Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 March 2012 08:10
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.
The most underrated of all the fish we eat around New Orleans has an image problem. It's that name. Sheepshead?
I once overheard a couple of out-of-towners reading the menu at Mr. B's. “Listen to this, Esther," the guy said. "Hickory-grilled fresh sheepshead, served with crabmeat and a lemon beurre blanc."
"My goodness!" said Esther. "They really do eat everything down here!”
The state fish authorities tried to help, creating an alternate name: rondeau sea bream. But it’s been slow catching on. But meanwhile, some unscrupulous fish dealers and chefs say they're selling redfish or trout while really using sheepshead, because it's cheaper. Because it's cheaper, they're less careful handling it than they would be for the supposed better species. The joke is on them: the flavor and texture of sheepshead is at least as good as what it’s being swapped for.
Cooking and eating sheepshead is nothing new. You see it on menus from at least a century ago, and ever since--with a gap in the 1970s and 1980s. Why not?It's white, firm, flavorful without being oily. The larger ones are very good on the grill or in the black iron skillet. Smaller ones can be pan-seared or broiled to great effect. Sheepshead meuniere, amandine, or with pecans is wonderful. You can get as fancy as you want with it. (The photo is of sheepshead with avocado and tomato from Galvez Restaurant.) If sheepshead is the fish of the day, I always order it.
The reason we don't see it more often goes back to the name again. It's quite descriptive. Sheepshead have big heads, with teeth reminiscent of those of the eponymous wooly mammal. And they're hard to process, giving less fillet per pound of whole fish than most other fish. But for those of us who don't have to catch or clean them, it's a great eating fish.
With Green Peppercorns
Some of the dishes in my repertoire are those that restaurants used to make, but no longer do. So the only way I can have them is to do them myself. This one was the creation of Chef Roland Huet at Christian's, who passed away in April, 2010.
I don't know why it's become difficult to find marinated, soft green peppercorns in stores, but you may have to look hard for them. (They look almost exactly like capers, so don't let the label fall of the jar in your refrigerator.) Don't try to do this with dried green peppercorns. Any firm, white fish will work, but this may be the ultimate preparation for sheepshead, the most underrated (only because of its name) fish in local waters. The sauce is intense, but the fish easily stands up to it..
- 4 8 oz. fillets of redfish, trout, grouper, etc.
- 4 slices lemon
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- Stems of 1 bunch parsley
- 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
- 1 Tbs. marinated (not dried) green peppercorns
- 1 cup whipping cream
- Pinch salt
1. Bring a wide, shallow pan of water to a simmer with the lemon slices, white wine, parsley stem, and black peppercorns. Add the fish and poach for six to eight minutes, depending on size. The fish should not be cooked so long that it begins to fall apart. Remove, drain, and keep warm.
2. Strain the poaching liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce by two-thirds.
3. Add the green peppercorns to the pan and return to a boil. Reduce until only about one tablespoon of liquid remains.
4. Add the cream and bring to a light boil. Reduce by about one- third. Season with salt to taste.
5. Spoon the sauce over the cooked fish and serve immediately.
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