Chef Justin Burdett’s take on grilled fish plays on his love of Southern ingredients, particularly vegetables. The dish is one of his first additions to the menu at Crook’s Corner, the venerable Chapel Hill, North Carolina, restaurant where he took the reins in January. Smoky ham hocks provide the base for a spicy broth to cook mustard greens, both of which become a foundation for whole grilled black sea bass. “You get this nice tangy, porky broth,” Burdett says. “It works well with mild fish because it gives it some oomph.”
For the Fish
2 whole black sea bass (roughly 2 lbs. per fish), gutted, scaled, and fins removed
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 lemon, halved
For the Ham Broth and Greens:
2-3 lbs. smoked ham hocks
4-6 jalapeños or other chile peppers depending on desired level of spice, chopped
1 gallon water
2-3 bunches mustard greens, stems and ribs on, chopped
6 radishes, shaved (for garnish)
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley (for garnish)
Set grill to high heat, around 400 degrees F. Leaving the head on, score the fish with 3 deep incisions on each side. (Scoring keeps the fish from curling when cooking.) Rub a generous amount of olive oil onto both sides of the fish and season with salt and pepper.
Grill about 6-7 minutes per side to make sure the meat is cooked all way through to spine. Place lemon halves on grill, cut side down, for 2-3 minutes, until nicely caramelized.
Place ham hocks and peppers in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed stock pot and cover with water. (As broth cooks, add more peppers to reach desired spice level.) Bring to a boil over high-heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer for about 2 hours, periodically skimming the fat. After 2 hours, strain the broth and discard the bones. Return the broth to the pot, add the chopped mustard greens, and cook over medium heat until wilted but not mushy, approximately 1-2 minutes.
To serve, divide ham broth and greens between two shallow serving dishes. Top each with a whole, grilled fish. Top fish with shaved radishes and chopped parsley and squeeze grilled lemon over each.
Recipe courtesy of chef Justin Burdett, Crook’s Corner