August may be hot, but there is plenty happening for sportsmen in the Carolinas. Saltwater fishing has been good all summer, and some freshwater species are beginning to become active again. Deer hunters in parts of South Carolina get a head start in mid-August, and a lot of migratory bird seasons open Sept. 1.

August is also the first month that shows a break in the hot weather. At some point, a couple of days will show up with cool mornings and evenings. They will be easily noticed, and it’s the first sign that summer will soon begin to wear down.

This is an excellent time to enjoy your evening meal on the deck or patio with family and friends, and there are lots of options of what to serve. You could get rid of the last of last season’s venison to make room for this year’s, and you can cook fish to produce freezer space for the upcoming fall catch. But it is also a time when several favorite offshore fish move closer to shore, so the fish will be fresh.

Grouper are one such fish. They’re feeding heavily to gain weight and store reserves for the winter, and fishermen sometimes find gag grouper in only 50 to 60 feet of water. It’s time to put some tasty fillets in the freezer before interests turn to hunting, and no one will refuse a quick meal or two of fresh grouper.

An often-overlooked part of a grouper is its cheeks, oval pieces of meat that, while not quite as flaky as a flank fillet, are special in its own right. In larger grouper, this is a surprisingly large piece of meat, and it only takes a few to have a pound of boneless, prime meat.

Grouper cheeks are often described as being the texture of and tasting like scallops. That’s not what I think when I eat them, but I haven’t found a better description. They’re excellent baked, broiled, fried, grilled and any other way they can be prepared. 

So when a couple of big grouper come across your cutting board, don’t just take out the flaky fillets. Do yourself a favor and take time to use a sharp fillet knife and scoop out the cheeks. They’re tasty prepared in any way, and this recipe is easy and fun. 


Cheeky grouper kabobs

Just about everyone who likes fish, likes grouper. Their mild-flavored fillets can be prepared a number of ways, and all are excellent. This recipe uses grouper cheeks, which are pieces of meat that are in cavities in the skull below the eyes and above the mouth. 

Most fish have cheeks, but not all are worth the effort to remove. Grouper cheeks are larger and always worth the effort to remove. Many folks, myself included, consider them a delicacy. The cheeks from a half-dozen grouper are a meal in themselves, and this is a tasty way to prepare them and an attractive presentation to serve them.

This recipe has stayed much the same for the years I have been preparing it. One change that makes it easier is that Kikkoman now has a Teriyaki Baste and Glaze that includes pineapple juice and honey. For years, I mixed this and never had exact proportions but did it to taste. You can still do this and use fresh pineapple juice for a little more tart edge to its flavor or sweetened pineapple juice for a sweeter flavor. Pineapple is the same. Pineapple chunks from a can labeled sweetened are sweeter, and sweet or slightly tart are a personal preference. 

I have a Tupperware basting tray that is old enough to be an antique but is just right for marinating grouper cheeks. It has raised sections on the bottom and in the lid so the meat doesn’t sit flat on the bottom. Every 20 to 30 minutes, I flip it over and let the marinade work its way back over and around the meat.

I use black pepper and Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning on the vegetables, and I use them to taste. They aren’t marinated so they will stay a little crisp. Cavender’s is more of a salt mixture, and I believe a little goes a long way. If you’re not used to it, use it sparingly. You can add more at the table.

I use a regular green bell pepper because I can’t find it in miniature. Baby bells are more tender and milder in flavor and come red, orange and yellow, which add color and festivity to the meal. You can use only the baby bells if you like.

Add the ingredients to the skewers in any order you like. One suggestion: if you like your fish cooked well-done, be sure and put a pineapple chunk on each side of the fish. This will help prevent it from drying out.

Remember that cooking time varies from grill to grill. I set my grill on medium for this recipe. Watch the edges of the cheeks and the vegetables, and don’t allow them to burn. The occasional crusting is fine, but heat that is too high will burn the edges.

The skewers will get hot and be difficult to hold when you turn them. Gloves don’t help much, so I keep a bowl of water nearby and dip my fingers to keep them cool. It is well worth the effort, and I’m sure you will enjoy this unique part of the fish. Do yourself a favor and give grouper cheek kabobs a try. Enjoy! 

TIP: To keep meat from drying out while being cooked on skewers, surround it with two pieces of fruit.


INGREDIENTS:

1 pound grouper cheeks

1 green bell pepper

1 package of baby bell peppers, assorted colors

1 medium sweet onion

1 medium can or produce pack of pineapple chunks

1 package cherry tomatoes

1 package whole mushrooms

1 bottle Kikkoman Teriyaki Baste & Glaze

Black pepper

Cavender’s All Purpose Greek Seasoning


PREPARATION: 

Cut grouper cheeks into approximately 2- inch pieces. Lay in marinating tray and add Kikkoman Teriyaki Baste and Glaze. Marinate at least an hour while slicing vegetables and doing other preparations. Turn several times. Soak wooden skewers in water for at least 30 minutes.

Cut onion into eighths and separate pieces. Remove seeds from the bell peppers and slice them into approximately 1-inch widths. Combine onion, peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms in a large pan or bowl and season to taste with black pepper and Cavender’s seasoning.

Put grouper cheeks, vegetables and pineapple chunks on skewers. If you like your fish well done, be sure to put a pineapple chunk on each side of each cheek piece. Spray a grill tray with non-stick cooking spray. Preheat grill to medium. Place the grill tray on the grill and arrange the skewers on it. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, depending on grill heat. Turn the skewers over and cook approximately 4 minutes, depending on grill heat and how well you want them done. Serve immediately.

This is a light summer meal, tailor-made for enjoying with family and friends while enjoying the sunset on a deck or patio.  It includes grilled vegetables and works well accompanied by a cool fresh garden salad or lettuce wedge. Those who would like dessert will find flan or chilled rice pudding top it off very well.