grouper pieces into a ceramic bowl, I added in a teaspoon of sea salt, two tablespoons of olive oil, three minced garlic cloves and a generous cup and a half of thinly sliced sweet onion, plus a quarter cup of chopped, fresh cilantro. Massaging the mixture so that all the grouper got involved in the spices, I then squeezed the juice from four fat lemons and a like number of limes. After pouring those juices over the grouper and spice mixture I gently folded the affair until all the ingredients were well mixed. Covering the ceramic bowl with plastic wrap I set it aside in the refrigerator overnight to marinate. The citric acid in the juices would render the fish in a few hours, giving the pieces a great flavor with the texture of tender cooked shrimp.

Served on a bed or lettuce with some crackers on the side the grouper was an extra delicious way to bring in the New Year. The fact that a luncheon would soon follow involving crispy fried fillets of mutton snapper coated with a crunchy Panko coating would just make things that more flavorful, and a fantastic way to bring in 2022.