Local seafood, from redfish to choupique and gar?
I've realized that Louisiana cookbooks dominate my collection, with about a dozen books. Katrina foiled an earlier trip, but we're planning a visit in mid-December. I have a strong interest in local traditions and products and would really like to try authentic preparations of classic dishes. Therefore, any recommendations on restaurants for
1. blackened redfish (overpopularized I know, but from what I've read, an original Louisiana technique. I've had other fishes blackened here in California, and have done it myself, but am curious about the "real thing." If I'm lucky fishing, I will have fresh filets if any kitchen will prep them).
2. catfish or redfish courtbouillon
3. pompano in papillote (is this served anymore?)
4. barbecued shrimp
5. trout amandine (I may also have fresh trout filets)
6. crawfish etouffee (I know they will be out of season, but will settle for frozen)
Tips on gumbo, turtle soup, and anything else anyone cares to add are much appreciated.
Also, any pointers on some more obscure species? Would love to try goo, gar and choupique, especially as filets or steaks, and am interested in choupique caviar. I know they're considered "trash fish" by many in other parts of the country, which makes them all the more appealing to me. Any other local specialties are of interest. Don't mind poking around in the Atchafalaya basin or other outlying areas, and dives and shacks are perfectly fine. The more local character, the better.
Finally, are there any authentic food traditions available from the Coushatta or Chitimacha? No casino food please. Thanks.
We had a great trip to LA and MS. We were impressed by the friendliness and hospitality of the locals. I had a chance to try a number of fish dishes, some of them memorable, some of them forgettable. One of my friends remarked that Southerners really like to put crabmeat on their fish—I’m happy they do! In order of deliciousness (I caught the lane snapper and gag grouper):
1. Grilled lane snapper with creole seasoning, topped with jumbo lump crabmeat
Blow Fly Inn, Gulfport, MS. Delicate, tender, juicy, sweet snapper filets complemented perfectly by large, sweet lumps of crabmeat. Each mouthful was terrific; I wished there was more after I had eaten the last morsel. Unfortunately, the rest of the meal was not nearly as good.
2. Pompano meuniere amandine with crabmeat
Galatoire’s, New Orleans, LA. Ridiculously good. Rich, distinctively-flavored fish, broiled perfectly. Rather than an anonymous fillet, it was half of a boned-fish, including head and skin. I enjoyed every bit, including the crispy meat by the tail, the rich meat from the belly, and the chewy skin. My only complaint was the excess (by my standards) amount of butter.
3. Fried alligator gar cutlets
Family Grill, Simmesport, LA. Part of a huge feast of freshwater fish from the Atchafalaya River. Thin, boneless pieces of mild, white fish. More like meat or poultry than fish in texture. Yes, it did taste like chicken (almost like fried chicken breast). There were seams of connective tissue within the flesh, but I did not notice them.
4. Lemon pepper gag grouper with grits
Espresso Etc., New Roads, LA. Fresh fish, simply prepared with a bowl of smooth, buttery grits. Large, tender, white flakes of fish that separated easily with a fork. Comfort food at its finest.
5. Goo with gravy over rice
Family Grill, Simmesport, LA. A strong-flavored fish, I was told that goo (gaspergoo, freshwater drum) “makes its own juice.” Indeed, the gravy was delicious (the fish itself was fatty and gelatinous) over rice. Much more unique and satisfying than the turtle soup I had later that day at Ma Mama’s in New Roads.
6. Gag grouper meuniere amandine with crabmeat
Yellow Mouth Grill, Ocean Springs, MS. Very good preparation. In contrast to Galatoire’s version, the fish was floured and pan-fried, and smaller fragments of crab were used.
7. Fried yellow cat
Family Grill, Simmesport, LA. Simple, clean-tasting catfish with no fresh-water flavor. The preferred catfish of locals.
8. Fried carp ribs
Family Grill, Simmesport, LA. Large, easily-eaten pieces of fish (the ribs separated nicely from the flesh). The white meat was sweet, moist, and tender with no fresh-water flavor. The red meat was stronger, but easily avoided. The preparation overcame the problems of bones and muddiness associated with carp and other minnows. On a side note, my fishing guide called redfish “the carp of the sea”. Not that I think that carp will ever be popular, but I found this dish to be as good as any redfish I have eaten. I guess it shows you what hype and marketing can do.
9. Blackened drum
K-Paul’s, New Orleans, LA. I was expecting mediocrity but hoping for greatness with this meal. I got what I expected. I have four of Prudhomme’s cookbooks and was looking forward to the use of herbs and spices to “really complement and push up the flavors of a dish”. I have blackened black drum (puppy drum), redfish, striped bass, and rockfish at home, and I enjoyed my results as much or better than the authentic version. The fish was a bit crispier on the outside at K-Paul’s, but the flesh itself was on the rare side of cooked. Instead of being white and flakey (but not dried out), it was almost translucent and slightly chewy. The flavor was about the same (not surprising, since I use Prudhomme’s spice mixture at home). Overall, I felt that quality took a back seat to quantity. The amount of food and calories was large (the butter at the bottom of the plate congealed before I finished the drum filet) but the seasoning and preparation were not particularly special.
10. Fried blue cat
Family Grill, Simmesport, LA. Similar to yellow cat; maybe I’m biased by the locals preference for yellow cat; they say it is less fatty and cleaner than blue cat.
11. Fried buffalo ribs
Family Grill, Simmesport, LA. Similar to carp ribs, but fattier, with a stronger flavor.
12. Redfish with crabmeat stuffing
Jocelyn’s, Ocean Springs, MS. Large filet of fish topped with a crabmeat stuffing.
I am not a great fan of stuffing in general, and I did not really notice the crab. Most of the fish was moist and tender, but parts tasted old.
13. Filet de truite Pontchartrain
Antoine’s, New Orleans, LA. A generous serving of crabmeat over a trout filet. Unfortunately the fish was bland and watery. The crab was not as sweet and flavorful as other preparations. Midway through the meal, the waitress gave a speech about the history of Antoine’s, saying that their goal is for the exact same food to be available in fifty years. I hope not—I hope it gets better.
14. Fried thin catfish
Middendorf’s, Manchac, LA. To paraphrase Clara Peller of Wendy’s fame, “Where’s the fish?” Touted as the best fried catfish in New Orleans, I am bewildered by this opinion. If I wanted fried cornmeal, I would order a tortilla chip. I get better catfish from the steam table at the cafeteria at work. Extremely thin shards of fish overwhelmed by a fried cornmeal coating. Don’t get me wrong—when done right, I really enjoy fat and carbohydrates (potato chips, beignets, etc). I could perhaps see the appeal of this dish—crispy fish chips. Unfortunately, rather than being light and crispy, they were greasy. The first bites were OK, but the greasiness soon overwhelmed me. Even though I was hungry, I could not finish this dish. I hope this was simply a bad day in the kitchen. The fish itself was farmed, and the scant amount of fish in each chip had the distinctive taste of freshwater fish (muddiness if you will; I don’t mind this flavor, but there was a difference between this fish and the fish from Simmesport). The French fries, though average, were the best part of the plate; my wife thought that the hush puppies tasted like cardboard. On the positive side, the salad and turtle soup were nice, and the service from our grandmotherly waitress was very good. I will not be back to try the thick catfish.
15. Fried goo
Family Grill, Simmesport, LA. The first fish cooked, stored in the oven while everything else was prepared. It was dry, hard, and strongly fishy. Probably would have been better if I had listened to my hostess and eaten it fresh out of the fryer.
Thanks for the report. I'm glad you found some of the more obscure dishes you were looking for. My only question regards the "yellow cat." I've never heard of yellow cat before and neither had my mother. Growing up, we commonly caught channel and blue cat and considered those to be the best eating. Perhaps yellow is another name for a channel cat. And I'm not sure what type they raise in ponds. Anyway, glad you had a good trip.
This incredibly thorough report inspired to drive well over 100 miles out of the way to visit this magical place called Family Grill, with a record number of rarely seen fish varieties. But most of these were not on the menu. I got the garfish sandwich - other than catfish, none of these other items was listed. Were these specials that day or did you have to know someone?
I'm sorry about the extremely late reply, but I only now noticed this post. I called the Family Grill well ahead of time and explained that I wanted to try as many local fishes as possible. I even went to the nearby fish markets to pick up some of the catch. The very sweet owner went out of her way to prepare a feast. Funny, it seemed like some of the locals had no desire to eat these "trash fish". I hope the garfish was tasty.
Humm the only place I know that does garfish balls is in Mansura, Louisiana (Cochon de lait capital of the world!). It's about a 3 hour drive from NO. They fry the garfish balls and then serve them with rice and gravy. On a side note they also have a really good butcher in the area T-Jim Moreau --- he does boudin, ponce, sausage etc. It is a long way out from NO though. That said---as others have stated you would be hard pressed to get a filet out of a garfish. Usually people cut them up vertically and get what meat they can rather than filet them.
Thanks for all of the replies.
N.O. Food--I appreciate the recommendations. I've actually had goo (freshwater drum). It was in Ohio, where people throw them back. It was a little oiler than walleye, and had more dark red flesh, but it wasn't bad. My brother-in-law couldn't tell the difference between the two. From what I've read, most people don't eat gar and bowfin. I don't mind bones--I enjoy buffalo. Since Soul Food and Cajun food often make delicious dishes from very little, I was hoping that the same magic would be applied to these "trash fish". Of course, if you grind things up with lots of spices and then deep fry them, you can disguise the taste of almost anything--that's why I want to find filets or chunks rather than balls. I guess I'll search the bayou.
Jazzy B--I've got "Brennan's New Orleans Cookbook" (1961), but not Ralph Brennan's book--I'll keep an eye out for it.
Cajun Caster--I've had sheepshead (and redfish/red drum, trout, black drum, Southern flounder, pompano, croakers...) and agree, they are delicious. Any particularly Louisianan way to prepare them? and how about other oddities, like gafftopsail catfish? As you can see, I enjoy the unconventional as well as the mainstream.
"Cajun Caster--I've had sheepshead (and redfish/red drum, trout, black drum, Southern flounder, pompano, croakers...) and agree, they are delicious. Any particularly Louisianan way to prepare them?"
Don't know if they do this in Louisiana or not, but down the road on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi I've had sheepshead that were put in a cheesecloth bag and boiled in crab boil- they were wonderful!
We have lots of bayous--just realize that thanks to coastal erosion, most of the freshwater species you seek are farther inland than you'd first guess.
Interestingly, gar is widely eaten in the vietnamese fishing community; these folks have a great, efficient tradition of eating whatever they catch that has the lowest market value.
Try Galatoire's for the pompano and trout. K-Paul's on rare occasions has blackened redfish. These days their usual blackened fish is drum. Brigtsen's has an excellent blackened tuna with roasted corn sauce topped with a bit of red bean salsa and avacado cream. IMO best turtle soup is at Commander's. Their gumbo is good as well. Stop by any of Ralph Brennan's rest. for a copy of his New Orleans Seafood Cookbook. Tempting recipes easily tweaked to your preferences.
re: Hungry Celeste
Do they still have commercially caught speckled trout there. I thought they did away with that also. If so where does it come from. I live in Houston and have a freezer full of trout and am afraid Ike is going to ruin it. Im frying some tomorrow and grilling some Sunday after the storm, assuming no power. Any suggestions appreciated.
re: James Cristinian
Yes, commercially caught specks (aka spotted sea trout) is still available. Here's a link to the LA commercial fishing limits/regs for saltwater species: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/fishing/commercial/saltwater/regulations/ There is an annual quota cap, as well as a season.
Here are the LA limits for speckled trout (and other saltwater species) for recreational fishermen: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/fishing/... It's complicated, as limits change depending on where you're fishing.
Blackened fish, go to the source - K-Paul's.
Cochon does court bouillon, but I didn't really like it. It was very tangy, vinegary. Luke does a good court bouillon for a Friday lunch special.
bbq shrimp - the best are in Metairie at Crazy Johnny's although Pascal's Manale claims the original.
Trout amandine - Mandina's.
Etouffee - I'm not sure, but I would think Cafe Bon Ton would do a respectable job.
Commander's has excellent turtle soup and gumbo. Brigtsen's does a good gumbo. Heck, a lot of places have good gumbo. Try as many as you can.
As for the obscure fish, I've lived in LA my whole life and while I've seen fish like gar and goo for sale at roadside stands, I've never seen them prepared in any restaurant. Not to say that they aren't. In fact, I'm sure some place prepares dishes with those fish. I just can't point you in any particular direction. Down the bayou is your best bet. Some soul food joint somewhere out in the country has to have gar balls or buffalo ribs. If you do find gar or goo on the menu, it probably won't be filleted or steaks. The only way I've had gar and grenald prepared well was in a croquette or "ball." Those two fish are too bony to get good fillets from. Furthermore, Goo is not a tasty fish. You can fillet them, but yummy they are not. I'm interested what others have to say.
Oddly enough, I've seen choupique (bowfin or grenald) caviar around town at some of our finer establishments as of late. A lunch at Adelaide featured a dish festooned with the eggs of the lowly, ugly fish. Unfortunately, I can't say if they still have it on the menu. I think I also saw a jar of bowfin caviar in whole foods maybe? Back by the cheese section. Or it could have been Martin's? I'm not sure. Anyway, best of luck.