Published on February 9, 2021

Memories are made of this

Redfish Courtbouillon provokes memories of good times

By Jan Edwards
The Bulletin

It was a gloomy winter day. The cold north wind howled across the back bays and marshes. But a spicy, aromatic fish stew simmered on the back burner. It evoked reminiscences of a tug on a summer’s fishing pole, followed by a rush of adrenaline and the battle of redfish and angler.

The pungent aroma of Redfish Courtbouillon (pronounced koo-bee-yon) is working its magic.

You just can’t rush Cajun. I took half a day putting this stew together. I posted it online and had a lot of comments. Cajun dishes evoke caring about the folks around you.

I first had some Courtbouillon in Mitte, Louisiana, made with catfish by a lady, JoAnn Mahaffey, who knew how to cook it. She and her husband, Tinker, ran the campground where our canoe club stayed when we paddled the Ouski Chitto.

She always had dinner for the crew when we came in on Saturday night. I think that was the trip where Tinker tried to get Roy and I (we were dating) married before we left Louisiana – but that’s another story. Eating warm Courtbouillon around a campfire with cold beer, good friends and stories was nothing short of heavenly.

Later, a friend at work brought me a cookbook that’s out of print now, “Creole Gumbo and All that Jazz.” The author went to all the wonderful restaurants in New Orleans and collected the recipes, how to clean fish and crabs, and the history of New Orleans and its food.
That too, was a labor of love for him. I have cooked many meals from that book, and none of them was bad – well, except for the Spanish Mackerel. But I think that had more to do with not liking the fish than the recipe.

After Gumbo and Jambalaya, Courtbouillon forms the trinity of divine Creole-Cajun stews. Making and eating Redfish Courtbouillon, celebrated as both an aphrodisiac and brain food, is a delicious way to chase the blues and while away a lazy winter afternoon. It’s also good for heating up a midsummer’s meal. Like the title suggests, this dish is best when made with redfish, but any white-meat fish will work in a pinch.

To make this meal, fresh (or fresh frozen) redfish is essential – and that means being able to catch a couple in the wild. Today, anglers all along the Texas coast fish for the saltwater big three – the spotted sea trout, the southern flounder and most popular of all, the redfish (or red drum).

But, it wasn’t that long ago that the redfish population crashed along the entire Texas Coast. In the 1970s, fish populations were dangerously low due to a series of harsh winters, and overfishing by recreational and commercial anglers and - maybe just a little from the blackened redfish craze.

The Texas Legislature first came to the redfish’s rescue by enacting limits for both commercial fisheries and sports anglers. In 1983, the Texas Legislature also gave the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) the authority to: regulate daily bag limits, establish catch size, and establish a stock enhancement program. Three hatcheries combine production and release into the wild some 25 million juvenile finfish annually. Redfish has made a comeback all along the coast.

So, when our neighbor brought me the correct amount of redfish for the Courtbouillon, and the weather was just right, it was time to show some love to the neighborhood and make a pot of it. It makes a lot – so you can share – or freeze it if you want it all for yourself. Here’s the recipe.

Redfish Courtbouillon
½ cup canola oil
1 cup chopped celery
2 cups chopped green pepper
1 ¾ cup chopped white onion
1 cup finely chopped shallots
2 tablespoons mince garlic (Roy, my husband, likes it better with about half the garlic)
4 bay leaves
¾ teaspoon powdered thyme
3 cups whole canned tomatoes
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
4 cups fish or chicken stock
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¾ cup Burgundy
4 pounds Redfish (cleaned and fileted)
1 lemon, sliced

In a large pot or deep skillet, heat oil and sauté the next 5 ingredients. Stir in bay leaves, thyme, tomatoes, pepper, salt, cayenne and paprika. Simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in stock and cook slowly 25 to 30 minutes. While this is cooking, cut Redfish into 3-inch pieces, lightly coat with seasoned flour and sear on both sides on a hot grill, lower heat and continue cooking fish until almost done.

Remove from heat and keep fish warm. When the first mixture has cooked for approximately 30 minutes, stir in lemon juice and Burgundy. Add fish and cook slowly 10 to 12 minutes more. Add lemon slices and serve. Good over hot rice. Serves 4 to 5 very hungry diners.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)