Red Drum
Red Drum [Redfish, Sciaenops ocellatus]

Strangely, this drum is not always red, and the distinctive ringed spot at the tail may not be there on some fish either, or may appear on only one side. This West Atlantic fish is found from Massachusetts to northern Mexico and can grow to 61 inches and 99 pounds, but the photo specimen was 16-1/2 inches and 2 pounds. The photo specimen, farm raised in Taiwan, shows an extra black spot on this side and had two on the other side. Red drum was badly depleted to supply restaurants during the "Blackened Redfish" craze of a few years back but is now farmed and in good supply.

More on Croakers and Drums.

Red drum flesh is a light medium flavor and is firm enough for most methods of cooking. It works well poached and particularly well lightly dusted with rice flour and fried. The flesh remains fairly firm and does not flake apart when simmered, so it is quite suitable for many soups.

Of course it's the definitive fish for Blackened Redfish where 1/2 inch thick fillets are dipped in butter, seasoned and fried in an intensely heated cast iron skillet.

Buying:   Because of recent heavy restaurant demand for this fish, it became scarce in the wild and expensive, so it is now farmed in Asia. Asian fish markets in Los Angeles (and probably elsewhere) often have this fish, but I've never seen a red one. Now that the craze for Blackened Redfish has passed, wild stocks are recovering and prices have declined a bit. My most recent buy was 2013 US $2.99/pound for whole fish.

Scales:   This fish is completely covered with large stiff scales that take a bit of energy to scrape off - and they'll be flying around furiously as you do so.

Cleaning:   There's a fair amount of stuff in the large body cavity of this fish, and some of it pulls out a little hard, so you'll need a strong pair or long nose pliers. The gills are quite hard to pull and a little difficult to get at due to the small opening, so you will need the pliers there too.

Fillet:   Red drum is quite easy to fillet with plenty of fin rays to follow down to the main bones. Easiest is to cut off the head first. When making the cut around the collar go in very close behind the pectoral fins and around forward of the pelvic (bottom) fins to get the most meat. You will encounter some bones right behind the pectoral fins, cut through them with kitchen shears to release the body from the head. Cut through the backbone with kitchen shears (a little twisting helps). Cut the pelvic fins and associated bones from the fillet.

Work carefully while filleting and bend the fillets as little as possible because the flesh is tender and flakes apart easily. At the rib cage it's best to use your kitchen shears to cut the ribs from the backbone. The flesh is tender and you can easily pull the ribs from the fillet, holding the flesh in place with your fingers. Most of the centerline spines come out with their associated rib, but check there are none missed, particularly right at the front. Pull them straight forward to remove.

Yield:   Yield is moderate because of the weight of the bony head and the amount of stuff in the body cavity. A 2 pound 1/8 ounce fish yielded 14-3/4 ounces of skin-on fillets (46%) and 13 ounces skinless (40%). A smaller fish would yield a bit less. There will still be substantial flesh left on the collar, particularly under the jaw. so it's a good fish for making fish stock.

Skin:   Shrink is quite moderate when fried, but the skin does have a rather stronger flavor than the flesh. Fillets are easy to skin using the long knife and cutting board Method. Keep the knife angle rather shallow to avoid cutting through the skin.

Stock:   The head, fins and bones of this fish (I do not use the skins) makes a very fine light flavored clear stock suitable for soups.

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