The Cajuns of South Louisiana are known for their interest in spicy food and exotic flavors, but fishermen all along the northern Gulf Coast have their secret culinary delicacies as well. Most anglers who have grilled a monster blackfish appreciate the fish’s sweet and delicate cheek meat, but only the truly old school fully uses the bounty of these waters and can turn a fish carcass into blackfish jelly. Generations on the coast have long kept this culinary knowledge secret, yet it was fading into “culinary backwaters” until a revival of interest saved these savory treats from vanishing. These are some of my favorites.
Perhaps shrimp throats, aka “spiders,” are among the more common and likely the easiest to go mainstream. On the larger, jumbo to colossal-sized white shrimp, there is a bit of sweet meat that is nearly always wasted. Easily freed by placing an index finger into the head along the bottom and pushing down, this tasty nugget when washed, spiced, breaded, and fried is an amazing twist on shrimp meat with a unique texture and becomes a perfect and delicious finger food.
Mullets are one of the rare species of fish to have a gizzard, similar to a bird. Mullets are bottom feeders and it is best to only use the gizzard from mullets caught near the islands offshore where bottoms are sandy and not full of mud. The mullet gizzard is a small little nodule about the size of a fingernail and located after the throat. It must be sliced open and thoroughly washed before being simply spiced, battered and fried, just like the shrimp “spiders”—a tasty treat.
Red snapper are highly prized along the entire Gulf Coast, but from the piers of Galveston, Texas, to Orange Beach, Alabama, the snapper throats are simply tossed out. Yet these throats on the larger snappers are filled with delicate meat between the pectoral fins and are almost always scraped off the fish stations into the water for crabs or pelicans. I knew of a group of cruisers from Pascagoula, Mississippi, that would often do the voyage to Destin, Florida, along the ICW and arrive as the Destin charter boats were docking and the fish was being cleaned. Florida’s charter captains always found it a bit curious that these Mississippi natives would walk up and ask for these discarded portions of the large snappers. That was until they tasted the snapper throats scaled, spiced, breaded, and fried.
There is obviously a theme here regarding the frying of these tiny leftover morsels of meat, but with reason: They’re delicious and have a sweetness to them not found in the other meatier portions of fish or shrimp that is accentuated by the spicy batters of the Gulf Coast. Ask anyone who’s tried the little thumb-sized scallop of meat above and behind a redfish’s eyes.
Go for it and try one of these Gulf Coast’s unique delicacies. A nice comeback sauce and saltines will certainly help for that first sampling.
By Troy Gilbert, Southern Boating Magazine April 2016