Fish on the Half Shell
I was in Houston for a weekend when I first discovered a menu listing for a dish called “Redfish on the Half Shell.” We’ve heard, of course, of Oysters on the Half-shell, but that made sense because the bi-valves fit the shell that they grew up in. But redfish? What shell?
A waiter explained that the dish was actually a sliced whole redfish cooked on the grill in its own skin, which is grill side down.
In this, our annual best new restaurant issue, we look at oncoming places doing adventurous things, so I pause to note this new dish, at least to me, that seems to have been popularized in Texas but is probably heading our way.
I might have forgotten about the half-shell fish except that the next night, in a different restaurant, also in Houston, I saw it on a menu again. It is served sizzling, hot off the grill, usually with some sort of bubbling sauce drizzled on it.
Texas, by act of its legislature, has proclaimed the redfish to be the state’s “Official Saltwater Fish.” Louisiana, however, is the state from which the species in its most demanded form, blackened, originated. The dish was so popular it almost depleted the Gulf of Mexico. There are recipes on the internet by local chefs, including John Besh and Donald Link, but grilling is such a part of Texas cuisine that plopping a fish on the grate seems natural.
Texas Monthly even deals with the topic on its website pointing out that the fish’s skin is so tough and scaly that cooks resisted peeling it and just put it on the fire. (Think of our own local Chargrilled Oyster, with the hard side down and sauce on top.)
My hunch is that the dish is making a gradual entry into the New Orleans market. I have seen it locally on the menu of one of our featured Best New Restaurants, Margie’s Grill, where it is described as “Coal Roasted Gulf Fish” with the explanation that it is prepared on the “1/2 shell” with a “garlic-herb sauce.” By referring to “gulf fish” the chef has the option of using different critters from the sea. (The night I was there the fish du jour was the tripletail, also known to its friends as the blackfish.)
As new restaurants open, food selections expand and now we know that fish can be served on the half-shell. Just remember though that, with the exception of barbecue, anything that originated in Texas tastes better in Louisiana.