By Tom Fitzmorris
Originally published July 28, 2007
Fish On The Half Shell
I now count four restaurants serving fish "on the half shell." That's one side of a fish with its skin and scales still attached, grilled or broiled, then sauced or broiled a la mode du chef.
I don't know who came up with that expression. The first place I remember reading it was at Dante's Kitchen, but the second place was the Bourbon House--which suggests that it may have turned up with that name as a special at Commander's Palace. (Dante's chef E-Man Loubier came from Commander's, and the Bourbon House is a Brennan restaurant.)
The concept itself is much older, and rather controversial. Some cooks say that the smell of the burning scales is so revolting that the dish is not worth cooking. I have never noticed this; the smell is unusual, but not overwhelming, and it goes away quickly. People have been cooking fish this way as long as they've grilled fish outdoors.
The first restaurant to do something like this was Drago's. Drumfish Tommy, as they named it, is still on the menu. It is also the progenitor of their famous char-broiled oysters, which are cooked in exactly the same was as the drumfish is. So the idea has a lot of merit.
What happens as the fish cooks is interesting. Since the chef doesn't have to worry about overcooking the bottom side (the skin and scales act as a heat shield), he can let the fish just sit there without turning. Meanwhile, the steam that works up inside the fish cooks all the rest of it, resulting in a fish-juicy texture and flavor that I find wonderful.
© 2007 Tom Fitzmorris. All rights reserved. firstname.lastname@example.org