I LEARNED BASIC FISHING and crabbing skills at an early age from my dad and my grandfather on the Gulf Coast at my grandparents’ home, Cockes’ Roost, in Clermont Harbor, Mississippi. We would rise early in the morning giddy with excitement and head down to Bayou Caddy with our pirogue and fishing gear to hopefully hook a few croakers. My grandmother would fry the croakers and serve these tasty, crunchy little fish with creamy grits for a hearty summer breakfast.
Later in the morning, my cousins, siblings and I would load up the wagon with crab nets and chicken parts and hike to the community pier to set our nets for the day. After tying the cold, slimy chicken parts in the middle of the nets, we would carefully cast them off the side of the pier watching until we saw them land upright on the sand below. We would take turns checking the nets all day. What a thrill to pull up a net with one, or maybe more, wriggling crabs, and toss them into the hamper to proudly carry them home to my grandfather, Popee, at the end of the day.
I loved these hours of late afternoon quiet time with my grandfather scaling fish and cleaning and boiling hampers of crabs in the dark, damp basement that smelled of marsh and brine.
Sometimes in the evenings after sunset if our parents had an ounce of energy remaining, we would return to the beach with flashlights and gigs to flounder. Beware the unexpecting flounder that thought that he had hidden himself from these young water warriors.
These early experiences prepared me for my later experiences in a professional restaurant kitchen. As an apprentice chef at La Chaudiere, I was expected to clean and cut open sea urchins, shuck fresh oysters, slaughter live lobsters and scale and gut fish. Popee was there in spirit at my side and made sure that I had the skills and the courage to tackle these spiny, foreboding creatures of the sea.
Gayden, my husband, recently took our daughter, Maggie, her boyfriend, Fernando, and his brother, Francisco Silva, for a first time fishing experience in Shell Beach.
A required stop before hitting the water was Blackie Campo’s Marina in St Bernard Parish that has been in business since 1905. The Campo’s had fresh shrimp for bait and lures, and they are always happy to share secrets on where the fish are biting. Hallelujah! It was speckled trout and redfish season. The winds were blowing hard that day so the trout were a little elusive. The redfish, however, were plentiful in the marsh and more protected waters so the novice fishermen, and woman, were successful in landing their limit of 5 redfish per person as well as a couple of lagniappe sheepshead and trout. When the anglers returned home with their fresh catch, we put everyone to work in the kitchen to prepare our favorite redfish classics; Fernando’s ceviche, Gayden’s redfish on the half shell and Maggie’s courtbouillon. You can find all of our favorite redfish recipes on the Sophisticated Woman Foodies and Friends website.
Fernando Silva’s Nicaraguan style ceviche
Fernando recommends a firm white fish. He used the fresh out of the water sheepshead for our ceviche. Thanks for sharing the Silva family recipe!
21/2 pound of fresh firm white fish cut in bite-sized small cubes
1 medium purple onion, thinly sliced
2 seeded tomatoes, finely chopped
1 tablespoon salt
2-3 minced jalapenos
1 bunch chopped cilantro
1 cup lime juice or as much as needed to cover fish
Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl and gently mix. Make sure you have enough lime juice to cover all of the fish. Marinate in fridge for 4 hours to cook the fish. Add a little orange juice, if needed, to reduce acidity. Serve with saltine crackers.
Gayden’s Grilled Redfish on the Half Shell
“On the half shell” refers to redfish that has been gutted and head removed. Scales and skin are left on for grilling. Simple is better with fresh fish.
4 redfish fillets with scale side down
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 stick of butter
2 lemons, juiced
Tony Chachere’s seasoning to taste
Season filleted meat with Tony’s, a little sea salt and fresh black pepper. Spray oil on the skin side to keep fish from sticking to the grill. Mix butter, garlic and lemon juice in saucepan. Pour over fillets while cooking on grill for approximately 15 minutes (different grills may vary in time cooked). Do not turn the fish. When fillets begin to curl up on the ends, take a spatula and slide it under the fillet to separate it from the skin and scales and serve.
Maggie’s Redfish Courtbouillon
I love this rich, roux based tomato sauce with fish stock. This is definitely one of my favorite Creole recipes. To achieve the complexity of flavors, you must go to your local seafood market and ask for fish bones and heads. Not for the faint of heart! This will give you the depth of flavors you need to make the perfect courtbouillon.
21/2 lbs redfish or snapper fillets
5 TBSP flour
5 TBSP oil
2 C chopped onions
1 C chopped celery
¾ C chopped bell pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ C chopped green onions
½ C chopped parsley
1 C white or red wine
3 C canned or fresh tomatoes
2 C fish or shrimp stock
½ small can tomato paste
2 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
4 bay leaves
½ tsp thyme
2 TBSP lemon juice and thinly sliced lemons for garnish
Hot sauce or cayenne to taste
Pinch of allspice
Combine flour and oil in heavy Dutch oven and cook roux until dark brown. Add chopped vegetables and cook about 10 minutes until soft.
Mix in tomatoes and tomato paste. Cook stirring constantly for 10-15 minutes. Add fish stock, wine, parsley, green onions, lemon juice, bay, thyme, salt, pepper, and cayenne or hot sauce. Simmer about 45 minutes until reduced. Adjust seasonings. Add fish and simmer until fish is flaky. Serve over rice and garnish with lemon slices and chopped green onions.