Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cajun Flathead

Cajun Flathead
The week before Easter, my family spent the week at Yamba, a little town on the mighty Clarence River. The fishing there is exceptional. After a few days of stuffing around, I finally nailed (with the help of my four year old daughter) the art of catching flathead. Sounds simple right? Catch small fish. Keep them alive long enough to put on a hook and throw out to the big fish. A concept called live baiting. IP, daughter, out fished me with alarming regularity. It seemed every time she put a bait into the water she pulled out a shiny herring or glistening river gar. She'd reel em in and then give them a name like honey, or peanut, or nibbles.

"Here's how we put the hook through Peanut" I'd say, deftly sliding a 2/0 hook through the shoulder of a small herring, trying not to kill it or remove any scales in the process. One large cast and then wait. It wasn't long before a fish hit the panicky bait that we could see glimmering in the mid afternoon light, flitting from one predator to another. We watched the rod tip arch over then listened to the reel scream as three kilos of flathead tore off along the rock-wall. I grabbed the rod, adrenaline coursing through my veins and spent ten minutes wrestling the fish up to the bank of the wall, rod bent over in half. I could see it thrashing around in half a foot of water, a magnificent fish! At the precise moment that I had one of the local fisho's thoughts (" you should get rid of that wire trace and go back to some mono. . . .") the huge lizzard bit through the mono I had gone back to, and the rest of the tackle whipped through the air past my ear at just under the speed of sound. Crap! That was the last live bait too. Double Crap!! So anyway, the fish in the photograph and therefore the recipe was caught 100m away on Turners Beach (in the surf) on a live garfish. It weighed in at 2020 gm, and measured 70cm on the brag mat.

Back in the good days at Claypots in St. Kilda, Melbourne, one of our best selling fish dishes was the Cajun Flathead, a whole baked fish Deep South style. After some playing, I have approximated the recipe, with a little less heat to suit my lessening ability to handle too much spice, in my older age.

1 tablespoon Paprika
2½ teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Onion powder
1 teaspoon Garlic powder
1 teaspoon Ground red chilli
¾ teaspoon White pepper
¾ teaspoon Black pepper
½ teaspoon Dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon Dried oregano leaves

Simply dust the flathead all over with the spice mix. If you coat the fish in melted butter first and seal it in the pan the you achieve the blackened effect made famous by Paul Prudhome. For this dish we had to fillet the fish, then cut the fillets in half. The oven was far too small to bake the fish whole. Each fillet weighed around 500gm!

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