Cooking With Local Chefs

Cooking with Chef Rov Avila: Getting saucy in the kitchen

A perfectly cooked piece of fresh Gulf grouper, whether it be grilled, pan seared, baked or fried, is hard to beat. When it's paired with a fresh vegetable and seasoned rice or a starch of your choice, it is one of the best meals you can eat. But why not bring that dish to a higher level of flavor with a sauce?

There are many different types of sauces that you can easily make at home to give your dishes that restaurant-quality flavor most of us like when going out for dinner.

There are cream sauces, butter-based sauces, salsas and chutneys, as well as regional types of sauces (Asian, Italian, Latin). The convenient thing about sauces is that many of them can be created with easy to follow procedures and ingredients that are readily available in most grocery stores. The more you make sauces and become familiar with different methods, the more you can venture out and make up your own recipes and perhaps stumble upon your "signature" sauce.

I'm a fan of lightly blackened grouper. Now as for the sauce, I'm sharing a recipe for an orange monter au beurre (which means "To finish with butter" in French). It is a classical method for making a glossy sauce that will evenly coat the fish as well as give your palate a nice play of the citrusy sweet flavor of the sauce with the mildly spicy grouper.

Blackened Grouper

3-4 (6 ounce) grouper filets

1-2 ounce of blackening seasoning (use recipe that follows or any store-bought blackened or Cajun-style seasoning will work as well)

Canola pan coating spray

3 ounces of water

Orange/cognac reduction (monter au beurre); recipe follows

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees, sprinkle the seasoning all over the

grouper filets (the more you apply the more the color your fish will have). Spray a baking pan with the pan coating spray and lay the fish on the pan. Lightly spray the fish as well.

Add the water to the pan (this is to prevent the fish from becoming too dry) and bake for about 10 minutes then take the baking pan out of the oven and remove the foil. Return the fish to the oven and bake for an additional 6-8 minutes. The best way to confirm your fish is finished is by checking to make sure that it has reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Once cooked place on plate on plate, top immediately with the orange/cognac reduction and serve.

Blackened seasoning

1 cup paprika

3 teaspoons cayenne pepper (for spicier or milder seasoning you can adjust the amount of cayenne to your desired taste, the amount provided in the recipe will give you a medium amount of spiciness)

2- 1/2 tablespoons granulated garlic

1- 1/2 tablespoons onion powder

1- 1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper

2 tablespoons salt (I prefer kosher salt, but regular table salt will work just as well)

3 teaspoons oregano

Combine all seasonings together in mixing bowl until thoroughly blended.

Orange/Cognac reduction (Monter Au Beurre)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Juice and zest from 1 ripe orange (use Valencia orange if available)

1 ounce of minced shallot

1/2 ounce of minced garlic

1/2 cup of cognac (if cognac is not available you can use brandy or even Marsala wine)

1- 1/2 cups of orange juice

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

3/4 cup of cold unsalted butter

Heat the olive oil in a sauce pot and add the orange zest, shallots, garlic and sweat for about 1-2 minutes once at this point you will add the cognac (keep in mind that the cognac will more than likely flame up) keep stirring the mixture and let the liquid reduce by half or when the flame goes out on its own. Add the orange juice and the honey and mix thoroughly.

Let the mixture simmer for about 8-10 minutes and reduce the flame to a very low heat. It is at this point that you will add the butter while constantly whisking so it doesn't break. Once the liquid thickens up, it's finished.

Note: Once the butter has been added do not bring the liquid to a boil to reheat or the sauce will break.

Chef Rov Avila, a native of Honduras, is a culinary arts instructor at MTI Culinary Arts and an event chef at the USF Culinary Innovations Lab at Lakewood Ranch.