BY CHEF BRIAN LANDRY, BORGNE: Growing up in a family that loves to fish the waters of Louisiana has definitely had its advantages. The demands and schedule of the kitchen have thus far prevented me from purchasing my own boat, but I always seem to be able to find someone close to me who has a boat and is willing to take me fishing in exchange for me cooking what we catch.
One of the fish that in my opinion is the most fun to catch is the Redfish. There are many different species of fish that can go by that name, but I am talking about the red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus). This fish is a cousin to the black drum, and can be found Gulf-wide from Texas to Florida. We have redfish all over south Louisiana in our marshes, bays, and bayous. It can even be found in the Gulf of Mexico in 50 feet of water. These fish put up a great fight on their end of the line.
Because redfish inhabit such diverse habitats along the Gulf coast, you never know when you might find one. It is just as common to hook one when fishing slightly in shore as when fishing around the shallow oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Redfish are some of the most prized catches for recreational fishermen, and have been just as sought after commercially. Redfish, however, are greatly protected in Louisiana waters by both size and catch limits. Recreationally, there is a 5 per angler per day limit. The fish must be a minimum of 16” long, and only one per angler can be above 27”. Wild caught redfish is no longer commercially available from Louisiana waters. Redfish has been a popular fish since the beginning of the 20th century, but became especially popular when Paul Prudhomme introduced the world to cajun-style blackened redfish. These regulations were put on redfish due to overfishing both recreationally and commercially in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The great news is that the redfish have rebounded, and we are now seeing them in much greater numbers.
There is a fishing tournament that I try to fish at the end of every summer - the Faux Pas Lodge Invitational. We fish out of Venice Marina at the very tip of southeast Louisiana. I usually fish with my brother, a couple of cousins, and a few uncles. We stay at their camp, the Phinns & Pheathers lodge. This camp is at the epicenter of Sportsman’s Paradise. The availability to fishing and duck hunting in this part of the world is unmatched. About 800 anglers usually fish this tournament, including everyone from professionals to first timers. There are of course prizes for the largest of a variety of different fish. There is also a $500 cash prize for the redfish with the most spots. Redfish have a black spot on their tales which confuses their predators as to which end is their head. It is not uncommon to catch a redfish with multiple spots, but I have never caught one with as many spots as last year’s winner - 15.
I have no aspirations of ever winning the tournament, but I do truly enjoy catching redfish. It is a great rush to hook a bull red (redfish over 27”), and the fight that ensues. We typically release the bigger reds after the fight because the texture of their fillets gets tougher as they get bigger. The redfish I love to eat the most are the ones that are about 20” long. These are typically 2-year old redfish, and their fillets are mild, white, and tender. After a long a day of fishing I will usually prepare the redfish in the simplest, most tasty way of cooking redfish that I know how - Redfish on the Half Shell. One of us will quickly fillet the redfish leaving the scales on. After marking the flesh side on the grill, flip the fish onto the scale side and cook until just cooked through and squeeze a little lemon over the top. I like to prepare a simple sauce of olive oil, garlic, chili flakes and fresh herbs such as parsley, mint, and basil to spoon on top of the fish. Simple and delicious.
The time may come soon when wild caught redfish from Louisiana waters are gracing the menus of local restaurants again, and if it does, I will be sure to add it to my menu at Borgne. Until then, however, I will continue to trade fishing trips for dinners featuring redfish on the half shell.
Redfish on the Half Shell
½ bunch parsley leaves, picked
6 sprigs mint, picked
2 sprigs basil, picked
2 cups olive oil
3 each garlic cloves, smashed
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
salt to taste
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 each red fish fillets, skin and scales on
salt/pepper to taste
2 each lemons, cut in half
- Preheat an outdoor grill.
- Chop the parsley, mint, and basil. Add the herbs, garlic, and chili flakes to the work bowl of a small food processor. Turn on high, and puree. Slowly add the olive oil until all incorporated. Season with salt.
- Brush the red fish fillets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the fish for 3 minutes flesh sides down, making sure to mark the flesh with the grill. Flip the fish so that the scales are now on the grill, and allow the fish to cook approximately 6-8 more minutes or until just cooked through. Squeeze the lemons over the fish making sure to discard the seeds. Remove from the grill.
- Spoon the garlic-herb oil over the fish and serve.
Chef Brian Landry can be reached at email@example.com.