Fresh Off the Boat
NEW ORLEANS CHEF BRIAN LANDRY OFFERS ADVICE ON HOW TO PREP AND SERVE SEAFOOD.
If you’re wondering how best to store, prepare and serve fresh seafood, chef Brian Landry is a good man to ask for advice. Decades before he joined chef John Besh in opening New Orleans seafood restaurant Borgne, Landry was spending summers catching shrimp, fish and crabs at his grandfather’s rented fishing camp on Lake Pontchartrain. “I had a very positive relationship with seafood from an early age,” he said.
For those of you who weren’t so fortunate to have grown up fishing south Louisiana’s famous waterways, Landry is happy to offer a few tips on what to do after you’ve bought fresh fish.
Don’t be scared.
“People tend to be very intimidated when it comes to cooking seafood specifically,” Landry said. For most people, it’s simply the fear of the unknown. If your past experience consists of, say, eating deep-fried fish planks from fast food joints, then sautéing up a yellowfin tuna steak might seem especially challenging.
“You really don’t have to do much to a piece of fresh fish,” Landry said. “Sauté it with a little olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper and you have a delicious meal in a matter of six minutes.” Easy.
Store it safely.
No matter where you pick up your seafood—we recommend buying Gulf-fresh fish from a local grocery store or dockside market—you’ll need to get it home. If you’re packing a cooler or ice chest, do so carefully and keep moisture in mind. Upon arriving home, store fish in the refrigerator immediately. Storing in the freezer is fine, but make sure your fish is dry, then wrap in moisture-vapor resistant paper or place in freezer bags.
According to Landry, “Fish love the water when they're alive, and don't need to be exposed to water after that.” In case you’re carrying your fillets or whole fish in a cooler, “keep it very cold—lots of ice, but protected from it. The fish already has plenty of natural moisture in it, and fish that’s just been caught will keep for a few days when kept on ice. It has decent shelf life when taken care of.” If it gets a little waterlogged, the texture changes and it won't cook and crisp the way it will taste best.
You only need a couple of good knives.
Landry could charge admission to those who want to see a fish filleted perfectly—he’s that good. In the back of the kitchen at Borgne, the chef presents a tray full of flounder and snapper on ice. He makes short work of both, starting with a sharp serrated knife.
“Depending on the structure of the fish, the bone structure will tell you where to go,” he said, slicing sideways behind a snapper’s gills. “For this one, I know it’s a flat fish on both sides, so as long as I just let the tip of the knife rest along the spine, I know I won’t get any bones.”
The other blade Landry suggests buying is a fillet knife, which he switches to right after removing each side of the snapper. “The thing is, you don’t have to buy an expensive one,” he said. Nor do you need to break the bank with expensive kitchen gear. Just a good sauté pan, a sturdy pot, a grill and other tools you likely already have at home.
There’s no such thing as a perfect pairing.
The question of wine, beer and seafood pairings is one that Landry hears a lot. No matter the dish or drink, he has the same answer—whatever you like is whatever works best for the meal. There are no right or wrong answers to the question.
“I find that when I boil seafood and it’s a little spice-forward, I tend to want a beer. When I cook something more delicate, like speckled trout or redfish, I might reach for a glass of dry white wine. For yellowfin tuna, maybe I’ll choose a lighter red, a Spanish rioja or a pinot noir.
“It all comes down to what makes you happy.”
Shopping for fresh seafood.
Remember to always ask the fishmonger or seafood counter where your seafood came from. Domestic seafood is responsibly raised; FDA approved and tastes better than imported seafood.