The tide had slowed to just above a trickle. With two good redfish in the boat, the direction of the wind and the speed of the tide, it looked like it would be a bit before anything would turn on another bite. The sun was up and bright, the wind a bit stiff, but from the east.
"Now that the stone crab pots are out, we may stand a chance at a real treat if you guys don't mind a boat ride while we wait on this tide to turn?" I told the fishermen aboard my boat on a recent charter.
"Real treat?" they asked excitedly.
"Yep, there has been some good tripletail around the last few weeks." I said.
We still had plenty of pilchards in the well, so all we had to do was spot a fish. We got just outside of Gordon's Pass, started following a crab line, and saw fish on the pots. The first three were little guys. The fourth one, however,was a great one and made the redfish instantly look like tomorrow night's dinner!
We freelined a pilchard back to the fish and he instantly inhaled the pilchard. Mike set the hook and the drag started screaming. The fish took flight and the hook pulled and flew right back to the boat. Tail between our legs, we put the rod away and got ready to jump up and look for another one.
I look over, and the same fish returned to the same trap!
"Ha, imagine that, looks like we get another chance," I tell them.
Mike put another pilchard right on the fish and again, boom, he lit up and ate the bait like he hadn't eaten in weeks. Drag ripping, a high five or two and a couple minutes later, we had a beautiful 10-pound tripletail in the boat and headed back to the fillet table. We ran a few more traps, spotted a few more little ones, lost a nice 10- to 12-pound fish, but then boxed another one in the 5-6 pound range on our way back to the dock.
The best part about these fish is that anyone can do it as long as you take your time and try not to spook the fish. Even then, sometimes they just don't care and they eat and eat. Other times they lay there and ignore you worse than the finickiesttarpon you've ever encountered! They will eat almost any type of bait you want to throw at them one day and nothing the next, so just keep trying till you find a rhythm. This can be one of the most relaxing, fun and enjoyable ways to spend time with a friend or family member and still catch a quality fish. On your way home, be sure to make a quick pit stop to your favorite market to try this Snookin 'N Cookin recipe!
Potato encrusted tripletail with roasted harvest vegetables and bacon braised Swiss chard
For the tripletail:
6 3- to 4-ounce boneless, skinless portions
3 baking potatoes
2 cups all purpose flour
5 eggs plus 3 tbsp. water, beaten
Olive oil and clarified butter for sautéing
Coarse kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper
Fresh chopped herbs, chives, parsley (freshest available to your liking)
Season the fish with salt and pepper. Working with two portions at a time, dredge in the flour and then place into your egg mixture. Next, on a mandolin, shred one potato at a time and spread out evenly on a clean surface. Season the potatoes lightly with salt and pepper, and lightly dust that with about a teaspoon of the flour mixture.
Lay your two pieces of fish from the egg wash onto the potatoes and press firmly to coat fairly heavily. Turn them over into the potato mixture and repeat. Immediately place them in a pre-heated sauté pan on medium heat and sauté with a fair amount of olive oil and the clarified butter. A 50/50 ratio works fine on medium heat.
I like to cook the fish roughly five minutes a side and let rest, but if you are working with a really thick fillet you will have to go a little longer on lower heat or finish the fish in the oven so not to burn the potatoes. As far as the fresh herbs, add them to the potato mixture before you crust the fish. One potato usually coats two to three pieces of fish. When ready to eat, top fish with a tablespoon or two of some lightly salted reduced heavy cream.
Roasted harvest vegetables:Vegetables of the season
Salt and pepper to taste
I want to stress the seasonal fresh vegetable to be the choice for you, so please choose from what you feel is freshest, not necessarily what I used. Today, I chose fresh red and gold beets, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and stem-on carrots. I evenly coated mine with the butter and olive oil mixture, seasoned them with the salt and pepper, tossed a handful of fresh mixed herbs and roasted them in a roasting pan separately for color and tenderness.
Try to use this as more of a cooking method than an actual recipe. Beets for instance need to be peeled, blanched in salted water for 12-13 minutes, then buttered, seasoned and roasted as other heavy root vegetables. However, the cauliflower, carrots and the sprouts only have to be cut or peeled, buttered, seasoned and roasted. Most vegetables will take 25-30 minutes at around 350-375 degrees. Try to get used to judging them more on color and tenderness than time and temperature. This way you can select seasonally fresh perfect vegetables and learn your own time and temperature.
For the chard:
16 cups chopped fresh chard or tender greens of choice
2 strips uncooked quality bacon, chopped
1 shallot chopped fine
2 tablespoons butter
Splash or two of your favorite vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat a large saucepan or stock pot to medium heat and add the bacon. Cook the bacon only in its own fat until crisp. Turn the burner to high heat, add the shallot and stir once. Quickly add the rest of the ingredients and cook on high heat while stirring constantly for about 2 minutes. Pull from pot and strain lightly.
With the cool air, the fresh autumn vegetables and the tripletail on the table, it is hard to find a more perfect setting than right here in Southwest Florida! Enjoy!
- - -
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 email@example.com, or online at www.snookinncookin.com.