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Truth is, since we arrived to Florida’s Nature Coast we’ve been dining-out more than usual. We blame the winter festivals – Manatee Festivals, Pirate Festivals, Mermaid Festivals – and the excellent Dock-side seafood grills, diners and oyster bars. With fresh oysters priced at a half-dollar each, and shrimp and crab and fresh game fish on every menu at bean burrito prices … what’s the point of cooking? But, this morning, when we opened the back of the truck and spied our little weber grill, we decided to treat ourselves to a home-smoked meal.
First, a visit to the local’s favorite gettin’ place, Shelly’s Seafood in Homosassa.
Grouper, mullet, sheep head, red snapper and bass are plentiful in these waters.
Shelly’s Seafood specializes in Sheep Head
Always trust the locals. They wait in line outside Shelly’s.
We chose about 2 pounds each of Sheep Head and Grouper.
With our freshly filleted fish, we drove back to Chassahowitzka River campground…
… where Jim got reaquainted with his little Weber grill … and I laid out the fish to get it to room temperature…
… then washed it
… and patted dry
… and seasoned, generously, with Tony Chachere’s Original Creole seasoning.
Then, I melted about a half cup of butter
and basted the fish
While the fish rested in the marinade, Jim clipped down our sweet little rosemary tree which we picked up at Costco in Birmingham, Alabama last November, after Thanksgiving.
Our cheery little Christmas tree helped us to celebrate our first holiday season in this new lifestyle. The perfect size for decorating with a single string of lights, this living topiary was the ideal travel companion throughout the holidays – small, light-weight, clean and neat (no shedding needles) and so fragrant that it kept the trailer smelling fresh when it was inside, and illuminated the night with holiday charm when outside. It also provided seasoning for our holiday cuisine, potatoes, homemade bread, soups, steaks and seafood … Thank you, little rosemary tree.
To make the branches burn/smoke longer, Jim soaked them in water for an hour or so.
Then piled them on the hot grill
Right away, I transferred the fish to an aluminum foil tray I fashioned so as to dam in the juices. Grouper and Sheep Head are not fatty like salmon, so to keep them from drying too much, the juices and butter marinade must stay close to the fish.
Topping with fresh lemon slices also helps retain moisture.
Now, we simply closed the lid, relaxed with a glass of wine (and, Jim, a cigar) and basked in the fragrance. Several neighbors came by to ask, “What’s cookin’?” … We do have California plates, after all …
About 30 minutes later, Jim checks the temperature.
Almost 100. Time to baste with the honey-butter glaze!
Previously, I had simmered ½ cup of butter and ¼ cup of honey for about 5 minutes – stirring constantly until thick, then …
… removed the lemons and basted the fish with all of the glaze.
Then, Jim closed the lid and smoked for another 40 minutes until the temperature reached 160 on the smaller filets, the sheep head. Time to remove that.
But the grouper took about 20 minutes longer. In about an hour and a half the fish was perfectly smoked. The idea of using this method is to infuse the meat with the rosemary. Cooking it low and slow is the only way to do that, so we used the lowest possible setting on the Weber. Not only is the fish tastier when cooked slow, but the “low, slow” method is also healthier.
Even now, as the grill is almost completely cooled down, the aromatics remain a pleasure that we and our fellow campers appreciate.
Dinner is served, with plenty extra for the rest of week to make omelettes, soups, tacos, dips and salads.
And cheers to our classy little table lantern – a gift, from the workshop of our friend and trailer-daddy, Larry Cook.
Jim’s Holy Smokin’
Chassahowitzka Sheep Head or Grouper
Recipe For a Small Weber Grill
- Soak in water a grocery bag full of rosemary branches for at least an hour.
- Wash and pat dry 4 lbs of fresh fish (not frozen) and let sit about 20 minutes until room temperature.
- Season generously on both sides with a seasoning salt like Tony Chacere’s or Old Bay.
- Melt ½ cup butter and baste the fish on both sides.
- Make an aluminum foil tray to fit the inside of the grill so it doesn’t overlap when the lid is shut. Roll the foil so the edges are raised at least an inch high, so fluids cannot escape.
- Make a glaze with ½ cup of butter and ¼ cup of honey (or Steen’s cane syrup or maple syrup). Simmer over medium-low heat until the glaze thickens slightly. Cover and set aside.
- Slice 2-4 lemons and set aside.
- Fire up the grill and set the temperature to as low as it will go
- Once grill is hot, place rosemary branches on the grill covering it entirely
- Immediately transfer fish to aluminum foil tray and place directly onto the rosemary branches.
- Cover the fish with the lemon slices.
- Close the grill and do not open for 30 minutes.
- 30 minutes later, check the temperature.
- When temperature reaches 100, take off the lemon slices and baste with all of the honey-butter glaze.
- Close the grill and check every 20 minutes.
- When the temperature reaches 160 degrees, remove from the grill.
- Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for future use.