A TEXAS SPECIALTY: CEVICHE MADE WITH FRESH CAUGHT IN MARSH
The Texas spring had been windy! I had been watching and waiting for the wind to die down, hoping for a chance to hit the swamp in my Old Town kayak and chase down some redfish. Finally, after a couple of months of waiting, I saw a stretch of predicted weather where the wind was supposed to die down and be almost non-existent. If you’ve ever fished in Texas, wind is one of those commodities that’s hard to escape. I quickly made arrangements to go on the water, chasing some Texas gold. I packed my truck with fishing necessities and headed to a friend’s house in Houston, where I was staying for a redfish adventure.
When I left Houston a couple of mornings later, I ran into a huge traffic jam. The day was going to be shorter than he initially expected. Arriving at the jetty much later than planned made me feel rushed. Upon first inspection, I noticed a welcome change from the water I fished the day before: the clarity of the water in the Intercoastal Waterway. I fished closer to Houston the day before, but thanks to 14 inches of rain the week before, all the water I found was excessively dirty. Stopping and finding clean, green water was bliss, making the long drive south from Houston well worth the extra time!
I quickly loaded up my kayak and started it up. I made my way across the Intercoastal and into a series of cuts, lakes, and drains where I planned to target slender-water redfish. I had barely entered the swamp when I saw a flash ahead of me that was definitely not a mullet. As I got closer, I could clearly see the redfish making its way slowly up the thin shoreline, scouting its way through the marsh grass, looking for an easy lunch. Incredible! I was only a hundred yards on this floor and I had already found my intended prey. I softly cast a LIVETARGET Fleeing Shrimp in front of him, but I cast it a bit closer than intended and made him blush like a startled quail.
Moving along the edge of the marsh, I began to see a few more fish, eventually noticing that they were all moving away from a spot in the marsh grass, where the current flowed with the incoming tide. All the reds slowly swam along the current line, looking for a fresh meal. It became apparent that the best thing to do was to anchor and let the fish come to me as I was scaring them away before I could cast the line in the clear water.
I anchored in a way that kept me twenty to thirty feet from the lane where most of these fish seemed to be traveling so my boat wouldn’t alert them to my presence. Using the same fleeing LIVETARGET shrimp, I targeted the fish as they passed me by casting my bait three to four feet in front of them, waiting until they were within eighteen inches of the bait, then giving it a quick little hop. Not all of the fish pounced on the bait, but most of the time, they quickly propelled forward, angled down, and nailed my bait to the bottom. I was having a great time watching these fish crush my offering.
Many times the fish tried to swallow my baits and luckily I remembered to put my Smith’s Lawaia pliers in my kayak which made unhooking my jig from their hard mouths a piece of cake. The best part about these pliers is their 400 series stainless steel construction that is completely rust inhibiting. An absolute necessity when fishing in any saltwater application. I used the Smith’s Regal River 6″ Fish Clamp to help hold the fish while I carefully removed my hooks.
I had my Smith’s Insulated Kill Bag loaded with ice. I have found over the years that if I quickly kill and bleed the fish I intend to eat and immediately put them on ice, I end up with a much better table fair. It really makes extremely firm and sweet steaks.
As the tide began to ebb, the parade of reds slowed down substantially. As afternoon rolled around, I decided to call it a successful day and head back to Houston. I had saved a couple of 23 inch fish to take home and needed to clean those as well.
Back at the dock, I filleted the fish. After spending a few hours in my Smith’s kill bag, they were cold and extremely firm, making filleting fish much easier.
To fillet a redfish, I cut it behind the pectoral fins at an angle toward the crescent-shaped gills all the way down the spine. I then trace along its spine with the tip of my 7-inch Smith’s Lawaia fillet knife, cutting away any large scales so it’s easy to remove the fillet from the side of the fish. When I get to about two-thirds of the way through the fish, I push the filleting knife all the way in and run the knife up to the tail, and the back of the fillet is free. Next, I start working towards the head of the fish, starting at the top and gently cutting through the meat as close to the bones as possible down to the spine. I then start working on the backbone and separate the meat from the bottom of the fish all the way down to the ribcage. With redfish, this is always the most challenging part. There isn’t much meat on the ribs, but I always hold my knife at a low angle and push the blade down along the ribs until I separate the fillet from the fish.
At this point, I have the fillet of the fish, but the skin is still attached. I leave the steak skin side down on the table. Starting at the tail section, I pinch it with my left hand and slice the fillet to the skin with my right hand, and then, keeping the fillet knife at a shallow angle, angled toward the skin, gently run the fillet knife through. on the skin side by removing the skin from the fillet. I now have a perfect steak to take home to cook. Remove scales, place fillets in a ziplock bag, and place back on ice. Keeping steaks as cold as possible is the easiest way to ensure a superior dining experience!
When I got home, I knew fresh redfish ceviche was on the menu! I have found that any firm-fleshed fish makes excellent ceviche, and reds are no exception. Recipe to follow below.
RED FISH CEVICHE
- 2 FRESH FISH FILLETS
- 4-5 LIME
- 1 HALF RED ONION
- 2 PINTS CHERRY TOMATOES
- 1 JALENPENO PEPPER
- 1 SERRANO PEPPER (YOU CAN OMIT THE PEPPERS IF YOU DON’T LIKE A LITTLE ZING)
- 1 BUNCH OF CILANTRO
- 1/2 CUCUMBER
- 1/2 AVOCADO
- 1/2 A MANGO
- 1 teaspoon salt
Take the redfish fillets and remove all of the bloodline. That’s basically anything red on the steak. Lineage is often the culprit when people complain about a fishy taste. I also try to remove any of the bones on top of the fillets. This can be tedious, but it’s well worth it in the final product. If you don’t want to worry about the bones, just use the back half of the fillets and the bottom of the fillet below where the bloodline was. There are no bones in these sections, so you won’t have to worry about them.
Once the fish is cleaned and deboned, cut it into small cubes about a half-inch square. Place the fish cubes in a bowl and squeeze enough limes to cover the fish cubes. Put it in the fridge to allow the lemon juice to “cook” the fish while you prepare the rest of the ceviche.
Start by chopping half a red onion. Then chop the peppers and coriander into fine pieces. Some people don’t like coriander, but this depends on personal taste. Add about two tablespoons of finely chopped coriander. I think of ceviche as a fish sauce, so I build it almost like a fresh pico de gallo.
At this point, add a teaspoon of salt and mix it with the chopped vegetables. This helps the flavors blend while preparing the rest of the ceviche.
Then peel the cucumber, cut it into small pieces and add it to my bowl of vegetables. Cut an avocado in half, cut it into small pieces and add them to the mixture of onion, bell pepper and cilantro.
Do the same with the mango and then cut the tomatoes into small pieces. I like the ceviche to be thick but not too big. Again, this is a personal preference. You can also use any tomato, but the cherries are sweeter, so they help add a sweet note to the ceviche that is missing with regular tomatoes.
Finally, add the fish marinated in my fridge to the vegetable mixture and combine with the vegetables. Add all the lime juice from the bowl and mix well.
At this point, the ceviche is ready to serve. I find it absolutely delicious right when it’s done, but it gets tastier over the next hour as the flavors continue to blend. Serve the dish over tortilla chips, crackers, or straight from the bowl with a spoon.