If you’re a longtime Texas resident, you likely remember the redfish wars of the late seventies, when the once multitudinous Gulf resident, also known as red drum, was just about eaten out of existence (blackened redfish, anyone?). That led to a 1981 ban on commercial netting, which gave the poor guys a chance to recover and left their pursuit solely in the hands of sport fishermen, who have long intoned the joys of stalking the tenacious fish. “Sometimes it is a closely-contested question whether the fish shall quit his element or the fisherman take a bath,” said Sears’ New Pictorial Family Magazine in 1847, a sentiment echoed by Dick J. Reavis in this magazine 136 years later: “Make no mistake about it, redfish separate sportsmen from fishing boys.” Even the Legislature has waxed poetic: in a 2011 resolution celebrating the great redfish recovery, it noted that the scaly scrapper had displayed “the hardiness and adaptability so often found in the Lone Star State” and formally declared it Texas’s official saltwater fish.
Fittingly, the redfish continues to put up a fight even after it’s dispatched, in the form of scales so hard to remove that most cooks don’t even bother. They just cut it in half lengthwise, gut it, and grill it as is, letting the skin and scales serve as a smoky “shell” from which to spoon mild, meaty flesh that graciously submits to all kinds of seasonings.
Procure a redfish. You can catch it yourself (good luck) or buy a farm-raised redfish from your fishmonger. Tell them how you’re preparing it, and they’ll get it ready for you.
Decide on your flavors. Possibilities are endless, from a basting of olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes to a compound butter of fresh herbs to a simple sprinkling of Cajun-style seasoning and a squirt of fresh citrus.
Grill skin-side down over a hot fire, covered, for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness. Spoon fish from the skin (watch out for bones) and serve.