Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species enjoyed in our restaurants, seafood markets, and homes. For the full survey so far, click here. Or use the links at the bottom to move up and down the list.
Redfish has returned to restaurants in recent years, thanks to the success of redfish farms. I haven't had any wild redfish to compare it with (I'm not a fisherman, and commercial fishing is illegal in this state), but the quality satisfies my palate.
Redfish is probably the most versatile of local fish. There's not a single preparation I can think of that I'd hesitate to apply to it. It's an exceptional fish for the grill. It's the best local fish of all for poaching. Poached redfish with hollandaise is almost too good in comparison with its simplicity.
The same process with more flavorings in the poaching liquid results in redfish courtbouillon, a greatly neglected classic. Pan-sauteed dishes with redfish are terrific. Baked redfish--whether done with the whole fish or fillets, with or without toppings--are superb. Smoked redfish is wonderful. About the only thing I wouldn't do with redfish is serve it raw. (The fish is prone to parasitical worms which are harmless to humans, but they're still disgusting if you see one moving.)
The most important thing to know about redfish when cooking it is to eliminate any of the dark blood lines that you might find. As usual, the smaller ones are better than the big ones.
Inferior Alternatives. When ordering redfish in a restaurant, ascertain whether it is actually redfish. Black drum is a close cousin and not an unacceptable substitute. Another is a Central American fish called corvina, which even experts find difficult to distinguish from true redfish except that it has no black spot on the tail. The problem with corvina is that, like most warm-water fish, it's highly perishable than usual, and it has a way of being a little over the hill when served.
We might still have wild redfish were it not for the blackened redfish craze in the 1980s. To satisfy the demand, the commercial fishermen went nuts, even hauling in bull redfish. Those are the big, unappetizing breeding stock. The practice decimated the species' ability to reproduce. That problem has abated, and the numbers suggest that redfish could be fished commercially again--but the law hasn't changed. Yet. Write your legislator.
Redfish On The Half-Shell
This is a great and simple way to cook a redfish, drum, or any other fish around four or five pounds. It should be done outdoors, because it has only one drawback: in the first few minutes of cooking, the burning scales give off an aroma that is less than appetizing. It doesn't show up in the finished fish, however, and is soon gone.
As it cooks, the scales will burn very black. However, they will protect the fish from cooking too much, and the juices of the fish will steam up through the fillet. You don't even need to turn the fish!
A number of restaurants have adopted this as a specialty. The most famous of them is the drumfish Tommy at Drago's, the recipe for which evolved into the restaurant's famous char-broiled oysters.
- 2 sticks butter, softened
- 2 Tbs. finely chopped garlic
- 1 tsp. Italian seasoning
- 4 fillets of drum, redfish, or trout, skin and scales on, about 10 oz. each
- Salt and pepper to taste
1. Mix butter or margarine, garlic, and Italian seasoning. Sprinkle the fish with a little salt and pepper.
2. Heat a gas or barbecue grill and put the fish, skin side down, over the hottest part of the fire.
3. Baste the fish with the garlic butter liberally. It's best when some of the butter falls into the flames and smokes up over the fish. As it cooks, the scales will burn very black. However, they will protect the fish from cooking too much, and the juices of the fish will steam up through the fillet. The fish is done when the flesh on top becomes opaque.
Serve the fish on the "shell" of its skin, as is.
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