‘Towing the line’ in the kitchen

Slidell cooks are masters of the unexpected

Colleen and Christian Orfanello do have day jobs. They own Sea Tow New Orleans, essentially a wrecker service on the water. “When you run out of gas in your boat, break down and need a tow or run aground, you call us,” explained Christian. “It’s free for members.”

Christian and Colleen Orfanello create original, unique dishes.
Christian and Colleen Orfanello create original, unique dishes.

Their lives revolve around the water. They keep a boat on a hoist over the canal in the backyard of their Eden Isles home in Slidell, and another boat at “Camp Always,” their fishing camp at Hopedale.

“We probably fish three days a week,” said Christian. “We live on the water and work from our phone, so all we have to do is push a button and the boat is in the water. We have full-time captains who do the on-water responses for Sea Tow.”

Predictably, their food is also water-influenced.

“We eat at home five or six nights a week,” stated Christian. “Fishing is our grocery store.”

“The best restaurant in town is right here, in our kitchen,” said Colleen. “I’ve cooked all my life, but I don’t like to cook by myself. I love to cook with Christian. It’s how we unwind. We plan how we are going to cook it when we catch it.”

They even met through cooking. Colleen was hosting a friend’s birthday party, and was in the kitchen when Christian came in and offered to help. “My heart fluttered,” she said. “When I found out that he fishes, I asked him to marry me.”

“One of our first dates was fishing in Grand Isle for three days,” added Christian.

Bull Turtle Soup

Bull turtle soup has the taste of classic New Orleans turtle soup, but with much more meat in it.
Bull turtle soup has the taste of classic New Orleans turtle soup, but with much more meat in it.

The name of this dish doesn’t come from using “bull” turtles, but rather from using the meat of bull redfish as well as turtle meat in its preparation. Large redfish, often called “bulls,” are not a table fish favored by the couple.

“For the holidays a few years ago, I planned to make a turtle soup,” said Colleen. “After I cleaned the turtle meat, I didn’t have enough of it. We said, ‘What are we going to do?’

“We always have fresh redfish in the fridge. Christian said, ‘We got redfish — let’s try it.’

“It was magical — an experiment gone right.”

“The redfish adds a little chunkiness,” said Christian. “I like to find pieces of meat in my soup. Turtle is expensive. And here, the redfish doesn’t taste like redfish anymore.”

“Everybody in the family loved it,” laughed Colleen. “They all wanted the recipe.”

TIP: Don’t use cooking sherry. Use dry sherry for a superior taste.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 lb. boneless turtle meat
  • 3 qt. beef stock
  • 3/4 cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour
  • 1 stick salted butter
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions +1/4 cup for garnishing soup
  • 1/2 cup Italian parsley + 1/4 cup for garnishing soup
  • 1/3 tsp. minced fresh oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. minced fresh thyme leaves (discard the stems)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28-oz. can Cento peeled tomatoes, pureed
  • 11/2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • Sea or kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 2 1/2 lb. redfish fillets, trimmed of red meat and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 2 hardboiled eggs, sliced (optional)

PREPARATION: Serves 6.

Colleen is careful to remove all fat from her turtle meat.
Colleen is careful to remove all fat from her turtle meat.

Remove all fat and connective tissue from the meat. Cut into bite-size pieces. Place the turtle meat in a colander and place the colander in a pot with the beef stock, and simmer over low heat to tenderize. While the meat is simmering, microwave the Wondra flour in a glass bowl on high for 45 seconds. Stir the flour and continue microwaving and stirring in 45 second increments until the desired color for a blonde roux is achieved. Set aside. Melt the butter in a heavy pot. Add the onion, celery, ½ cup green onions and ½ cup parsley, and sauté until the onions are translucent. Dip the turtle meat from the broth and add it to the pot with the sautéed vegetables. Add the oregano, thyme and garlic. Reserve ½ cup of stock for later use. Briskly whisk the roux into the remaining stock until it is well incorporated, then add it to the pot. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the pureed tomatoes. Add tomato paste, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper and stir well. Add lemon juice and bay leaves. Cover and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes. If soup is too thick add some of the reserved stock. Turn heat to medium, add redfish and cover. When redfish is opaque and cooked, (approximately 10 minutes) reduce heat to low, stir in the sherry. Add the eggs, if desired. Serve warm with a sprinkle of parsley and green onions on each bowl and an extra splash of sherry, if desired.

 

Smoky Soft-Shell Crabs

Smoky soft-shell crabs are great alone, or on po-boy bread as sandwiches.
Smoky soft-shell crabs are great alone, or on po-boy bread as sandwiches.

Christian explained that this recipe came about when Colleen bought a Traeger Pellet Smoker for him. “Since we get a lot of soft-shell crabs in Hopedale, I said, ‘Let me try smoking them.’

“It wasn’t good right off the grill. It was missing something. I wanted to crisp it up. We figured that we could get that texture from frying them and keep the smoky flavor. The combination of the two is good.”

“It’s heaven,” Colleen said.

TIP: Don’t smoke the crabs longer than 20 minutes. More is not better, emphasized Christian.

TIP: Slowly lower each crab into the hot oil claws first for a better appearance of the finished crab.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 medium to large soft-shell crabs
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 6 drops hot sauce
  • 10 oz. Louisiana brand New Orleans Style Lemon Fish Fry
  • 10 oz. flour
  • 2 tbsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. Creole seasoning
  • Oil for frying

PREPARATION: Serves 6.

Use scissors to cut the face off each crab just behind the eyes, then snip off the gills located beneath the shell. Remove the apron from beneath the body. Heat a smoker to 170 degrees. Place the crabs in the smoker for 20 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Add the milk and hot sauce and whisk until well mixed. In a separate pan, mix the fish fry, flour, paprika, cayenne pepper and Creole seasoning. Dredge the crabs in the egg batter, then through the fish fry mixture. Repeat the steps to double-batter each crab. Heat the oil to 350 degrees and fry the crabs on each side until golden brown. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

Authors’ note: Many of our readers are collectors of our Seafood Bible series of cookbooks in six titles: Shrimp, Crawfish, Crabs, Oysters, Fish 1 and Fish 2. We have just been informed that our publisher, Pelican Press, will begin printing all new editions in a softcover format rather than hardcover, beginning with the Crab volume this year. Anyone interested in completing their set in hardcover may want to consider doing so in the near future, as only limited numbers of hardcover Crab volumes are still available.

Jerald Horst
About Jerald Horst 952 Articles
Jerald Horst is a retired Louisiana State University professor of fisheries. He is an active writer, book author and outdoorsman.