Somehow, Louisiana missed out on the wonderful tradition of smoking seafood. We do everything else but smoke it.
Come to think of, though, we don’t have a strong barbecue tradition in Louisiana, the first cousin to smoking.
We heard about a wonderful smoked redfish dip from our good friend Barbara Picard. Barbara’s home is Houma, but she spends so much time at her camp on Grand Isle with her husband, Les, that it isn’t just a camp — it’s a second residence.
The town’s only barber, Tommy Hollier, and his wife Enid throw an outdoor Mardi Gras party every year at their Vacajun Hairshop on Grand Isle. The couple serves the smoked redfish dip, as well as smoked oysters and 50 pounds of barbecued chicken leg quarters.
Others bring boneless stuffed chickens, boudin, seafood gumbo, German potato salad, baked beans and king cake.
Barbara’s praise for the dip was so lavish that we just had to call Tommy.
The hospitable Holliers immediately invited us to the island and volunteered not only to cook the smoked redfish dip but smoke some oysters for us, as well. Like many other year-round (versus seasonal camp owners) Grand Isle residents, Tommy and Enid share a house secluded in the live oak trees in the island’s interior that many weekend visitors never see.
Perhaps over the oak trees would be a better term than in the oak trees. Twenty-two feet (and 38 steps) up, it’s a different world. Glenda, my wife and traveling and cooking partner, instantly mellowed out on their open deck. “It’s like living in a treehouse,” she sighed.
“Everyone asks us, ‘Where’s the elevator?’” 76-year-old Tommy said puckishly. “We answer that we will get one when we need it.”
“When we moved here,” Enid explained, “they told us that the natives live in the trees.”
To which Tommy added, “Anywhere on the island there is a 100-year old house, it’s in the trees that protect them from storms.”
The Holliers took the long road to Grand Isle, although both have Louisiana roots. Tommy describes himself as being “from all over Louisiana.” His father worked derricks in the oil fields. He met Enid Schexnaildre during his family’s short residence in Lafitte.
After a one-year stint in the oil fields, he went to Moler Barber College, and then took a job cutting hair at Tiger Barber Shop on Chimes Street, just outside the gates of LSU. After five years, he opened up his own place, Tommy’s Hair Styling, down the street.
It was while working in Tiger Town that Tommy and Enid picked up an addiction. Both became “awesome” LSU Tiger fans. One of their prized possessions is an authentic and rare white LSU football helmet signed by Coach Paul Dietzel and many of the members of the 1958 national championship team, including Enid’s cousin Merl Schexnaildre.
From Baton Rouge, the couple moved to South Carolina, where for 18 years they owned a franchise for a beauty and barber supply firm. They sold out and moved to South Florida.
That lasted until 1996.
“I wanted to come home, and I wanted to be near the water,” Tommy explained. “Enid’s mother and brother lived on Grand Isle. I came for the fishing; she came for family.”
They found home.
“Life here is so laid back that you hate to go to town” he said, referring to trips to New Orleans. “I don’t have to lock my Jeep. I didn’t even lock my house until (Hurricane) Katrina.
We asked them what they like best about life on Grand Isle. Enid answered first.
“What I like most is that I feel safe here,” she said. “My daughter in Baton Rouge locks her whole house up when she goes out to walk the dog.”
Tommy’s reply wasn’t unexpected in this sportsman’s paradise.
“This is one of the last bastions on the Gulf that isn’t all high-rises,” he said. “It’s definitely the proximity to the fishing, the Gulf and the outdoors life.”
Cajun Smoked Redfish Dip
Tommy said the roots of his recipe go back to one he got from East Coast Fishery, a little restaurant over a fish market on the Miami River in Florida.
“We were coming upriver in a boat after fishing, and the smell of good food was just hanging over the river,” he said. “One of the party said, ‘Oh, let’s find that.’
“They would bring it out in little tiny cups and serve it with drinks. I would ask for more and more. Then, I asked for the recipe. They either didn’t understand me — they were all Cubans — or they didn’t want to give it to me. I kept asking for it every time I went back.
“Finally I went with Hipolito Ramos, who spoke Spanish. I told him that I had been trying to get this recipe. He went into the back and when he came out, he said, ‘I’ve got it in English.’ Of course, I’ve Cajunized it some. I’m not just a salt-and-pepper kind of guy.
“I like to bring this dish to parties. I put it in the middle of the hors d’oeuvers table and wait and see what happens,” he chuckled. “After a while, someone says, ‘What is this? It’s good!’”
Tommy recommends using cherry, apple or oak wood chips instead of mesquite, because the latter is too strong for the dish. Redfish is Tommy’s choice for this dish, but it is good with other firm, white-fleshed fish.
2 skin and scales-on fillets from a 6- to 8-lb redfish
1 cup zesty Italian salad dressing
2 tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 stick butter
1 8-oz. package cream cheese
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp Hellman’s mayonnaise
1 tbsp. prepared horseradish
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Tabasco sauce
1 lb. Creole seasoning
Rinse the redfish fillets and set aside. Make a marinade for the redfish using Zesty Italian dressing and Worcestershire sauce. Pour into a plastic zipper bag, add the redfish and store in the refrigerator overnight. Soak 8-10 wood chips in water overnight. Build a fire in a barbecue pit or smoker. When the fire reaches 250-275 degrees, move the coals to one side of the pit and add half of the wood chips. Remove the fish from the marinade and place skin-down on the smoker grill on the side away from the fire. Cover and cook until the fish is brown and flakes easily when tested with a fork. Add the remaining wood chips during cooking to produce more smoke. When the fish is done, remove from the grill and allow the fish to cool. Use a fork or spoon to remove the flesh from the skin. Remove most of the blood line (the dark flesh under the skin) from the fillets. Flake the fish and set aside. Put 1/3 of the butter, cream cheese and onion into a blender. Add garlic and process until well blended. Repeat until all of the butter, cream cheese and onion are blended. Add lemon juice, mayonnaise, horseradish and 2 cups flaked fish. Blend until mixed well. Add salt, pepper, Tabasco and Creole seasoning. Continue to process until all ingredients are well blended. Serves 10-12 as hors d’ouvers.
Tommy’s Smoked Oysters
Tommy Hollier calls this recipe one of his originals. The way he recalled it, he and neighbor Buddy Chauvin were eating raw and fried oysters, and he decided he wanted to try something new.
He wanted to smoke them on the half-shell using his own seasoning “concoction,” as he called it.
Buddy’s reaction was “Dang! What are you doing to them?”
Tommy started serving them at his Mardi Gras party to give their guests “something to snack on.” The demand for the dish very quickly outgrew grilling them on the half-shell. He started cooking them in aluminum pans in a three-pan rotation to keep up with demand.
One important convert was local oysterman Raleigh Lasseigne.
“I’ve been around oysters all my life, and I ain’t never ate any like these,” Lasseigne said. “Next year I’ll get all your oysters for you and a quart extra for me and Kay (his wife).”
1/2 cup olive oil
1 stick butter
1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
3 tbsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. Creole seasoning
1 tsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
4 doz. large oysters
Build a hot fire in a barbecue pit and add 3-4 wood chips which have been soaked in water overnight. Mix all of the ingredients except the oysters in an aluminum pan suitable for putting on the grill. In another aluminum pan, place enough oysters to make a single layer. Place both pans on the grill. When the oysters release some of their liquid, drain off the excess water and discard it. After the butter has melted, stir to blend the ingredients of the sauce and spoon the sauce generously over the oysters. Cover and cook 15 minutes. Baste again with the olive oil mixture and drain again if the oysters release more liquid. Baste again and continue to cook until the oysters are brown and only enough oil is left to keep the oysters from sticking to the pan. Repeat the process until all of the oysters are cooked. Serves 4 to 6 as hors d’oeuvers.