From Hook to Plate
Posted: Nov 23 2013
As watermen it goes without question that we spend a lot of time on the boat. Throughout the summer months we are on the water at least twice a week looking for inspiration, for dinner, and for those moments that stick in your memory the rest of your life. Each fishing trip starts the night before rigging tackle, prepping camera gear, and planning a route that will allow us to target several species from reef fish to blue water speedsters. This trip will be a targeted trip focusing on red snapper and getting back to the dock for family obligations in the afternoon.
There is something very special about pulling away from the dock in the predawn stillness, the only sound coming from the nesting herons in a nearby tree. The anticipation and excitement of the upcoming adventure is tangible. We run thru the pass across water that’s as smooth as taught plastic wrap, only disturbed by the flickers of bait fish and swirls of the tide interacting with the jetties. As we round the corner into the gulf it looks more like a lake than the open Gulf of Mexico. First order of business is filling the live well, at first the baits come 2 at a time on the sabiki rigs then 4 per cast; it doesn’t take long to get a couple dozen pieces of fish candy.
The first stop comes quickly as we pull the throttle back about 15 miles south of land. There is no need to anchor as the gulf is cooperating with a very small groundswell and light wind. The action is fast and furious; we can only fish two baits at a time because as soon as they are out of sight below the boat they get hit. With a limit of 2 fish per person it does not take long to fill the box with 10-20 pound red snapper. Some of the most memorable action comes from the bait we had floating behind the boat hoping for a king or wayward black fin tuna. This bait is usually on a lighter rod and that posed quite a challenge today when a 20 pound snapper swap to the surface and engulfed the cigar minnow with a loud splash. After quite the battle we got the fish to the surface and finished our 4 man limit with an overflowing box of 8 nice snapper buried in the ice.
The time was now 1030am and we ran straight back to the marina to clean the boat and prep the fish. How you handle your catch is really the most important part of the trip if you plan on keeping and eating any of it. We always have more ice than needed and make sure the fish are as cold as possible before the cleaning process. This is necessary for two reasons, first it preserves the freshness of your catch and secondly it firms the meat up and makes the filleting process much cleaner and easier. We filleted and skinned the snapper making sure to remove the bones and clean up the subtle white meat, then removed the throat area under the pectoral fins (my favorite piece of the fish). The fillets are cut into cooking size pieces roughly the width of your hand, then rinsed and bagged, some to be cooked later and others to be frozen for future use.
There are endless ways to prepare fresh red snapper, other than eating it like sashimi with avocado and soy sauce, my favorite preparation is to lightly blacken it and serve with fresh mashed potatoes and baked carrot fries. Below is a easy recipe to follow to ensure your next fresh catch is as memorable on the plate as it was when you were fighting it to the surface offshore. (For simplicity purposes you can use a store bought blackening package, or make your own from any number of online resources)
Blackened Red Snapper
1 -1.5lbs Snapper Fillets in serving size pieces
2 TBS Blackened Seasoning
½ Stick of unsalted butter cut in 5 pieces
1 Lemon quartered
1 Sprig fresh parsley or thyme
2 Coors lights
This is one of the easiest, one pan recipes out there. First open a beer and preheat the oven to 400º. Get a non-stick or cast iron skillet going on the stove at medium/high heat and rub seasoning on both sides of your fish pieces (they don’t have to be fully coated, just a medium rub to give the fish spice and color). This is usually 3-4 chunks of snapper at roughly the size of the palm of your hand and 1.5-2” thick. Drop the slices of butter in the heated pan and as they sizzle lay the fish down making sure to leave a small space between pieces. Enjoy the smells of cayenne, garlic, butter and fresh fish while you sip your beer for 4 minutes. Due to the high heat and butter this recipe may smoke a little so keep a vent fan running. After 4 minutes flip the fish squeeze 2 of the lemon quarters over the fish in the pan and put it in the pre heated oven. Open the 2nd beer and enjoy it while you get your plates ready during the 6-7 minutes it takes to finish the fish in the oven. Remove fish and plate with a squeeze of lemon and a little fresh garnish from your choice of herbs. The finished product should have a nice crust and dark color from the butter and spices but not be burned, it will flake easily and is a magnificent way to treat your snapper or other fresh fish.
Serve with your choice of sides; this fish goes really well with fresh steamed or roasted veggies, or a refreshing salad.
Let us know if you try it out and keep checking back for more adventures.