Life of the Party

ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA
05:28PM

florida, jeffrey jew, grouper
James Roper

As a professional chef, there's nothing I love more than the challenge of a dinner party—especially when it's mine. Tonight, for an early dinner I'm throwing for a few friends, I'm making pan-seared wild-caught grouper, which I bought this morning at Sammy's, my favorite St. Petersburg fishmonger. After searing the thick fillets in butter and thyme, I decide to make the most of Florida's prized produce with a citrus sauce, which will contrast nicely with the fish's meaty, rich flesh. I start by reducing orange juice and white wine in a pan. Then, to offset the slight bitterness you get when orange juice cooks down, I throw in some sweet lump crabmeat and a few pinches of bright, tart sumac. At the last minute, I decide to add a final aromatic touch—pickled fennel—which I'll pile atop the fish before pouring on the sauce. Alongside the fish I'll serve baby kale salad with a lemon vinaigrette, toasted pine nuts, and pecorino.

The meal will wrap up, I've decided, with a dish that will once again highlight Florida citrus: my version of lemon posset, an old-fashioned English dessert I learned to make when I was working at the Connaught Hotel in London. It's really simple, just heavy cream and sugar heated together, mixed with lemon juice, strained, and poured into ramekins to chill. When we sit down to eat, I know I will be surrounded by contentment.