Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Red Snapper Stew

A while back, before Fat Tuesday, I happened to visit New Orleans, Louisiana for work.  My trip happened to coincide with Tabasco Week.  The week-long event featured "restaurant week."  Restaurants across The Big Easy featured special menus with dishes that included the eponymous hot sauce.  While my business trip allowed me to visit some of the notable New Orleans restaurants, like Gallatoire's and and Antoine's, I did not have a chance to try any of the  Tabasco week menus.  That missed opportunity got me to thinking once I returned home from that work trip.  

Mardi Gras was about a week away, and, I needed a recipe  to make a special dish for my beautiful Angel.  The Tabasco Week got me to thinking about a small Tabasco Cookbook that has been sitting on the bookshelf.  I pulled out the cookbook, paged through the recipes and came across a recipe for Red Snapper Stew.

This Red Snapper Stew recipe was just right, because, in the back of my mind, I was looking to makes something different for Mardi Gras.  I wanted to do something different than a gumbo, creole or etoufee. Don't get me wrong, I love all of those dishes.  But, I have made them before.  I wanted to make something new, and, perhaps, learn something along the way. 

Image from Pew Trusts
That something was not what I expected.  As it turns out, red snapper happens to be quite the controversial fish in the Gulf of Mexico.  Fishermen have been hauling in red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico since the 1840s, originally around Pensacola, Florida.  By the end of the century, fishermen and scientists began to notice that the stocks of red snapper were being depleted in the areas where they were fishing.  So, the fishermen moved to other parts of the Gulf. The stocks eventually depleted there as well.  Meanwhile, as shrimping increased in the Gulf, the shrimpers began to catch red snapper fry in the shrimp trawls.  The double whammy made itself present in the overall stock of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.  Simply put, red snapper were being overfished.   

As a result, the federal government imposed restrictions on the fishing of red snapper in federally controlled waters.  Those restrictions set the Red Snapper season for both recreational anglers and federally permitted for hire "components."  That season was only 3 days for the former but 42 days for the latter.  That 3 day season for recreational anglers is where the controversy began.  Where it went next is quite the story.

The man who tries to change the law by breaking it.
As it turns out, in 2017, the Commerce Department's Director of Policy and Strategic Planning -- Earl Comstock -- advised the Secretary of the Commerce Department -- Wilbur Ross -- that the latter should extend the red snapper season for recreational anglers by thirty-nine days.  The new, forty-two day fishing season would, in Director Comstock's opinion, result in overfishing of red snapper and maybe even a lawsuit.  But all of that would be okay, at least in Comstock's view, because it would lead to a "significant achievement," namely, action by Congress to change the rules for the red snapper season.  In other words, Director Comstock counseled Secretary Ross to violate the law in order to get Congress to change that law.  And, in what could only happen in the current administration, Secretary Ross violated the law and extended the season, thereby prompting a lawsuit by two environmental groups.  Those groups wanted decisions to be made based upon sustainability and accountability, not just on fisherman having a longer period to snag a snapper.

Picture from Caller-Times
The lawsuit worked its way through the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to a settlement.  The settlement provided that the extension of the red snapper season was a "one-time action."  This suggests that recreational anglers will not see such a long season again, at least in federal waters.  Given the state of the red snapper stocks, hat may be a good thing. The preliminary estimates show that, after the extended season in 2017, recreational anglers exceeded the catch limits by fifty percent.  Additional extended seasons could simply further deplete the stocks further.  And, the proposed action by Congress could -- just like any action by Congress -- simply make things worse.

One would think that the settlement would allow red snapper to breathe easier.  However, the current administration has now proposed exempted fishing permits that would allow each of the five states bordering the Gulf of Mexico (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas) to regulate the state and federal seasons.  Only time will tell if that is a good idea (but I have my own opinion on that point).

Back to the recipe, I bought some red snapper from my local grocery store along with some fish for this stew.  In the end, the Red Snapper Stew is not what I would have expected. It was not very stew-like.  But, it was very delicious.  The spices worked extremely well together and -- with that Tabasco Sauce -- there was a good kick to the dish.  This is definitely a dish for Mardi Gras.


RED SNAPPER STEW
Recipe from Tabasco's Cookbook (pg. 70)
Serves 6

Ingredients:
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/4 pound red snapper or white fish fillets
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green pepper
1/8 teaspoon powdered saffron
2 16 ounce cans whole tomatoes, undrained, chopped
1 teaspoon Tabasco pepper sauce
3/4 pound okra, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
Cooked rice

Ingredients:
1.  Prepare the fish.  In a medium bowl, mash together the garlic, parsley, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, thyme, bay leaf, allspice and oil, forming a paste.  Spread the mixture on the fish and set aside. 

2.  Prepare the stew.  In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the onion, pepper and saffron and cook over 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes and liquid, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the Tabasco sauce and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.   Add the fish, okra, and shrimp.  Simmer the stew, uncovered, for 6 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when pierced with a fork  Serve hot over rice. 

ENJOY!

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