Grouper Cheeks – How To Fillet Them And Cook ’em!

Why Grouper Cheeks

Grouper fillets are known for being delicious and highly sought after, but the cheeks are so often overlooked.  On a nice sized grouper, the cheeks are big enough to make the perfect fish sandwich. The cheek is an overworked muscle so its meat retains shape, and is rich in flavor with a lobster-like flesh.  Often thought of as a delicacy around the world, grouper cheeks are one of the sweetest, most tender parts of the fish. Grouper fish can weigh up to 500 lbs, but much smaller specimens make it to market, usually about 5-15 lbs. However, try to buy a full Grouper no larger than 10 lbs, because fish extending past that have been associated with ciguatera poisoning. Markets will most likely sell Grouper as skinless fillets being the most common, but also as steaks and the whole fish. Depending on the weight of the Grouper, the cheek fillets can be as small as a cherry, or as large as an orange. Also known as perch, rock cod, sea bass, black or red grouper, this fish is usually reddish-brown with dark spots, while the black ones have greyish spots. Despite the Grouper’s darker exterior, its cheek flesh is whitish-pink in color. The pinkish color in the white meat shows the freshness, and will turn white and tender as the fillet is cooked. The sweet, flaky fillet resembles the flavor of a halibut or bass fish and can be prepared in a number of ways including frying, poaching, steaming, boiling, or searing and will remain sweet, firm, and delicious. Despite the fillet being sweet and tender, the skin of the grouper is very tough and can give the dish a strong flavor when cooking the skin, so make sure to remove it prior to cooking. There are over 400 species of groupers and they can be found year round in warmer saltwaters like the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

How to Fillet Grouper Cheeks

Most people end up throwing away the rest of the grouper fish after filleting it and they forget all about the sweet meat in the cheeks. When filleting the cheeks, you will feel a soft spot on the cheek. Cut around this soft spot, with your knife lining the bone and doing most of the work, and you will end up with a perfect grouper cheek fillet.

Grouper Cheeks Recipe

There are many different ways to prepare grouper cheeks. You can fry, sear, grill, poach, or boil them, as well as using them in soups, stews, and boils. Grouper cheeks with orange sauce is a delicious and healthy recipe for you, or for the whole family. This simple and delicious recipe takes about twenty minutes to make. Even though grouper cheeks may be looked over, this dish accentuates the naturally sweet flavors of the grouper and will be sure to impress at any occasion.

Grouper Cheek Ingredients:

Approximately 1 pound fresh grouper cheeks                                    

  • 3 ounces portobello mushrooms
  • 3 ounces oyster mushrooms                                                                   
  • 1 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1 cup heavy cream                                                                   
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • zest from 1 large orange                                                                          
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh turmeric root
  • 1/2 red bell pepper and 1/2 yellow bell pepper, 1/2-inch dice   
  • 3 tablespoons butter

Grouper Cheek Fillets with an Orange Cream Sauce

  1. After filleting the grouper or purchasing the grouper cheeks, check for bits of bone and skin and rinse it under cold water, then dry.
  2. Cut up the portobello mushrooms, along with dicing the bell peppers.
  3. Zest the orange and mince the unpeeled turmeric root.
  4. In a skillet large enough for all of the ingredients, start melting the butter.
  5. Season the grouper cheeks on each side with salt and pepper, and saute for 3-4 min each side on medium heat.
  6. Set the grouper cheeks aside and add the mushrooms, peppers, turmeric root and orange zest to the skillet, and cook until tender.
  7. Add the vermouth and reduce until almost dry.
  8. Then add the heavy cream and reduce the sauce until it is your desired thickness.
  9. Add the grouper cheeks and stir the mix gently until all elements are heated.
  10. Serve with your favorite vegetable or side. Rice pairs great with this dish.

grouper cheeksThe cheek meat is so often overlooked when anglers fillet a grouper and it is such a sweet piece of meat.

Known by most on the docks as “Fly,” you can pretty much expect to see Robert "Fly" Navarro at the sport's largest tournaments and hot spots. Fly began the life of a traveling deckhand in his early 20's. He took a childhood passion and turned it into a career that took him around the world work...