Making The Old -- and The Good -- New Again

By James Parrish Coleman -- a/k/a Jimbo Coleman

A later edition. Early Editions had a white

spine, and ads for long extinct local business.

Gulf Coast Gourmet was compiled by my late mother, Jane S. Coleman, in the early 1960s. The book was a fund raiser for the Foley Woman's Club.

The illustrations are the original work of a very talented artist named Marion Dyer. The book has been in print for many, many years; but has the simple fault of assuming you know about Gulf seafood and really know how to cook. I'll cook through the book (and my childhood), explain how Jane Coleman cooked, and tell a lot of family stories in the process. I like to cook. I will share what I have, and hope you like it. That's the spirit of this blog. Bon Appetit.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Truly Taken From The Hand Of God

Her voice clanged like a loud and slightly off-key monotone. She was at her customary place, blasting my dinner guests with her usual non-stop monologue about her work, her house, her cat, her troubles, her way of doing things and her ideas about how the table should be set.

"If we're going to eat fish, as a first course, we should have fish plates. My silver pattern has fish knives. Do you have fish knives? I have fish knives!"


I, safely in the kitchen, was insulated from the noise and bother. In a few seconds, surely, she would notice that plates on which I was about to serve the fish were not fish plates at all -- but meant for salad.

Life is defined by contrasts.

Earlier in the day, a quieter gentler soul pointed at a red plastic pail. It was filled with ice, with only the tails of two speckled trout jutting out. "We caught those just a little while ago," he said quietly. His offering was gentle, matter of fact and appreciated. This fishing guide (the son of my co-worker) is the picture of good natured serenity.

He calls me when he has a gift of fish. I never know when the gift will come. I never know what it will be. I trust this fisherman and know that the gift will be good. I only have to be receptive and use it wisely.

 My daughter and I were shopping when the phone rang. "Jimbo, I've got a couple of fish." The unexpected bounty always elicits the same response. "I'll be right there." Moments later, daughter Sarah arrived at his waterfront home, got our fish and headed home.
Capt Sonny & his son Brian
trading fishing tips

Good, fresh and well handled fish are always a gift. Cooking them properly is more a matter of not screwing up what you've been given than skillfully making up for their deficiencies.

You must worry only about the fish placed on the plate, not the fish painted on the plate. Simple methods honor perfect ingredients.

Gulf Coast Gourmet has a simple fish dish. It is of the "fry till golden and delicious" variety.

Speckled Trout -- Not A Trout At All!
Cooking fish simply and well is stark. There is no place to hide. Its the fish, a hot pan, salt, pepper a little flour, butter and you.

That is why it can be so difficult.

The fish Sonny provided is the most popular "trout" along the central gulf coast. However, it is not a trout at all.

"The spotted seatrout also known as speckled trout (Cynoscion nebulosus) and spotted weakfish(Cynoscion regalis) are common estuarine fish found in the southern United States along coasts of Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Ocean. While most of these fish are caught on shallow, grassy flats, spotted seatrout reside in virtually any inshore waters, from the surf of outside islands to far up coastal rivers, where they often come for shelter during cold weather. Contrary to its name, the spotted seatrout is not a member of the trout family (Salmonidae), but of the drum family (Sciaenidae)" (source: Wikipedia)

Here is the closest thing Gulf Coast Gourmet comes to a simple fish recipe:

Oh, this is so typical! We don't know what kind of "trout" we're supposed to use. And we're not even told that that does not really matter! "Have backbone removed from fish." Does that mean we need to use fillets? Do we remove the backbone and leave the flesh on the back attached? Who knows!
"Melt butter in skillet and fry fish until it is a delicate brown. Place cooked fish on platter."
We're getting somewhere here! However. Here is a better way

Number one. Find yourself a Sonny Dean and learn what a fresh fish is really all about. Remember, the freshness of the fish will make you look like a hero! Take what Sonny gave you and:

Fillet the fish. Divide the fillets into portions so you never have one piece of fish that is thin in one spot and thick in another. Better to have several small pieces that will cook evenly. Season the fish with salt and pepper

 Clarify butter. Put a pound (yes, a pound, 4 sticks, 16 oz.) in a saucepan and put the pan on very low heat. It will melt, then a white foamy mass will rise to the top. Skim that off and save it (it is called gee, and it is great to eat on bread). Then let the butter simmer. The water will boil out of the product. Don't turn the heat up and take your time. In a while, the butter will have turned to a clear yellow liquid with little light brown flecks. Let it cool a little and strain it. Keep in the icebox.

Now, the easy part begins! Put a pan on medium heat and add clarified butter to about a 1/4 inch depth. Do not overheat the pan! The clarified butter has a much higher burning point that regular butter, but don't push it!

Dip the fish in milk, and dredge it in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Gently place it in the pan. No shaking, banging or shouting. This is a gentle process.

After a minute or two. Take a fish spatula ( a must have gadget) and turn the fish once. The easiest mistake to make is to have the heat too high and burn the fish. The most common mistake is overcooking. When you are sure it is not done, give it a poke with your Termapen. (If you don't know what that is, read an earlier post). At 125 F it is plenty done!

Place it on a platter and spoon a little of the butter over the top. I find the almonds entirely unnecessary.

"What did you do to this fish! Are you sure it's done already? What did you season it with? Then, the first bite, and silence. Another bite, more quiet!! Well, even though she can't eat forever, Sonny and his gift of a really fresh fish  quieted the clanging bell, and dampened the noisy cymbal. All it took was a really fresh fish, a light touch -- and a little clarified butter. Straight from the hand of God -- really fine ingredients need nothing else -- not even a fish plate.

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