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Great Gulf Red Snapper

Texas Seafood
by David Bulla

Texas is known around the world as beef country. It's a theme so prominent that sometimes we tend to overlook the bounty of the diverse waters of the Texas Gulf Coast, as well as the sport fishing opportunities on the inland lakes and rivers. Oh, sure, Texas is pretty popular with regard to shrimp, but there is so much more that gets overlooked.

Did you know that Texas is the second largest producer of commercial oysters in the country? Blue crab is a huge industry, as well. The popular Red Snapper on many restaurant menus comes from the Gulf. Crawfish are almost as much of a staple in East Texas as they are in Louisiana. Southern Flounder can literally be plucked from the shallow bays of the Gulf with "gigs" or spears. And let's not leave out the understated Black Drum (in the croaker family) that I used to throw back while fishing as a kid in Galveston because it was thought to be "junk fish." The list goes on and on.

The practice of going to your local purveyor to see what is fresh for the day's meal is not obsolete, but it has taken a back seat to convenience. You can still ask the person behind the seafood counter at your local supermarket what is fresh from the Gulf, or whatever body of water you are close to. You can still pay attention to where the produce you buy is coming from. The wonderful thing is that today you also have the option of trying ingredients that would not have been available to your grandparents.

The recipe I am going to give today has a few ingredients that are not local, yet you won't deny the result is positively Texan. The sauce is a combination of roasted mild chilies from New Mexico and ripe green, yellow and red heirloom tomatoes. The twist is fresh lime juice to meld all the ingredients together. The result is a spectacular refreshing tangy-sweet sauce with a hint of heat. It's mild enough for those that don't like spicy food. It's a visually appealing sauce that is quick and easy to make. You could use this sauce with just about anything, but for this recipe I decided that a combination of Gulf Shrimp and Red Snapper Filet would be nice because they were fresh at my local store. Use any firm fleshed fish that you have fresh and local.

Possible substitutions for this recipe include roasted poblano or Anaheim chilies instead of the hatch chilies. Ripe tomatoes of any kind can be substituted for heirloom tomatoes. If you can't find good fresh tomatoes, you can use a well drained can of diced Italian plum tomatoes. Cilantro can be used instead of the basil.

Gulf Red Snapper and Shrimp in Roasted Hatch Chili Tomato Sauce

For the sauce:
  • 2 Hatch chilies, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced (Anaheim or Poblano can substitute)
  • 3 heirloom tomatoes, diced
  • ½ sweet red onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 medium basil leaves, rolled and sliced thinly into long strips. Or just chop it up!
  • 5 green onions, sliced small
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1 cup shrimp stock (see below)
  • 3 dashes Tabasco sauce (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Small pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 to 12 large Gulf Shrimp, head on, if possible, to make stock (see recipe below)
  • 1 Red Snapper filet, cut into pieces of desired size (8-12 oz size filet works well, cut into 2 or 3 pieces)
Other ingredients:
  • Oil for sauté pan
  • Flour for coating the fish
To roast the chili peppers, cut in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and pith. Lightly coat the peppers with oil and roast under a broiler, cut side down, until the skin of the pepper chars and bubbles. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool. Peel away the charred skins. Do not rinse away the little roasted bits; they add flavor.

Combine all sauce ingredients except the red onion, garlic and stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside. This can be done in advance.

Prepare the shrimp by removing the heads (just twist them off,) peel and de-vein. Reserve all the shells and the heads for the shrimp stock.

Prepare shrimp stock (see recipe below). This can also be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated for up to 2 days, or frozen.

To prepare the dish, season the fish lightly with salt and pepper, and lightly dust with all- purpose flour. Heat approximately 3 tablespoons olive oil in a saut pan over medium-high heat until very hot, slightly smoking. Shake off any excess flour from the fish and add to the pan. Saut the fish until a light brown crust is formed, being careful not to move the fish before the crust is formed. Turn the fish once, and do the same on the other side. Be careful not to burn the fish; adjust the heat as needed. Remove the fish from the pan.

Saut the onions and garlic briefly in the remaining oil. When the garlic starts to turn a light brown color, add the stock. This is called deglazing. You want to incorporate into the sauce any browned bits of food that have stuck to the bottom of the saut pan. Turn the heat to high and reduce the stock until the onions are soft and there is approximately 1/4 cup of liquid left in the pan. Add the tomato mixture and the shrimp to the pan and heat through.

Return the fish to the pan by placing right on top of the sauce, cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for a few minutes until the fish is cooked through.

To serve, carefully remove the fish with a spatula and place on your plate. Spoon the sauce and the shrimp over the top. Serve with some good crusty bread that can be used to mop up any remaining sauce at the end of the meal. Enjoy!

How to Make a Stock

I can't emphasize enough my belief that good cooking is primarily the result of using good ingredients. One of my favorite things to cook with is a good homemade stock as it adds a depth of flavor that you can't get with bouillon cubes or base.

You don't necessarily have to slave over the stove for an entire day to get good results. If you have a crock pot, you can simply place the ingredients in and simmer them while you are at work. You can save scraps of celery, onion, carrots and parsley in a freezer bag and when you have enough you can make a stock. Chicken is very inexpensive when you buy the whole bird. You can quarter the chicken and use the carcass, wing tips and neck for the stock pot. Just freeze until you have enough. Even the leftover carcass of a whole roasted bird can be used in the stock pot. Thanksgiving is coming! Don't throw away that turkey carcass after the big meal. It makes an excellent turkey stock!

In a pinch, you can buy an inexpensive family pack of chicken wings or a beef brisket and use that instead of scraps. I feel that stock is not something to get too uptight about, especially when used in a sauce.

For the recipe above, I purchased shrimp with the heads still on. The heads and the rest of the shells were used to make a small amount of shrimp stock. If you can't find shrimp with heads on, ask your fish monger if they have any salt water fish bones you can use for stock. Fresh water bones don't work very well. If you don't want to fuss, you can use chicken stock or white wine instead for the Gulf Red Snapper and Shrimp in Roasted Chili Tomato Sauce recipe above.

Quick and Simple Shrimp Stock

This stock recipe is designed specifically for using in sauces, so I am not concerned about creating a perfect stock. I just want it to be quick and easy with lots of flavor.
  • Peels and heads from 8 to 12 shrimp, or about a pound of very fresh fish bones
  • 1 carrot, rough chop
  • 1 stalk celery, rough chop
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, rough chop. Don't even bother peeling.
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic, slightly crushed with the flat of a knife
  • 4 sprigs parsley
  • ½ cup dry white wine (optional)
  • Enough water to just cover ingredients, but not more than about 2 cups
Rinse the shrimp shells in cold water and drain. Combine the ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a simmer, cover and cook for approximately 40 minutes to one hour. Unlike other meat stocks, do not cook for more than an hour as the aroma and flavor will start to cook out of the shrimp stock. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Your stock is ready to use.

David Bulla is a chef living in Austin, Texas.

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