Red snapper is a favorite not only around New Orleans but all across America. That makes it more expensive and less often available, even though fishermen catch a lot of it in nearby waters. Having to catch the fish with rod and reel adds to the scarcity.
Chefs who really know their fish (at Brigtsen’s, Commander’s, GW Fins, and Peche, to name a few) find getting red snapper well worth the trouble. It’s frequently and prominently featured on the menu.
Snapper is distinctly better in taste and texture than redfish, with which it is often confused (on menus, not in markets). Red snapper has a tender texture that holds together well even though I’d call it a flaky fish. The taste is pure and good. The oil content is relatively low, but despite that there is no lack of flavor.
My favorite cooking method for red snapper involves searing the fish in hot butter and olive oil in a pan, removing the fish momentarily, adding wine and lemon juice, then onions, bell peppers or mushrooms or whatever. The pan sauce pulls together quickly, then the fish goes back in for a pass through the oven until done. It comes out tender and perfect, the sauce and the fish exchanging their flavors.
Red snapper also lends itself to being cooked whole, particularly if it’s a smaller snapper. The technique of covering the fish with a pile of kosher salt and baking it (at 375 degrees for about 35 minutes for a five-pound fish) gives startlingly good results. Some people grill red snapper, but I don’t think that really brings out the flavor of the fish best.
We only wish there were more red snapper around. However, the species has been overfished and is now heavily managed both at the state and federal levels (as it should be). So red snapper comes and goes. Anytime it’s available fresh, you should grab it.
This brings us to the top end of our annual ranking of seafood in our very rich part of the world for fish lovers. All 33 of the seafood species included will shortly be compiled into an easy-to-read department here on NOMenu.com.