Like many older anglers, I grew up eating nothing but whole, fried fish. There were times the only thing we had was whole bream and catfish. I was in college before I heard of a “fillet” — and then I thought to myself, “What a terrible waste of fish.” So, I still love to eat whole fish: bream, catfish and small crappie. The best crappie are usually 5 or 6 inches long.
But how is this for kicking it up a notch? Recently, I scaled, cleaned and removed all the inedible parts (gills, fins, etc.) from two 16-inch, 2-pound crappie and decided to cook them whole. It was remarkably successful.
Here’s how it went:
Slab crappie No. 1
I took out my grill pan, coated an area exactly the size of the fish with garlic-flavored olive oil, then seasoned the fish on both sides with Cajun seasoning and placed it on the pre-heated pan. Then, I squeezed lemon juice on the fish, added melted butter and a dash of mango balsamic vinegar and a light dusting of corn starch. I cut three diagonal slits in the fish and gave it a grape for an eye and put the pan on a 450-degree grill and closed the lid. After 15 minutes, it was done through and through and tasted as good or better than any whole snapper or redfish I’ve ever tasted.
We even pulled the leftover fish off the bones and made fish tacos for lunch the next day.
Slab crappie No. 2
The inspiration for this culinary quest was to make a giant, whole, fried crappie. I took the other 2-pounder and seasoned it well with my homemade Mr. Kinny’s seasoning (salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic, parsley and about 10 other ingredients), then gave it a good rubdown with French’s Yellow Mustard before coating it with Louisiana Fish Fry. I then heated up the peanut oil in the fish cooker to 375 degrees and eased the fish in. It was a hungry fisherman’s version of “catch and release — into hot grease.” After 5 minutes, it was crispy and floating in the oil.
Eating the fish off the bones is a delicacy few things compare to. There’s a reason the phrase “the nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat” has been around since the 14th century. You bite off the crispy part of the tail; pull out the fins to eat the crispy part and then suck out the tender meat under the fin. Then, you carefully open up the fish into two halves and eat the crispy parts off all the bones from head to tail. If you are still hungry, you can eat the real fish meat or just debone it and save chunks of it for a little crappie Étouffée.