Recipe: Grouper with Pan-Roasted and Pickled Butternut Squash

Samantha Tancredi

Sean Brock, partner and chef of McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, has received national recognition for his craftsmanship and for his investment in serving only the freshest cuisine to the restaurant’s hungry patrons. Here we have Brock’s recipe for Grouper with Pan-Roasted and Pickled Butternut Squash, offering a brief glimpse into his creative genius.

Cloaked in American history, McCrady’s Restaurant is home to southern hospitality and farm-fresh feasting. Chef Sean Brock uses locally sourced ingredients from the rooftop garden and nearby Lowcountry vendors to prepare every dish with the highest regard for quality, taste, and artistry. Demonstrating his inspiration and execution, here’s a short word from the chef, followed by the recipe:

“I was in the garden picking butternut squash one day and was really enjoying the smell of the plant—the sweet aroma was just filling the air. I stopped for a moment to really take it all in, and my head was swimming with ideas for what to do with the squash once it made its way into the kitchen. Then I got a whiff of another aroma that was blowing through the field. I looked up and noticed I was sitting right beside a patch of nasturtiums. I picked a couple of the flowers and leaves, carved a little piece of raw squash away with my pocket-knife, and ate both at the same time. It was a match made in heaven. A garden can teach you so much. All you have to do is stop and smell the flowers every once in a while.”

Pickled Butternut Squash

1 large butternut squash (about 2¼ pounds)
2 cups rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cracked coriander seeds (spin them quickly in a blender or hammer them lightly in a Ziploc bag)
1 tonka bean, smashed with the side of a knife
1 tarragon sprig
Peel the squash and cut the neck off.
Reserve the bottom half for the pan-roasted squash—wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Slice the neck paper-thin on a meat slicer or a mandoline.
Put the sliced squash, vinegar, salt, sugar, coriander seeds, tonka bean, and tarragon in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.
Remove from the heat, cool to room temperature, and pour into a container.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 48 hours. (The squash can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Nasturtium Butter

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups nasturtium leaves
1 cup nasturtium flowers
Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and process until the flowers and leaves are just little specks in the butter.
Scrape the butter onto a sheet of parchment paper and shape it into a 1-inch-thick log.
Wrap the butter in plastic wrap to seal it airtight and refrigerate it.
(The nasturtium butter will keep for up to 1 day in the refrigerator.)


½ cup raw hazelnuts, lightly crushed (under a heavy skillet)
¼ cup hazelnut oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Put the hazelnuts in a small bowl and toss them with the hazelnut oil and salt. (Tightly covered with plastic wrap, the nuts will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.)

Pan-Roasted Butternut Squash

Reserved bottom of the squash
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
Kosher salt
About 30 minutes before serving, start the pan-roasted butternut squash.
Cut the squash bottom in half and scoop out the seeds and strings.
Slice the squash into ½-inch-thick half-moons.
Preheat the oven to 200°F.
Heat a large skillet over high heat.
When it is hot, add the butter and oil.
When the butter foams, add the squash, sprinkle lightly with salt, and cook, constantly basting the slices with the butter and oil, until golden brown on the first side, about 2 minutes.
Turn the slices over and repeat the process; the squash should be fork-tender.
Season again with salt.
You can keep the squash warm in the oven for up to 20 minutes.


½ cup canola oil
Twelve 3-ounce grouper fillets, about 2½ inches thick
Kosher salt
12 thyme sprigs
2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed, skin left on
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Heat two large cast-iron skillets over high heat and add ¼ cup of the oil to each pan.
Season the fillets with salt.
When the oil shimmers, add 6 fillets to each skillet skin side up and sear them for 2 minutes, without shaking the pan or touching the fillets.
Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook until the fillets are golden brown on the first side, about 4 minutes (peek under the fillets to check).
Transfer the fillets to paper towels. Discard the oil.
Return the skillets to medium-high heat.
Divide the thyme and garlic between the skillets.
Lay the fillets skin side down on the bed of thyme and garlic and add 2 tablespoons of the butter to each skillet.
Baste the fish with the butter until cooked through, about 4 minutes; the flesh should flake when prodded with a fork.


1 cup fresh orange juice
½ cup Nasturtium Butter (from above)
Nasturtium leaves and flowers (optional)
Put the orange juice in a small nonreactive saucepan and bring it to a boil over high heat.
Reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer until the juice is reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 10 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low.
Slice the log of nasturtium butter into 1-inch-thick slices and whisk it one piece at a time into the sauce; remove the saucepan from the heat if the butter starts to melt instead of emulsify.


To Complete

Place 2 grouper fillets in the center of each of six large warm plates.
Place 2 pieces of roasted squash at the top of the fillets and 2 pieces at the bottom.
Drizzle about ¼ cup of the sauce around the plate.
Place a pickled squash slice at the top and the bottom of the fillets.
Sprinkle the plates with the hazelnuts and garnish with nasturtium leaves and flowers, if desired.

Excerpted from Heritage by Sean Brock (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Peter Frank Edwards