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Snapper Season

Whether you prefer to head offshore and catch your prize, or simply pick it up at a local seafood market, red snapper season has arrived in South Alabama and dinner plates everywhere are rejoicing!

Red snapper season is underway in the Gulf of Mexico, with anglers of all ages enjoying the thrill of the catch and the reward of the meal to come. And while the seasons, limits and regulations are a hot topic, about which many will never agree, the fish itself are a real crowd-pleaser.

The seasons and quotas for recreational fisherman have long been under the control of the federal government, specifically the National Marine Fisheries Service. But after years of work, things are changing in 2018 thanks to local groups and activists who represent the Gulf Coast, like Republican congressman Bradley Byrne, who has long championed the issue. The Department of Commerce through the National Marine Fisheries Service granted Alabama an extended fishing permit, meaning that the state would take over, for two years only, the ability to monitor and regulate its recreational snapper season. Proponents argue that those of us on the ground — er, water —  know the health of our local fisheries better than anyone in Washington and are more interested in implementing new and innovative ways to monitor daily catch to ensure the health of the fishery. As a result of this shift in power, last year’s 42-day season has since been extended to 47 by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, allowing local anglers a few more chances to bring home dinner. However, some fishermen are arguing this power shift is bad for business.

Captain Chris Garner, who owns and operates The Cotton Patch, a popular charter boat out of Orange Beach, says the exempted permit amounts to nothing more than a power grab by Montgomery. He worries the state is only interested in expanding tourism and gathering tax dollars, and in the end will overfish the red snapper supply that businesses like his depend on.

“Charter boat captains have been working hard to stay under our allotted quotas to grow the fishery every single year. We are on our fifth year of expanding our season (which is managed by NOAA separately from recreational seasons) because we’ve been under our number by 25 percent every year. Our industry truly wants to be sustainable.”

Meanwhile, the outcome of this shift in snapper oversight is yet to be seen. After just a few short weeks of the 2018 season, the total pounds caught are being reported to the Alabama Snapper Check Program, which collects data directly from anglers via a smartphone app before the fish even leave the boat. The citizens of the Gulf Coast should be able to monitor the progress — or failure — of the state’s management and take it to folks like Byrne for help. Byrne says that snapper fishing is a long-held tradition for those who grew up on the Gulf Coast, but it goes far beyond just wanting to fish.

“This is really about the proper role of the federal government and the fact that those of us on the Gulf Coast — not bureaucrats in Washington — know how to best manage the fishery,” says Byrne. “It’s all about ensuring the tradition continues for the next generation.”

As for the experience of reeling one in, Garner says snapper is about as good as it gets. “Snapper get their name honestly. They are absolutely willing to jump into the boat with ya! People from 8 to 80 can experience a good bite and a good pull, and it’s good tablefare.”

It’s worth mentioning that not everyone can afford their own fancy center console and an ungodly fuel bill to run offshore for snapper. Has anyone ever done the math on what that cost works out to per fish caught? (Wives of fishermen everywhere are groaning at the thought.) But for “your average Joe,” as Garner puts it, a half day or full day charter is the way to go, giving everyone (the appropriate) access to the fisheries that we all cherish and that so many people are working hard to protect.

“My most popular trip is the half-day,” he adds. “You get on the boat in the morning, catch plenty of fish, have plenty of action, and can be back at the condo by lunch to cook your fish and get back to the beach.”

And for those who turn green at the thought of spending the day bobbing on the open seas, snapper fillets are easy to find in local seafood markets and even major grocery stores. They are a clean-eating fish and lend themselves well to a myriad of recipes. Continue reading for a few ideas provided by local chefs that will take your fish dinners up a serious notch!

The 2018 red snapper season in Alabama runs from June 1 - Sept. 3, but on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only. The entire week of the Fourth of July (June 30  - July 8) will also be open. An Alabama saltwater fishing license is required for all anglers over age 16.

Red Snapper Ceviche with Coconut-Lime Dressing

From the Wash House in Point Clear

1 pound fresh red snapper, diced into small pieces
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
12 ounces coconut milk
3 limes, juiced
4 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup whole cilantro leaves
2 cups canola oil, divided
1/4 pound sweet potato
salt, to taste
5 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup small diced yellow onion
1 tablespoon small diced jalapeno, seeds removed
1/8 cup chopped cilantro, tightly packed

1. Combine fish and lime juice in a medium bowl. Let marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour, or until fish looks white and no longer raw.
2. While fish is marinating, combine next six ingredients in a small bowl. Refrigerate dressing until ready to use.
3. To make the cilantro oil, bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add whole cilantro leaves and cook for 5 seconds. Remove from heat, drain off hot water and cover cilantro with ice water. When they are cool, squeeze cilantro leaves to remove excess liquid. Add to a blender with 1 cup canola oil and blend on high until oil is bright green. Strain out solids through a fine strainer and set aside.
4. To make the sweet potato straws, cut sweet potato on a spiral cutter, or cut into very thin strips by hand. Heat 1 cup canola oil to 325 degrees and fry sweet potato until golden brown and crisp. Drain on a paper towel and season with salt.
5. After fish has marinated, remove excess liquid. Add cut vegetables and herbs and toss to combine. Add enough dressing (you won’t need it all) to coat the fish plus a little extra to pool in the bowl. Drizzle with cilantro oil and top with crispy sweet potato straws. Serves 2 as entree or 4 as appetizer.

Lemon Caper Snapper

From Chuck’s Fish in Mobile

This classic French preparation is easy to create at home and makes an elegant presentation.

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons blackening seasoning
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 6-ounce snapper fillets
1 cup white wine (or seafood stock)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons capers
4 teaspoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, seasoning, salt and pepper on a dinner plate. Dry the fish fillet well and then pat into the flour mixture, being sure to cover every inch.
2. Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Place the fish in the pan and do not touch it until you see the edges turn golden brown. Flip the fillet and drain any extra oil from pan. Cook in oven for 9 - 14 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove pan from oven and set fish aside on a plate.
3. Add the wine and simmer until the alcohol has burned off. You should have a thin, amber-colored sauce. Add lemon juice and capers and turn the heat on low. Add the butter and turn off the pan. Salt and pepper to taste.
4. Add the fish back to the pan to soak up flavor and heat on low for 1 - 2 minutes. Remove fish and place on serving plates, then spoon the sauce over each fillet. Serve over a bed of fresh vegetables. Serves 2.

Baked Thai Snapper

From Von’s Bistro in Mobile

Cooking a whole fish shouldn’t be intimidating! In fact, it is easier to master than cooking a fillet. The skin and bones keep the fish from drying out too quickly, and nothing impresses like a platter with a whole fish coming to the table. Talk about wow!

3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 stalk fresh lemongrass, finely chopped (or 1 tablespoon store-bought minced)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
juice of 2 limes
1 2-3 pound whole red snapper, gutted and scaled
Chopped green onions, mint and peanuts for garnish

1. In a medium-sized bowl, combine first seven ingredients. Cover a rimmed baking pan with aluminum foil and place snapper on it. Cover fish in marinade, making sure to coat the inside as well. Put in refrigerator for 1 hour to marinate.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook fish for 25 - 30 minutes, depending on thickness.
3. Gently transfer fish from pan to a large serving platter. Sprinkle green onions, mint and chopped peanuts over the top and bring to table. Use a spatula and knife to portion and carefully remove the fillets to each dinner plate. Once fillets have been removed from one side, flip fish and remove fillets from the other. Dinner guests often love picking at the bones for the tender morsels and sauce that remain! Serves 4. Pictured alongside black forbidden rice.

Snapper with Skillet Corn and Summer Crab Salad 

From Voyagers in Orange Beach

Chef Brody Olive loves using cast-iron pans for dishes like these. “All of mine were passed down from my grandmothers, so every time I cook with them I can’t help but think of all the mouths fed from these pans. I can see my grandmothers shuffling around the kitchen dodging kids and running us out of the kitchen. These ladies were multitasking wizards!”

1 pound fresh jumbo lump crab meat
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon aged sherry vinegar
1 small red bell pepper, julienned
1 small shallot, shaved
1 tablespoon finely sliced chives
2 lemons, zested and juiced
salt and pepper, to taste
6 ears local silver king corn
1 small golden bell pepper, julienned
1/2 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch parsley, torn
2 tablespoons butter
4 6-ounce fillets of Gulf red snapper
1 lemon, sliced
2 radishes, shaved

1. Pick crab with your hands to remove any remaining shells. In medium mixing bowl, add crab, 3 tablespoons olive oil, sherry vinegar, red bell pepper, shallot, chives, lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper and gently stir to combine. Cover and place in fridge.
2. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Remove the corn from the cob and add to the pan along with golden bell peppers, cherry tomatoes (reserve a few tomatoes for garnish), garlic and torn parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 4 - 5 minutes, stirring regularly, then reduce heat to low and allow corn to caramelize for 12 - 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. In large saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. While pan is heating, season snapper fillets with salt and pepper on both sides. Sear snapper fillet for 3 minutes on one side. Flip and cook for about 2 more minutes. (Chef advises you cook fillets for 5 minutes per inch of thickness). Squeeze lemon over fish and remove from heat.
4. Place skillet corn in the center of each plate, and then lay snapper on top. Spoon crab salad over the snapper. Garnish with shaved radish and reserved cherry tomatoes. Serves 4.

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