OK, a few weeks ago we talked about the types of inshore creatures we are seeking.
Now let's talk about what to do with them once you have them in your cooler. That is, how do we turn those slimy, smelly, denizens of the deep into taste-tempting delights?
To properly clean a fish you must have a sharp knife. These days we are able to buy some pretty serviceable fishing equipment at a low price, but when it comes to a filet knife, never go cheap. A fine blade will stand you in good stead for many years. I bought my own in Chicago in 1985. I won't get into how to filet fish here, but you can find good instructional videos on the 'Net.
Here we will discuss cooking methods. The most abundant fish in any inshore environment is mullet. They are also the most consumed fish on the planet. Prized for their roe, I like to eat 'em fried. My favorite method is to soak the filets in buttermilk and then roll them in cornmeal, not a flour blend. Fry on a high heat (perhaps 360 degrees) until crispy and serve with a quality Thousand Island dressing dip that you have liberally spiked with horseradish.
If you think you don't like mullet, try it my way and I will guarantee you to be surprised.
Red fish or red drum and their cousins, the black drum, are great on the grill. I like to cook mine until almost done and then add mango salsa for the final stage. Another good way to cook any drum is to cut into bite-sized pieces and coat with a good blackened seasoning ( you can make up your own). Coat the bottom of a fry pan with butter and turn up the heat. Drop the pieces in and sear. Depending on the thickness of your fish these will be done in just a few minutes.
Blue crabs are mostly under appreciated locally, but I just love 'em. In the bottom of a very large pot place five or six rolled up balls of aluminum foil. This will keep the crabs off the bottom where they would burn. Now pour in half of a beer. Stack the crabs in on top of each other, but after each layer add lots of salt and Old Bay type seasoning. The beer will steam the crabs until rosy red in short order.
Up around the Chesapeake Bay area, blue crabs have become so expensive they have been busy trying to figure out ways to make them go farther.
My favorite is crab muffins. Lightly toast your English muffin halves and butter with dried and picked blue crab that has been mixed with just a bit of mayonnaise. A spoon of bread crumbs can be added to the mix. Cover each muffin with a slice of Swiss cheese and sprinkle with paprika. Broil for just a bit until the cheese begins to turn colors. Oh my! Now that's good eats! If you buy canned crab, try to get the claw meat, for that has the most taste.
Spotted sea trout has a very mild-flavored flesh and can be prepared in any number of ways. I am a fried-fish guy and I like to roll the filets in a mix of cornmeal and flour and cook until golden brown. Flounder are possessed of an even milder taste and if you are a person who likes sauces this is your fish. Most people who do not like to eat fish will go for flounder.
If you have been paying attention to this column, you know that I adore stuffed flounder. Mix a can of blue crab (with liquid) and seasoned Italian bread crumbs and place about a half inch between two flounder filets. Broil until done and serve with melted butter. It doesn't get much better than that.
Smoked blue fish, mullet and jacks are the best. Sheepshead, mangrove snapper and whiting are all great fried. A little Heinz 57 steak sauce for a dip goes well with them. Shrimp, too, are great fried and at the risk of becoming Bubba from the movie, I will stop at suggesting you try scampi. That includes lots of garlic butter and good hard bread for dipping up the sauce.
Most of these methods I have described can be switched from fish to fish, but cold beer is always a constant. Frank's Louisiana hot sauce is the condiment of choice to go with it all. Don't be shy. Experiment a little and you will soon be a happy fisherman.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.