The fish are plentiful out there, so now is the right time to take a stroll out in the Gulf for a few snapper.Although the season for red snapper recently closed, there are still many other species of snapper in the Gulf that are just an hour or so out in our own backyard.
They are pretty thick on any ledges or wrecks 160 feet or deeper in our area, so be prepared for a pretty good run if you want to tangle with one of these guys, particularly if you decide to go up against red snapper. Just make sure to catch them and release them gently, as the season ended in mid-June. Make sure to study the weather patterns carefully and check all of your gear and electronics before leaving the dock. Also, it's always a good idea to tell someone else where you think you will be and how long you plan on being out.
I usually use regular stand up grouper tackle for redsnapper. Sixty to 80-pound mainline, 80- to 100-pound leader, and a 7/0 or an 8/0 circle hook. Weight will of course depend on the current conditions that day. Red snapper will definitely eat dead and frozen bait, but I still prefer extremely large live pinfish over just about anything else.
The feeling of dropping a big live pinfish right into a huge school of these big red snapper is one that you don't forget easily! You slowly drop the bait down in the water column watching it disappear into the deep, then just before the bait reaches anywhere near the school you feel that bait fluttering, the rod begins to bounce and hop as the bait digs harder and harder; next is that unmistakable "thump" that pulses up the line as the snapper devours your bait and almost puts you to your knees! These fish hit like an absolute freight train when they reach 20 pounds or more and will test anglers of any and all skill levels.
Most of the red snapper you find are 10- 20 pounds in our area of the Gulf, but every so often you can find a school of 30-40 pound bruisers that are just as amazing as it gets. I have stumbled upon these fish in schools of more than 200 fish all in the 30-40 pound range and will never forget it! Once you get on a school of these prized fish I know you will be hooked and going back again and again. When you do, save a fillet (as long as they are in season) for this breakfast recipe to fuel your fire for the next deepwater snapper adventure you take!
Pan seared snapper Benedict with mango and habanero honey
For the fish:
Snapper cut into 4-ounce pieces
Coarse sea or kosher salt
Coarse ground black pepper
Crushed red pepper
Good quality paprikaPat snapper fillets dry and season to your liking with the listed spices above. Next, preheat a sauté pan to medium heat and drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Placethe snapper fillets in the pan and cook three to four minutes a side. When you flip the fillets over, wait about 2 minutes and then add 2 tablespoons of butter and lightly spoon over the fish for another 2 minutes or so. Set aside to rest for three to five minutes.
For the mango and habanero honey:
2 honey mangos
¼ piece of habanero pepper
½ cup honey
½ fresh lemon (squeezed)
¾ cup water
Peel and dice the mangos, and place them in a small saucepan. Next add the habanero piece, lemon juice, the honey and the water and let this mixture simmer on low heat for about an hour or so. Last, puree the sauce while still hot and strain through a fine meshed strainer. Set aside for later use (if it's too thick, add a touch of water as you puree).
For the hollandaise sauce:
1 Tbsp. chopped shallot
Pinch of fresh tarragon
Pinch cracked black pepper
Pinch sea or kosher salt
2 ounces white wine or champagne vinegar
14 ounces melted (warmed up at 130-140 degrees) clarified butter
2 ounces water (if needed)
1 tsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
5 egg yolks
This sauce can be a bit tricky, but a few tries and you will have it down like the best chefs! First, start by adding the first five ingredients and reducing them till at least half the liquid has evaporated. Next, have the egg yolks in a stainless steel mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water. Strain the vinegar reduction and the lemon juice into the egg yolks and whip rapidly over the lightly simmering water. Once this mixture begins to froth and starts to thicken,begin to add the clarified butter a little at a time! Be careful not to "scramble" the egg mixture; whisk, add, whisk, add, until you have a velvety smooth fairly thick butter sauce and set aside. You can add a touch of the water mentioned above at this point if needed. Just whisk rapidly as you add the water to thin it down a bit and place in a warm area till needed.
We chose to serve this over a toasted slice of baguette with butter and Parmesan cheese. Topped that with our favorite bacon, a little arugula, a medium poached egg and we were running into each other trying to get seconds! The sweetness and little bit of heatfrom the honey, combined with the smooth rich hollandaise just really tops this dish off like no other! I hope you enjoy and get out to catch the flavor of Southwest Florida!
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Seth and Astrid Hayes run Snookin 'N Cookin, a Naples-based fishing charter company that also offers private dinners and parties. They can be reached at either (239) 994-1593, (239) 994-3253, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at www.snookinncookin.com.