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The Redfish on the Half-Shell craze

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
Oct. 22, 2003
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of the Purple Parrot Caf and Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg and Meridian. He can be reached at robert@nsrg.com or at (601) 264-0672.
One of the latest food crazes to hit the white-tablecloth restaurants of New Orleans is redfish on the half-shell.
The best way to eat fish is on the half-shell. It is the true fish-lover's fish preparation.
But redfish has no shell, you say. True, but hamburgers have no ham, crabs have no fingers and hotdogs well, you get the idea. Why get tripped up on a name?
Redfish on the half-shell is just a creative way to describe the practice of serving a side of grilled fish, cleaned and de-boned, with the skin and sometimes scales still attached. The side of fish is rubbed with oil, seasoned and placed on the grill, skin side down. The fish grills with the skin down for the entirety of the cooking process.
Leaving the skin on a fillet of fish bothers some. However, the problem is imagined; the fish arrives to the table with the skin side still down, the final product looks like any other grilled fish. There is absolutely no way any true fish-lover could be offended by the taste.
The flavor of redfish on the half-shell tops all other fish preparations. The meat slides gently off of the skin with little or no effort. Once you have finished eating, there is nothing left put an innocent piece of fish skin and one happy customer.
Try a new thing
Some are turned off by head-on, whole-fish preparations. Some don't like to eat bone-in fish and always opt for fillets. With redfish on the half-shell, there are no guts, no tail, no head and no bones just extremely good-tasting fish, cooked as God intended.
This half-shell treatment of fish might be a current food craze for restaurants, but good cooks have been grilling fish using this cooking method for years. It is rumored that Commander's Palace was the first to bring the dish out of the marshes of the Gulf and into the commercial kitchen although I suspect its origins are prehistoric.
Redfish on the half shell is the most popular cooking method at fish camps all across the Coast. Thankfully for us, someone probably a chef or restaurateur who had used this preparation at his camp realized that this is the best way to eat fish, and wondered why he had to wait until he was at the fish camp to prepare it.
New Orleans' restaurants have been serving foods incorporating rustic preparations for years. The practice of blackening fish was pirogue'd out of the bayous by Paul Prudhomme, who is responsible for spreading the centuries-old practice all across America of cooking fish over extremely high heat in a cast iron skillet.
Ten years ago, the food-fad-of-the-moment was to place a fillet of fish, usually salmon, on a cedar plank and then cook it on a grill or in the oven. Redfish on the half shell is, hands-down, better than both of those dishes.
Redfish on the rise
Sales of redfish on the half-shell are on the rise. At the Crescent City Grill, we temporarily added redfish on the half-shell to our September feature menu. Customers were so happy with the final product we quickly added it to the permanent menu. It is, beyond a doubt, the true, fish-lover's fish.
The best fish to cook on the half-shell is redfish. Other fish can be prepared on the half-shell. However, not all fish can be cooked using this method. Members of the drum family work best. The drum's skin is tough enough to hold together under the high heat and flames.
The one thing worse than frozen fish is over-cooked fish. Most fish need to be cooked to medium. The process of cooking redfish on the half-shell allows the fish to stay moist. The open flame and the majority of the heat hit the outside of the skin and scales, which become black and charred.
However, the inside of the fish remains moist and flavorful. Heating the skin and scales allows the fish to steam inside itself, retaining moisture and flavor. It is possible to overcook redfish on the half-shell, although it is almost impossible to burn it.
For fans of grilled fish, the healthiest way to prepare fish, redfish on the half-shell is the easiest way to grill fish, and it yields the best results.
Redfish on the Half-Shell
6 Redfish fillets, skin-on, scales on
(8-10 oz. each)
1⁄2 cup Olive Oil (not extra virgin)
11⁄2 tablespoon Creole Seasoning
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
6 lemon wedges
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Rub the redfish fillets with oil and season the flesh of the fillet with Creole seasoning. Place fillets, skin-side down, on a gas or charcoal grill over medium-high heat. Grill the fish, never turning. The skin and scales will char, flame up, and smoke, do not worry. Grill fillets approximately six minutes. Place fillets, skin side down, on a baking sheet and continue cooking in the oven for another five minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle parsley over fish and serve immediately with lemon wedges on the side. Yield: 6.

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