The call of New Orleans in January comes from deep within. It’s a pilgrimage that started for me in the 5th grade when my parents scheduled an unrequested winter break to visit my cousins who lived a bohemian life down the street from a bayou canal near Lake Pontchartrain.
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I was a rascal. Dad thought time at Steve and Moira’s with their 2 daughters and 3 sons might provide a needed break for my sisters getting me out of the house during the cold Chicago winter of 1969. This was perhaps one of my most important memories from that time.
Cousin Barry and I fished off the bridge every evening. On Saturday, “Uncle Chup” took us fishing in an aluminum skiff on a warm afternoon in the marshlands. Once he cut the vibrating motor, we floated quietly for hours on the slow-moving tide, spotting the occasional redfish as they cruised the edges, tailing and rolling in flat, slick, muddy water. We learned that the fish were skittish, aggressive cast splashing the surface spooked every potential target. We caught nothing, but I was hooked.
This years January visit included a longtime friend, Michael Corrente, and the same guide I’d fished with the year before in January, Hudson McEntire.
We met on a dock about 30 minutes from Chauvin, south of New Orleans. His 16 foot skiff carried us deep into the canals and creeks of Louisiana’s bayou. We casted to redfish and black drum for 2 days. Again, like I’d learned as a young boy, redfish are aware of every splash and tap on the boat. I had several shots, casting to large redfish in thin water on day one, a perfect clear, cool day. Each time after 2 or 3 ignored presentations, I’d tap the deck with my foot, moving to set up a better cast and the fish would take off into deeper water and out of sight.
On day one Michael had the hot rod, catching 2 redfish, one 36 and the next 39 inches. Large, heavy fish using a silver jig set up 4 feet off a large red bobber. This technique was interesting as the tap tap of the bobber attracts the fish at a greater distance from the skiff than my fly could reach. I was able to target a 30 inch black drum with Hudson’s help. After 2 short casts I put one in the zone and the heavy fish rolled on Hudsons purple fly and sucked it in.
Day 2 was windy and overcast. Hudson started us on blue crabs in a channel as casting from the deck while polling his flats boat seemed near impossible, after an hour of no action the wind dropped just enough and we switched it up. I stood motionless with Michael reminding me to keep my feet quiet on the deck and 20 minutes later our guide spotted a redfish cruising in a small lake and again, 3 casts and I was hooked up.
Both Michael and I spent a good deal of time blind casting at points as we cruised the marsh, hoping to hook redfish from the mud. They sit quietly in the darkness waiting for unsuspecting prey to float by. It was our goal to catch a slot fish between 16 and 24 inches that we could take home for dinner. No luck this time, so I prepared a simple skillet of hens & rice.
See the recipe below.
Cornish game hens and rice
Hens & Rice
Dinner for 2
– 2 Cornish Game Hens
– 2 carrots
– 1 small onion
– 3 cloves garlic
– 1 cup frozen peas
– 1 tomato
– 1 cup jasmine rice
– 3 tablespoons butter
– 1 teaspoon salt & pepper
– 1 teaspoon Dried oregano
– 1 quart water
– 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Rinse hens in cold water then set out to dry
Dice onions and peeled carrots
Mince garlic cloves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Set a 10-inch skillet on medium heat and add butter.
Add onions, carrot & garlic and stir, follow with rice, continue stirring.
Add water and tomato then season with salt, pepper & oregano.
Rub the hens with mustard, season with salt & pepper, place on the simmering rice.
Place the skillet in the oven for 20 minutes.
Remove the skillet from the oven and stir the peas into the rice.
Place in the oven for 40 more minutes.
On our fishing trip on the Logan River chef and avid angler Donicio Gomez introduced these two recipes to our riverside lunch. He seasoned our steak with this great spice mix before searing the meat and lathered his delicious compound butter over the top once steaks were cooked.
To prepare the compound butter start by placing the butter on your kitchen counter the night before preparation to allow it to soften. Shallots should be chopped fine as well as the thyme. Combine all ingredients (full recipe below) in a bowl. Mix thoroughly with a fork. You may prefer more acid or more sweetness. Adjust the amount of balsamic vinegar and honey accordingly. Taste after mixing.
To season the meat simply mix all ingredients that are listed below then cover the steaks with the mixture.
This is one of the most satisfying open fire meals I can think of. Chicken pot pie is a complete campfire dish with vegetables, protein, starch and dairy.
All you need besides a plan and ingredients is a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven, with a lid and a spoon.
On this trip we brought a wooden spoon, which split in half as I opened the skillet that has a tendency to seal lid to base while cooking. But as you will see if you watch the video, it all worked out.
Adapted from a recipe by Galen Sampson, Chef and G.M. at the Beaverkill Valley Inn that he demonstrated over fire at the BVI.
For this Recipe we are using a beautiful Rainbow Trout from the Beaverkill Hatchery
Galen Sampson has settled into a comfortable life with his wife on the edge of the Upper Beaverkill River in the Catskill mountains. As the Chef and General manager of the Beaverkill Valley Inn, Galen works hard to create new and interesting dishes and experiences of all kinds for his guests. Chef Sampson’s recipe is a good example of how he responds to expectations that an Inn on a famous trout stream should serve trout, without pulling fish from the Inn’s private stretch of river. This is a highly prized trout fishing paradise that requires all guests to agree to catch and release practices prior to stepping into the special mile of river.
In 1963, about 5 miles up river from the Beaverkill Valley Inn, the Shaver family transitioned a dairy farm into a trout hatchery. As today’s hatchery manager, Sherry Shaver explained that her Great Grandfather wanted to try something new, so he dug a series of pools paralleling the river and fed the river water into the pools. The pools are like steps, gradually following the downhill slope on the edge of a dirt road across the street from an old dairy barn. Since that time the Shaver family has developed an expertise in raising trout from years of passed down experience and a lifetime invested in Catskill mountain living. Sherry tells stories of bears that have broken irrigation pipes and visitors who have learned to trout fish on their casting pond. She also explained to us how several times a year the trout or fry are moved from troughs inside near the incubators to outside locations as they grow and develop.
During our visit, Sherry showed us how the trout progress from inside in incubation rooms to tanks, then pools and finally to the counting pen where they are removed by nets into containers. The Shaver family crew then removes the trout by hand, examines them and sort them for delivery. The Beaverkill Trout Hatchery has several free flowing pools that contain trout from 10 inches to 28 inches, all are separated by species (browns, rainbows & golden) and size. This allows them to fill orders from trout clubs, municipalities and chefs in the Northeast. While we were there, we watched as they curated a delivery of 400 trout of mostly 12 inches, some up to 24 inches and 3 goldens of 26 inches for a town fishing derby on a river in New Jersey.
Chef Sampson, from the Beaverkill Valley Inn has been a regular customer of Sherry’s since he arrived at the BVI 3 years ago. He reports that their arrangement is very similar to other, more traditional vegetable farmers that he sources from in the Catskills. Orders are specific to the need. With the Beaverkill Trout hatchery, this generally calls for 12 inch rainbows filleted but for a special occasion he will buy larger fish, almost always rainbow as he prefers their brighter, sweet flavor compared to browns which often feed lower in the pools and have a muddier flavor.
As he approached preparations for this dish, the chef roasted potatoes and grapes in advance (on separate sheet pans) for about 20 minutes in a 375°F oven. Both were tossed with a splash of oil, salt & pepper. The shitake mushrooms were stemmed, sliced and sauteed with leeks & butter, then placed in a container to cool. Shallots for the grape relish were sliced and sauteed then combined with the roasted grapes before chilling in a sealable container. All of the prep was chilled and sealed for transportation to the fire site.
When he had his fire just right all that was needed was a cast iron skillet. All of his ingredients were ready to place in the hot pan. Once the well seasoned skillet had been brought to high heat he simply placed the trout skin side down in the pan, then placed the pre-cooked mushrooms & leeks on one side, the pre roasted, sliced potatoes on the other and after about 2 minutes he flipped the trout to finish. The grape relish was added to the pan and it released some of its moisture. After the fish was plated, the warm grapes were placed on top.