I didn’t start grilling fish until we moved to south Florida. I went fishing on my 55th birthday with a friend of mine in the biology department and landed a very large mutton snapper. The biologist said in his New York accent, “Dan, you are a southern boy and Jacque is a southern girl, but please don’t take that fish anywhere near a frying pan.”
He knew that for us, a fish supper meant shaking the meat up in a cornmeal mixture and deep-fat frying it, along with hushpuppies and French fries.
“How should I cook it, then?” I asked.
“Grill it, Dan. Soak it awhile in a little lime juice and put it on your grill. And don’t over-cook it.”
The realtor who helped us relocate down there had just killed a hog in the Everglades and brought me some sausage. As I was soaking my trophy fish in a pan containing a whole bottle of lime juice, I prepared some patties of the fresh sausage, placed it on the grill, and put some biscuits in the oven. When the pork was smoking really well, I placed the snapper filets between the patties and dripped a little more lime juice on them when they started looking dry. I cooked the meat until the sausages were done and the fish was flaking.
It was a wonderful, delicious meal. I thought our teenage daughter would only have a sausage biscuit, not being much of a fish-eater, but she tore into the snapper with gusto and even complimented the chef. Jacque told me to remember how I had cooked the fish. She loved it. Since that day over a decade ago, I have grilled a lot of fish. These days I leave off the pork and experiment with marinades other than lime juice, but everyone, northerner and southerner alike, enjoys the grilled fish, whether fresh bream, bass, white perch or store bought fare such as mahi-mahi or already prepared blackened salmon, which one can find in some grocery stores.
But I’m not over my love for traditional southern fried fish. These days, we usually go out to one of our fine local restaurants for that delicacy. One of my happiest memories, though, is that of a trot-lining trip to Bang Slough between El Dorado and Hampton. My father-in-law and brother-in-law and I camped down there and set out lines and yo-yos all along the slough. We ran them all night, taking off and throwing away bunches of trash fish and keeping mostly channel cat. By “trash fish” I mean grindle, gar, turtles and mud cat. Well, we kept some of the prettiest mud cat.
It was dawn when my brother-in-law got the grease hot. We had a fish breakfast almost as good as the one the apostles had at the end of the Book of John. I feel sure Jesus grilled the fish that wondrous morning instead of frying them, but I’m absolutely sure the Lord would have loved the southern fried catfish there on the banks of Bang Slough.