Friday, July 24, 2015

Grunts are Panfish

I don't keep many grunts basically because I am lazy.  Grunts are just a common panfish and with most panfish they tend to taste better cooked whole, like panfish.  Grunts are kinda like the bream of the sea down here.  Off the Atlantic Coast, Croakers and Spots are more popular panfish because they are easy to catch most of the time.

If you are a big time sportsfisherman you might look down grunts and since most folks are lazy like me, you probably don't remember that fish have bones and tend to taste like "fish".  Since most folks now a days are "privileged", which is wealthy and lazy, they tend to shoot for high dollar fish and ignore the pan sized critters that many of us grew up on.  Lots of folks actually look down on panfishermen.  I call call Grunts and other panfish, "Brown Baggers" because I would prefer that customers take their panfish and clean them somewhere other than near my boat.  It takes about 3 times as long to properly clean a panfish and a decade or two to get rid of the scales that tend to go everywhere.  If you are willing to put in the time and effort to clean panfish you are likely to find that they taste pretty damn good.

If you decide to fillet the panfish, you will get a potato chip size fillet that doesn't have much flavor other than whatever breading you used to fry it.  Some people like these tiny fish chips, but filleting panfish tends to less than optimal for others.  Once the fish gets to around 14 inches long depending on the species, it isn't a "panfish" anymore.  Over 14 inches long roughly you can get close to 50% of the weight of the fish in fillet and leave mainly bones on the carcass.  Below 14 inches or so you start leaving more meat than you get off with a fillet.

Growing up I was used to eating panfish and picking the meat off the bone without getting too many bones stuck in my throat very often.  These meals were a rather lengthy get together, similar to picking blue crabs, and almost without fail the fish were breaded and fried.  Once in a great while we would cook a few on the grill which back then was more often just a fire, then we would sit around picking the fish off the bone and typically drinking a beer or two.  I don't recall feeling impoverished or under privileged at the time.  Of course, I wasn't a gourmet panfish cook because I typically cut the heads off before cooking and gave them to the cats.  Real gourmets probably don't have cats.

The problem with cooking them on a grill is that the skin, often a good part of the meal, sticks to the grill.  I found out that if you dry the fish well then coat them with olive oil prior to seasoning, you can not only keep the skin intact you can even burn gourmet looking grill marks that add to the appearance and can make some people think you know what you are doing.  Then you get a nice crisp outside with a moist tender interior that is almost like fish cooked in its own natural stock.  Other than salt and pepper, you don't need anything fancy to mask the taste of the fish because the fish actually tastes good, a lot like fish.

If you happen to be down on vacation and don't have access to a grill or don't care to cook because you are after all on vacation, there are a few restaurants that will cook your catch on the bone.  In nearly all cases you will need to have the fish cleaned ahead of time and you should check with the restaurant to make sure they are willing to do it.  In season, when the places are usual packed, they are less likely to cook your catch whole.  The Seven Mile Grill and Lazy Days South are likely to have no problem especially if you have an extra fish or two for the cooks to sample.  If you check the Lazy Days link you will notice they have the filleted and de-boned clause for cook your catch, so definitely check ahead before dropping of a bag of grunts.  I am sure there are other places, but I have actually seen fried whole fish served at both of these.

Whether panfish served as panfish is your cup of tea or not it is always nice to know your options.
Marathon in the Florida Keys should be your next fishing vacation destination. Join us for charter fishing, fishing guide trips or our fishing 101 so you can fish on your own with better success.

 Tight lines,

 Capt. Dallas

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