The Sporting South

Chefs at Sea

By Dave MezzSeptember 7, 2012

Two things we love about Charleston: the food and the fishing. Which is why we were proud to sponsor this past weekend’s Local Catch Cookout, organized by the Charleston Wine + Food Festival (February 28–March 3).

All photos: Andrew Cebulka

The gathering brought together a group of the city’s finest chefs to prepare a feast of locally sourced seafood. But here’s the twist: First they had to catch it. The day prior, the whole crew (along with a fishy G&G editor) headed about thirty miles offshore on the 45-foot Teaser2  to bring home the bounty.

The weather gods clearly approved, as we had a perfectly calm day. As for the fishing? That didn’t disappoint either. We were set up for bottom fishing, and the black sea bass were thick, interspersed with some nice vermillion snapper. Guest chef Frank Stitt, of Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Alabama, pulled up a beautiful red snapper as well, which went back into the drink for another day (currently off-limits). And though we didn’t get into a ton of grouper this trip, Carlye Dougherty, of Charleston’s Heirloom Book Company.,  brought up the catch of the day with a good-sized gag grouper. She looked just a wee bit excited.

We saw a couple of sea turtles surfacing, and a rather sizeable tiger shark even showed up to check out the proceedings. Before it was time to head back, we also got into a school of hard-charging amberjack, which was a blast (if you’ve never seen Sean Brock tangling with a big amberjack, well, let’s just say the man doesn’t back down).

Rubbery arms and all, the chefs were hard at work on Saturday to prepare the catch, supplemented with some local shrimp, and shellfish from the incomparable Clammer Dave.  From Stitt’s grilled amberjack with golden chanterelles to Mike Lata’s fritto misto, the chefs proved that fresh ingredients, in the right hands, can make all the difference. A crowd favorite was Frank McMahon’s summery and light black sea bass ceviche, based on a traditional South American preparation. And while you can use a variety of fresh seafood for this dish, McMahon, the chef at Charleston seafood shrine Hank’s, says sea bass lends itself particularly well. “First of all, it’s a local fish,” he says, “and it marinates quickly and doesn’t become rubbery. It’s nice and tender.”

To see the chefs in action, click here for a photo gallery. And yes, McMahon was happy to share that ceviche recipe, adapted from the recently released Hank’s cookbook.  Check it out below, and a big thanks to Capt. Mark Brown, who kept us safe, comfy, and on the fish.

Hank’s Ceviche
Serves 8

¼ cup thinly sliced yellow onion
¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro
½ medium jalapeño, diced
2 tbsp minced garlic
¼ cup julienned jicama

In a bowl, toss all ingredients together and set aside.

1 lb. diced black sea bass
6 oz. freshly squeezed lime juice
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the fish and mixed vegetables in a bowl. Toss with the lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly and let sit for about 3 minutes. To serve: Put the mixture in a 3-inch ring mold, pack down and let a little juice exude around the ring. Pour a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil around the ring, and top the ceviche with fried taro chips (see below).

Taro Chips
1 taro root
peanut oil, for frying
kosher salt

With a sharp knife, cut off the top and bottom of the taro. Cut or peel off the skin. Slice the taro into thin rounds using a mandolin; stack the rounds on top of each other and slice into thin strips. Deep fry at 350 degrees until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and season with salt to taste.