From the February 2012 issue of Florida Sportsman, print edition.
It’s been a long time since everyone in Florida had the opportunity to eat fresh seatrout in February. This year, with the FWC’s elimination of closed months, keeping a few nice trout and eating them fresh from the water is a tasty option.
Seatrout lend themselves to several methods of preparation, but the Southern tradition of deep-frying is likely a favorite. And there’s no reason that fried foods need be greasy. The use of light cooking oil, like peanut or canola, a simple breading and a hot fire will guarantee results that are crisp, flavorful, and surprisingly healthy.
You’ll have to make the decision whether or not you want to serve your fish as fillets or fingers, known as tenderloins in many areas. I’d recommend cutting out the bones from smaller fish and then fingering the thick part of the fillet. If you have big seatrout, picking out the sweet meat under the rib cage is worth the extra effort, so fry the fillets whole. Fillets are probably more appropriate as an entrée; fingers work well as appetizers or in po-boy style sandwiches.
While there are likely as many different types of breading and batters as there are fish in the sea, I prefer a simple coating made from cracker crumbs, plain flour and a dash of Cajun spices. It’s easy to make and apply—simply dredge your fish in it just as you’re getting ready to fry.
No matter how large the pieces of fish you cook, it’s important that they are put into oil that cooks them quickly. Three hundred and fifty to 375 degrees is the optimum temperature. If you don’t have a thermometer, simply touch the tip of a ready-to-cook piece of fish into the oil. If it sizzles, go ahead and start cooking. As you add additional fillets or fingers, you’ll cool the oil slightly, so it’s important not to cook too many pieces of fish at a time. When golden brown, your fish is ready to drain on absorbent paper and serve.
If you’re serving your trout in a “formal” setting, consider hushpuppies, coleslaw and oven-fried potatoes as accompaniments. This combination will likely earn you accolades comparing you to the best seafood restaurants in your town.
Seatrout po-boy with homemade fries
Foolproof Seafood Breading
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 boxed stack Saltine crackers (about 70 crackers)
1 tbsp. Cajun spice
Pulverize the crackers in a food processor; mix in flour and Cajun spice. Makes enough breading to coat about 2 pounds of trout fillets or fingers.
Tangy Seafood Sauce
1 12-ounce bottle chili sauce
1 7-ounce bottle Dat’l Do-it Datil Pepper Hot Sauce
2 tbsp. ground horseradish
Juice of a large lemon
Oven-Fried Potato Strips
1⁄2-pound Russet potatoes (per person)
Peanut or canola oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and cut potatoes into strips. Dry thoroughly with paper towels. Coat a cookie sheet with a light coating of oil. Arrange potato strips in a single layer. Bake about 45 minutes, turning strips at least once to ensure browning. Salt to taste after baking.