When it comes to local, sustainable seafood, wreckfish is king among South Carolina fishermen. Found largely in the deep waters off the South Carolina coast, this fish thrives in the Charleston Bump, an area rich with caves, cliffs and ledges. The unique underwater topography makes for the perfect spawning environment and is the only commercial Atlantic wreckfish zone in the U.S. The Bump is also rich in squid—enough to satisfy the appetites of these big boys, which can sometimes exceed 100 pounds!
Because wild-caught wreckfish are managed using sustainable practices, they are popular among those who prize responsible harvesting. (Find them fresh at local seafood markets from mid-April through mid-January.) The fact that wreckfish is delicious is a major selling point, too. Mild and sweet like grouper, with a large, white flake and swordfish-like texture, this fish has enough going for it to vie as your new favorite sea-to-plate fish dish. It is low in fat, high in protein and a good source of good things like selenium and B vitamins. As far as preparation, you can broil it, bake it, grill it, pan-sear it or coat it in breadcrumbs or herbs for something especially savory.
While the delicate, fresh flavor of wreckfish lends itself well to simple preparations, it’s a fish that you can gussy up to create a gourmet masterpiece to impress your family and guests. Here, Chef Kevin Mitchell, one of four 2020 SC Chef Ambassadors, showcases wreckfish in an original recipe featuring Southern touches like fresh SC peaches pickled in a sweet tea brine and Sea Island red peas, an heirloom variety grown on SC sea islands. (They can sometimes be found in markets selling SC products or you can order them online from local growers and millers like Anson Mills or Geechie Boy Mill.
Put on your apron and follow Chef Mitchell’s three-tiered recipe for this South Carolina seafood dish. You’ll win tons of accolades for your efforts. Be sure to save a little applause for the versatile wreckfish, too.
Pan-seared Wreckfish with Sea Island Red Pea Succotash and Pickled Peaches
For the fish:
6 5-ounce portions of wreckfish, skin on
Salt and white pepper
Rice or Wondra flour
4 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Season the wreckfish with salt and pepper. Lightly dredge in rice flour to cover both sides. Place a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Sear the fish for 3 minutes on one side. Place pan in the oven and cook for an additional 5-6 minutes until fish becomes opaque and flaky. Serve with succotash and pickled peaches.
For the pickled peaches:
1 cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup sugar
1 cup sweet tea
½ cup water
½ tablespoon crushed red pepper
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick
6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 SC peaches, washed, pitted and sliced
Over low heat, add the vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, sweet tea, water, crushed red pepper, and thyme. Heat until the sugar dissolves (about 5 minutes). Make sure the mixture does not boil; you want it to be warm to the touch but not extremely hot. If it gets too hot, the peaches will cook, and you don’t want that! After sugar has dissolved, remove from heat. If it’s not warm to the touch, let it cool for a while. Place the peach slices into a 1-quart plastic container or mason jar. (You can add 2 sprigs of thyme if you like.) Pour the liquid mixture over the peaches. Make sure peaches are totally covered. Cover with lid and place in the refrigerator for one to two weeks.
Note: You can eat the peaches after being in the refrigerator for one hour, though the flavor develops more fully with time.
For the succotash:
10 ounces cooked Sea Island red peas with reserved cooking liquid (cook according to package directions)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped sweet onion (from 2 small onions)
6 ounces fresh okra, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 sprigs of thyme
fresh corn kernels cut from the cob of 2 large ears of corn
3 tablespoons butter
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 cup rough chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup chopped thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Over medium heat, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized Dutch oven. Add onion and okra and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, then add fresh corn. Cook about 5 minutes. Add cooked peas with about ½ cup reserved cooking liquid and cook just until peas are warmed through and liquid has slightly reduced. Add butter and cook stirring constantly until butter is melted, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in tomatoes, thyme and parsley and season to taste. Serve with pan-seared wreckfish and pickled peaches with a few sprigs of parsley tossed in olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.