Once relegated to a catch-and-release fish unworthy of the dinner table, black drum has ascended the culinary ladder to become a center-of-the-plate star in its own right. One theory is that it is following the coattails of its cousin the red drum (or redfish, as you know it), which with the help of renowned chef Paul Prudhomme became a superstar during the blackened craze of the mid-80s Cajun food obsession. Overfished and tightly regulated, redfish are no longer commercially plentiful and its close relative, the black drum, has stepped up. And with this classic recipe for Black Drum Amandine, it’s high time it show up on your dinner table.
I follow that theory–one that reflects the talent and the crafty resourcefulness of Cajun and Creole cooks. I believe that Louisiana cooks and professional chefs are quite inventive with Cajun recipes in the kitchen, and they realized that the black drum could be elevated by following a few simple culinary rules. Take catfish, for example. A similar plan was hatched for this slimy, bottom-feeder in the 1970s and that species spawned an entire aquaculture industry throughout the South.
Choosing your black drum for the dinner table should be done carefully. As a voracious, steel-jawed eater tearing through the oyster beds in the brackish coastal backwaters of the Gulf, black drum tend to grow quite large and tough–not ideal for cooking. Smaller black drum of less than five pounds are best. They have a modest flavor similar to redfish, and while not a flaky texture, it does hold up well to intense heat. Most Cajun cooking techniques using black drum focus on quick pan sautéing or open-fire grilling with one important added component–sauce.
I’ve found that it is crucial to add flavor to black drum, and with the proper sauce, this typically humdrum fish can stand up to the harshest dining critics. Recently, my friends at the LSU Ag Center’s Louisiana Direct program began marketing black drum under the Vermilion Bay Sweet brand, and I am beginning to see it in many South Louisiana supermarkets. Their process of packaging individually quick-frozen filet portions of black drum make it easy to access this ingredient. And I find the quality to be consistently good; more than good enough for my recipe for Black Drum Amandine.
The ultimate credibility for this underutilized fish was duly noted during a recent lunch at a very famous Louisiana restaurant. I dined at Galatoire’s Baton Rouge location and the menu listed Gulf Fish Meunière Amandine. I have always enjoyed Galatoire’s almond-infused version of the classic Creole meunière sauce, but I have always seen it listed as Trout Amandine, rather than simply Gulf Fish. When I asked my waiter if I would be dining on speckled trout, he quickly informed me that the fish in question was, you guessed it, Black Drum. And when I took my first bite of this perfectly prepared Black Drum Amandine, I was most pleased.
Today I am joining the drumbeat of excitement over this new fish royalty with my Black Drum Amandine version of Galatoire’s buttery Cajun recipe and I’m crowning it with fresh Louisiana lump crabmeat.
- 8 (4 to 6-ounce) fillets of black drum, skin removed
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 1 cup half and half
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 sticks (16 tablespoons) of unsalted butter
- ¾ cup sliced almonds
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Zest of ½ lemon
- 1 pound fresh jumbo lump Louisiana crabmeat
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 4 lemon wedges
- Remove the fish fillets to a cutting board and inspect them carefully, removing any small bones. Place them in a covered container and refrigerate.
- In a shallow container, add the flour and Cajun seasoning, and blend together.
- In a shallow container, add the half and half.
- Remove the fish fillets and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place the fillets in the half and half and then add to the seasoned flour. Roll them to coat on both sides.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the stick of butter. Shake any excess flour off each fillet and place in the hot skillet being careful not to crowd the pan. Sauté the fillets until browned on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to a platter and keep warm. Repeat until all the fish is cooked.
- In the same skillet on low heat, add the remaining stick of butter along with the almonds. Stir the mixture careful and watch as both the almonds and the butter begin to brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the heat off and add the garlic along with the lemon juice and lemon zest. Stir the sauce mixture as it continues to cook and then pour over the fish fillets.
- Wipe the pan clean using paper towel and place the pan on low heat. Add the crabmeat along with the chopped parsley and being careful not to break up the lumps, gently toss until warmed through, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.
- For plating, place two sautéed fish fillets in the center of the plate and spoon over the almond butter sauce. Top with a portion of the crabmeat and serve with a lemon wedge on the side.
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