From the October, 2012 print edition of Florida Sportsman, Sportsman’s Kitchen, Tommy Thompson’s take on a classic, with a nod to Elvis.
Blackened Redfish, Cajun Style
When it comes to grilling redfish fillets with their skin and scales intact, known as redfish on the half shell, there’s no better recipe than the one given me by my fishing buddy and Cajun chef, Joey Landreneau. The tough hide of skin and scales ensures a barrier from the high heat necessary to quickly cook the fish while keeping the meat tender, yet firm.
It’s important to not over spice redfish. For me, blackening this fish with a heavy coat of spice does nothing more than cover up its nutty flavor. Save your blackening spices and technique for species that don’t have much flavor, like tilapia. For redfish, use Joey’s simple one-hour marinade. Use ½-cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, and the juice of a lemon for two upper-slot redfish fillets. You can add a light sprinkling of Cajun spice at the grill if you like the flavors it imparts. Just don’t overdo it.
Luckily, redfish freeze fairly well if vacuum-bagged with a Zip-Vac, or similar device. I don’t recommend months of freezing, but keeping one or two from a few weekly fishing trips will soon get you enough to feed a family or small dinner party. Allow one fillet per person. To prepare, put the fillets in a shallow baking dish and pour in the whisked-together marinade.
An hour in advance of dinner is ample, but be sure to turn the fillets every 15 minutes or so. At grilling time, place the fillets skin-side-down and cook uncovered until the top surface of the fish turns white, meaning it’s almost cooked. Then, finish the cooking by carefully flipping the fillet to the “meat side” for just a few minutes. Most of the actual cooking takes place with the skin side down and this final touch is mostly to impart color and grill marks. Total grilling time depends on your particular cooking gear and the thickness of the fillets, but you’ll soon learn to judge doneness by pressing a fillet with your finger. Too soft means not cooked enough; too hard means overcooked—grilling tricks you’ll learn with experience.
A spicy side dish does go well with this entrée, and there’s nothing more popular at our house than my wife’s red beans, served over rice. Preparing the beans is at the opposite end of the spectrum of “quick and simple” from the redfish, but I think you’ll soon find it a staple as a seafood side dish—or as a full meal if you manage to freeze some leftovers.
Mary’s Red Beans
2 lbs. dried light red kidney beans
1 lb. bacon, cut into small pieces
2 large onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. ground black pepper
1 tbsp. dry thyme
2 bay leaves
1 large ham bone (Try your local HoneyBaked Ham store, where they’re $7.99—and meaty)
1 lb. Andouille sausage (Savoie’s is excellent, and available at many supermarkets)
Tabasco sauce, to taste
Salt, to taste
In a large pot, cover beans with water and soak overnight. Barely covering the beans with water is sufficient. The next day, fry the bacon in a larger pot, then add the onion, pepper, celery and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until the vegetables are transparent, then add the beans with the water in which they soaked.
Add the spices, ham bone, sausage and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, until the “gravy” thickens. Be careful to not add too much extra water as the beans cook and hold off on the salt until the end. The saltiness of the ham may be just enough to suit your taste. You can add Tabasco at the stove, or at the table. Serve over white rice either as a side or main dish.