Redfish are one of those species that make addiction a little easier to understand. Among my circle of friends, priorities tend to shift when the reds make their appearance. Now I’m not saying neglect your health, family, or finances – but maybe that lawn could stand to get a bit taller. After all, it’s not every day the bite is on and the fans are off.
There’s a lot to love about redfish. They’re notoriously hard fighters, they can be sight-fished when conditions are right, and they have spots on their tail that serve as an antipredator mechanism. It’s no wonder coastal anglers from Massachusetts to Mexico are so enamored of them. In fact, redfish get anglers so riled up, we’ve developed cute little nicknames for every stage of their life. From puppies, to slots, to over-slots, to bulls, redfish are a force to be reckoned with.
Before the pot gets stirred too much, let me just say – I know many anglers are strictly catch & release when it comes to redfish. Don’t get me wrong, I release many myself, but I also believe in the sustainable harvest of renewable resources when populations can support it. Fortunately, many states have strong management systems in place that utilize slot-limits. A slot-limit has both a minimum and maximum size-limit, meaning anglers are only allowed to keep fish within a designated length range. This helps to insure a healthy population with age diversity and a robust breeding class. Regulations vary state to state, but the slot-limit is generally in the 18-26 inch ballpark.
Let’s roll play; you just landed a Crafty Shrimp 4 feet in front of a tailing red, the fish discovers your fly and sucks it up, after a quick strip-set and a few nice runs the 20 inch red is boatside and you’ve just decided redfish is on the menu tonight – now what? Most folks would pan fry or grill the fillets, and serve them with a couple sides. While cooking the fillets fresh is a great idea, I’d like to take this opportunity to shed some light on a cut that doesn’t get the credit it deserves – collars. When I say ‘collars’, I’m referring to the meat along the bottom of the fish that extends from just behind the gills to a couple inches past the pectoral fins. It’s flavorful, fatty, and kind of a pain in the ass to remove, but well worth it in the end. Besides, you’ve already put all that time and effort into catching the fish – what’s a little more work to maximize your utilization? (Pro Tip: A pair of kitchen shears will make your life easier).
Redfish are delicious, plain, and simple, and it doesn’t stop at their fillets. Redfish collars have a rich flavor and crab-like texture, making them the perfect ingredient for this Shrimp & Grits inspired dish. If you’ve spent some time south of the Mason-Dixon, chances are you’ve run into this classic Lowcountry meal. In this version, we’re subbing out shrimp for the critter that eats ‘em. I hope this recipe will result in more anglers joining ‘team collars.’ If grits aren’t your thing, no worries. At the end of the day, I just hope the next time you’re cooking up some fillets there are a couple of collars beside them.
Lowcountry Grits Recipe:
- 0.75 cup of coarsely ground grits
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 0.5 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 0.25 cup half-and-half, or whole milk
- 0.25 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 0.5-pound andouille sausage, cut into 0.25-inch slices
- 1 large bell pepper, chopped
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 0.5 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1 teaspoon fresh chives or scallions, finely chopped
- Combine 1.5 cups chicken stock, salt, and 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Slowly stir in the grits and return to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer, cover the pan with a lid and cook for 15-25 minutes, stirring occasionally until the grits are tender and have reached the desired thickness.
- Stir in the half-and-half or milk and cheddar cheese. Set aside and keep warm.
- Bring a sauté pan to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook the andouille sausage slices until brown, (5-6 minutes) then remove.
- Add bell pepper, onion, and garlic to the pan and cook until the onion is translucent (6-8 minutes).
- Add the cooked sausage back to the pan, stir the contents, and reduce to medium heat.
- Add 1 tablespoon of butter, 0.5 cup of chicken stock, flour, and Worcestershire sauce. Reduce to desired thickness (5-8 minutes).
- Serve sausage mixture over grits and top with chives or scallions to finish.
Grilled Redfish Collars Recipe:
- 2 redfish collars, or however many you have on hand
- 0.25 cup olive oil
- 0.5 teaspoon salt
- 0.5 teaspoon black pepper
- 0.5 teaspoon garlic powder
- 0.5 teaspoon onion powder
- 0.25 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 lemon, freshly squeezed
- Combine all ingredients in an appropriately sized freezer bag. Shake the bag to mix the contents. Allow the collars to marinate for 2-4 hours in the refrigerator.
- Remove the collars from the marinade. Grill the collars (meat side down) over high heat for 5-6 minutes. Flip the collars and continuing grilling for another 5-6 minutes, or until the skin crisps and the meat flakes.
- Serve the collars over grits and sausage mixture.
Until next time, good luck out there!
Article by Kirk Marks, an angler, photographer, and culinary aficionado based in Kent Island, Maryland. Give him a follow at @kirkymarks.