The cuisine for the fourth of July needs to be “hand grabbing” friendly. Hands, napkins and paper plates are mainly needed and maybe a plastic spoon for ice cream or potato salad but that’s it. Ribs, BBQ chicken, hot dawgs and hamburgers lead the charge but for those of us that like to throw and fish in the mix it’s going to be this recipe.
Fresh pink speckled trout filets deserve fancy sauces and toppings worthy of the catch but the Fourth of July holiday is a greenlight to” heat dat grease”. My summertime version for fried speckled trout revolves around a bright yellow citrus fruit that works so well with fish it was clearly ordained: the lemon. Folks just don’t like to get a piece of fish that tastes fishy and who can blame them? I’m not sure exactly how they can tell if it’s fishy or not because it looks like fried fish would taste exactly like ketchup based what I’ve witnessed.
Ceviche is a cooking method of raw fish using lemon and lime juices to chemically cook the meat. My recipe steals a little bit of this cooking technique to amplify the flavor of the lemon. First, I cut the fillets horizontally in half first then several times vertically to make finger sized portions. Then I place the speck fillets in a bowl with the juice of a couple of lemons and mix it up. Chill for thirty minutes while the oil is heating. A lemon-flavored fish fry mix at your local grocery provides the next layer of lemon.
The oil is heated to 325 degrees; I prefer Wesson oil to guarantee that light golden-brown color. The fillets are patted dry then dredged in the fish fry and safely lowered into the hot oil. Wait about 15 seconds or so before you stir the fillets loose from each other. Don’t walk off! It only takes about 3 minutes to fry these fillets or till they are floating. A big platter waiting in a warm oven is where you keep stacking this fried fish until it’s all cooked. The third and final layer of lemon comes once again from the lemon itself and making plenty of wedges available on the platter or table insures that this fried speckled trout a crunchy fresh lemon flavor. Have a fun Fourth and heat dat grease!
It’s hard to imagine redfish that currently swim in bountiful numbers among our coastal waters going the way of the dodo and the woolly mammoth but it almost did, and it wasn’t seafaring Neanderthals with primitive Shimanos that nearly caused the extinction of this fish. Nope. It was that colorful Cajun chef Paul Prudhomme.
Prudhomme created a recipe that was so obnoxious and novel with over the top flavors and clouds of noxious smoke that it had to be cooked outside. But for all that, blackened redfish became so popular that the species was actually threatened with extinction, and the federal government was forced to step in and invoke catch limits before we could make a salad to accompany the very last of its kind!
But be at ease. This prized game fish is back and has been back. In fact, the local anglers in Destin Florida call the huge “bull reds” a nuisance fish. I myself saw tens of thousands of them attacking bait fish in one football field sized school last summer near Ship Island, off the coast of Mississippi .
Folks who don’t saltwater fish only assume that an angler like me would surely target a redfish to throw on ice but to their dismay I tell them I don’t fish them intentionally for the table. There are a couple good reasons for this. When you clean a redfish the filet yield seems oddly low for such a large fish to be culled and secondly it’s about as easy to clean a redfish as it is to filet an armadillo.
But as all starving anglers do we develop a plan: Instead of filleting the meat clean off the fish why don’t we just cut off one side of the red’s body, lay it scales down over a charcoal grill, drench the meat side with garlic butter and slam the lid till it’s done? This technique accomplishes a couple of things and one by default. First, it ensures all the fresh fish meat is fully eaten. Secondly, you don’t wind up in the ER getting stitches fooling around trying to filet an armadillo and by default this recipe is far more delicious than blackened redfish simply because it’s about the fresh fish and not spices. The dicta of “Gulf to ice to knife to fire to plate” for this recipe in particular has anxious dinner guests staring in amazement at the cooking process.
Redfish on the half shell, as this technique is called, is the best way in my opinion to pay homage to this beautiful bronze resident in our coastal waters. Next time you have a chance to eat fresh redfish, try this particular preparation. Heat your gas grill or charcoal grill to a medium high heat. In a saucepan heat a stick of butter, juice of a lemon, some chopped garlic and Tony Chachere’s to taste for a drenching baste. Grease the grill a bit; lay on the redfish halves scales down and apply your drench liberally. Close the lid, but reapply the drench a couple of times in the cooking process. Remove when the meat is firm to the touch, add more fresh lemon and serve immediately.
David and Kim Odom are anglers par excellance along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.