If you listened closely, you might have heard chefs rejoicing all across town when grouper season officially opened May 1, and the meaty white fish has reappeared in abundance on menus from downtown to Sullivan's Island.
"Everybody in Charleston loves grouper," says Opal chef Ryan Camp, which is why he is currently featuring two dishes with the fish. The first is a grouper and risotto special ($28). The fish is lightly dusted in flour, seasoned salt, and white pepper, and then seared to perfection. Camp serves it over a crab and sweet corn risotto with a lemon tarragon beurre blanc and a side of asparagus. His other grouper dish is cooked the same way, but served over goat cheese, polenta, and spinach, with a hazelnut parsley pesto ($27).
At Stars, Chef Nathan Thurston will be cooking up local scamp grouper, which he says the restaurant will be getting in fresh this weekend. "Our local scamp grouper is very enjoyable with a noticeably unique sweetness," he says of the dish. The fish, which comes straight from Murrell's Inlet, is wrapped in thinly-sliced country ham and served with sautéed clams finished with an aromatic broth and flavored with heirloom garlic from Ambrose Farm. Geechie Boy "Big Grits" and seasonal fresh veggies like asparagus, breakfast radish, wild ramps, or crookneck squash come on the side ($28).
Chef Laird Boles at the recently opened Salt at Station 22 on Sullivan's Island likes to serve his favorite grouper dish with crookneck squash as well. His grouper is locally caught and pan-roasted with a crispy skin and served with a fennel potato purée, salsa verde, and a warm crookneck squash salad ($29). "I like this dish because of the complexity of flavors," says Boles. "There's a creamy component, a sharp herbal component with the salsa verde, and a light vegetable component in the salad that works really well with this meaty white fish."
Downtown at Amen Street, Chef Ramon Taimanglo says they don't have grouper yet, but for now they are featuring a play on Lowcountry Boil featuring "everything that's been popping up in local waters." The dish includes all local mussels, clams, roe shrimp, corn on the cob, potatoes, and tasso ham ($29).
Over at The Macintosh, they've been featuring Mark Marhefka's grouper, sauteed and served with asaparagus, squash, scarlet queen turnips, sugar snap peas, herbs pistou, and carolina sweet onion soubise ($29) — a succulent plate of the Lowcountry spring if ever there was one.