Tripletail is a fish found throughout the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. It also swims up the Gulf Stream and into the Atlantic, where fishermen in the Carolinas sometimes catch it. There it's better known by its other name–blackfish.
But "tripletail" has a better ring, doesn't it? That arises from the positions of the dorsal and anal fins, which are about the same size and shape as the tail fin. So they give the illusion that the fish has three tails.
It's an exceptional eating fish. Unfortunately, there's no mass commercial catch of it. Because it's either line-caught or turns up as a bycatch in shrimp nets, it's not widely or regularly available. (Otherwise, it would turn up higher on this list.) Only restaurants that actively work the market every day buy it. Finding tripletail on a menu means a) you're in a pretty good place, and 2) this is your lucky day.
Although tripletail is a moderately big fish–some ten inches wide and about a foot and a half long–its fillets remind me a lot of those of the much smaller speckled trout. In fact, I find the flavor similar, too.
As with trout, tripletail seems to be best cooked in the saute pan and served with a sauce on the buttery end of the spectrum. It can also be blackened or bronzed. (K-Paul's used to have some fun by calling it "reddened blackfish.") I don't think I'd grill it; the flaky texture makes it fall apart on a grill. If that happens, make a quick courtbouillon.
Tripletail With Sizzling Crabmeat and Herbs
The excitement in this dish comes from the ability of clarified butter to be made extremely hot without burning. Hot enough to sizzle anything it's poured over. The butter looks harmless when you bring it to the table, but spoon it over the crabmeat and fresh herbs, and it crackles and sizzles, with drama and a wonderful aroma. This also works on a steak.
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley (about half a bunch)
1 Tbs. capers, chopped
2 tsp. chopped fresh garlic
1 dash Worcestershire
Juice of 1/4 lemon
4 oz. white crabmeat
4 8-oz. fillets tripletail (or trout, redfish, drum, sheepshead, or other white fish)
1/2 cup clarified butter
Preheat the broiler and broiler pan.
1. Combine the parsley, capers, garlic, and crabmeat in a small bowl. Sprinkle with the Worcestershire and lemon juice and toss to distribute the ingredients equally.
2. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper. Broil about four inches from the flame until the slightest hint of browning is seen around the edges. Check the fish to see if it's cooked in the center of the thickest part (it should be). If not, broil just a minute longer or less.
3. Place the fish fillet on the serving plate. Top with a small pile (not a scattering) of the crabmeat-and-herb mixture.
4. In the smallest saucepan you have, heat the clarified butter till a flake of parsley immediately sizzles in it. Spoon the butter while still very hot over the fish and its topping, which will sizzle when the butter hits it. It's most dramatic to do this at the table, but be very careful: the heat of the butter presents a burning hazard if it gets splashed.
Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species enjoyed in our restaurants. Restaurants are able to get a wider variety of seafood than you or I could find in supermarkets. On the other hand, certain excellent species are not legally available to the restaurants and other commercial outlets.
#21: Sea Bass
The term "sea bass" is probably too generic for a list like this. There are many kinds of sea bass, found all over the world. However, sea bass is not especially common on Louisiana menus and tables. And only two species are likely to show up here: striped bass and black bass, which are similar and excellent. When fish wholesalers are looking for Carolina speckled trout in the Louisiana off-season, sometimes they get sea bass, too.
two raw seabass with fresh thyme on a rustic wooden table
Striped bass is a great eating fish–a favorite in its home waters along the Atlantic coast. It's a nice size for meatiness–two or three feet long. Its texture has the meatiness of a grouper, but a much better flavor and more fat. In addition to the clean, off-white fillets, you get cheeks of edible size from a whole sea bass. If you're very lucky.
You can cook sea bass many ways. It's a great one for roasting whole. Good sauteed with butter and a flour coating. Excellent broiled. I've never tried poaching it, but I'll bet that's wonderful with hollandaise.
If you ever run into striped or black bass, order it. It's a rare treat. If you can't find it, use redfish or black drum.
Unacceptable Alternative: The Patagonian toothfish–a denizen of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica–has become much better known in this country as "Chilean sea bass." It is not a bass at all. While its flesh is appealing to the eye, it's a tough fish that needs to be cooked longer than most fish to be edible. Worse, its populations have been depleted by at least ninety percent in just a couple of decades. I never order it.
During the Lenten season, Sicilian dining traditions arise here and there around New Orleans. They celebrate St. Joseph's Day, March 19. People with Italian heritage bring forth many dishes seen only at this time of year. Among them are two that involve species of fish only seen this time of year.
The best of all the St. Joseph dishes is pasta cu li sarde. It's made with sardines, but not the canned kind you're thinking about. These are fresh fish four to six inches long, grilled, broiled or baked whole. The bones are so small that they present little danger. Most Italian people eat them head and all. Two or three fish makes a delightful lunch. The flavors are assertive without being oily. Unfortunately, not many restaurants serve these wonderful little fish, mainly because they're hard to find in the markets. Chefs who are really into the sardines order them well in advance. And it's not unusual for those chefs to feature the sardines before and after St. Joseph's day.
Throughout Europe you will find salted, dried codfish, cooked by the best chefs on the continents, from Spain to Scandinavia. It's an ancient way to preserve fish long-term. To cook them, you lock them into a vise, hacksaw off strips of the fish, soak it for hours in warm water, then hope people will be so accustomed to this hard fish that they don't question its goodness. Some cooks make it into codfish cakes or balls, with equal dreariness. Given the freshness imperative of modern chefs, this is curious. Given that cod is in short supply now, it's a good out for those who have met bacala the Italian name for the dish.
Broiled Fresh Sardines
Here is the Italian recipe for preparing fresh sardines. These are not the little fish in cans, but fresh, eight-inch long Mediterranean or Pacific sardines, four to six to the pound whole.Some people love them (I do), some people find them too strong in flavor. The problem is finding the fish themselves. Not even chefs can be assured of getting them regularly. They're most popular around St. Joseph's Day, but I order them whenever they turn up.
8-12 fresh fresh sardines, gutted
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 sprig fresh oregano
1/4 cup freshly-grated bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
1. On a cutting board, hold the fish by the tail and scrape off the scales (there will not be many) with a knife. Wash the fish with cold water. If you like, cut off the heads, but you may leave them on.
2. Juice half of one of the lemons. Cut the remaining lemons in slices about a quarter-inch thick.
3. Cover the bottom of a glass baking dish (about 8 by 12 inches) with olive oil. Lay down the lemon slices on the bottom, then the thyme sprigs. Place the sardines in one layer on top of the lemons. Drizzle the sardines with the lemon juice. Salt and pepper (go heavy on the black pepper). Sprinkle on the wine and the rest of the olive oil.
4. Chop the oregano and parsley, and mix with the bread crumbs. Sprinkle the bread crumbs atop the sardines.
5. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for about six minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the bread crumbs are toasted and the juices are bubbling. Serve immediately.
The large family of fish known as the jacks range from excellent (pompano) to terrible (jack crevalle). Amberjack is about in the middle of that range. It's a nice off-white fish, with enough fat to give it an interesting flavor, but not so much as to make it taste strong or oily.
Amberjack lives all over the Gulf, but it's most popular in Florida. We didn't see it often in New Orleans until commercial redfish and trout were all but shut down in the mid-1980s. Some chefs liked amberjack; others didn't. To this day, a restaurant either serves amberjack all the time or hardly ever.
The reason for this may be the inconsistency of goodness from one amberjack to another. The smaller fish are beyond reproach, but the bigger an amberjack is, the worse it gets. Past a certain large size (and they can grow to over 100 pounds), amberjack may even be poisonous.
Whenever I'm offered amberjack, I ask questions. How is it cut? Fillets will probably be good, unless they're very thick. Steaks are out of the question.
The most common preparation of amberjack is grilled. It stands up nicely to the heat, and takes a good Creole seasoning as well. If you have a fillet of eight to ten ounces, you could blacken it to good effect.
Back when amberjack just started appearing in restaurants, Chef Roland Huet put some into his cold-smoking pit at Christian's. The results were so fine that whenever amberjack comes my way, at least a bit of it winds up in a slow-smoking situation on my Big Green Egg. It's great that way, hot or cold. Even works as a smoked fish for breakfast.
Long and narrow, the wahoo is a big fish. It grows to a hundred pounds at times, although it's more usually twenty to fifty. The fish live in the blue-water areas of the Gulf of Mexico, grow quickly, and are in fairly large supply. The name, I hear, comes from what you say if you catch one; it's supposed to be great sport to pull one in. It shows up only sporadically on menus, because the fish are unschooled loners.
Wahoo is a member of the tuna and mackerel family. It's a streamlined speed demon, the better to function as a predator on other fish. Like tuna, it's more often cut into steaks than into fillets. Also like tuna, it doesn't stand to be overcooked. Do that, and it becomes dry and a bit tough. But like mackerel, it contains a good bit of fat, and has a bigger than average flavor. Very good eating.
The most common method of preparation for wahoo is grilling. However, it's also good in moist preparations, like bouillabaisse or courtbouillon. I once served wahoo with a light, tomato-and-holy-trinity sauce with more lemon and black pepper than I was used to finding, plus a few shrimp. It was a spectacular dish.
We used to see more wahoo lately than we have in the past few years. However, it's been the fish of the day here and there lately, so maybe it's making a comeback. It's underrated at the table, and I wish more chefs would use it.
Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species that we find more in restaurants than in homes. For the full survey so far, click here. Or use the links at the bottom to move up and down the list.
Salmon is the most widely-served fish in the fine restaurants of the world. It's highly thought of wherever it's found fresh. And that's just about everywhere these days, courtesy of fish farming and air shipping. Salmon is meaty, tasty, and easy to cook in myriad ways.
Edibly speaking, salmon fall into two categories: Atlantic and Pacific. They're different enough to appear twice in this countdown. The more common is the single Atlantic species, which occurs naturally throughout the northern Atlantic ocean on both sides. Atlantic salmon is also the one grown in fish farms–many of which, ironically, are in the Pacific Ocean. Around New Orleans, almost all of the salmon you see in stores and eat in restaurants is Atlantic. That's also the source of most smoked salmon, from Canada to Scandiavia.
New Orleans gained an appreciation for salmon only in recent decades. Until the 1980s, you found it in one of two forms–one wonderful and the other horrible. The good kind was cold-smoked as an appetizer in fancy, European-style restaurants and the then-rare kosher-style delis. The other kind was canned, a product so bad in comparison to any other fish that many older Orleanians still have an aversion to eating salmon.
The reason we now find salmon on so many New Orleans menus–even though it has to be brought in thousands of miles away–has as much to do with its convenience for the seller as with its goodness. It's always available, unlike most local fish. A restaurant can place a standing order for a certain amount of salmon every week and forget about it. For other fish, he has to work the market every day. If the only fish a restaurant offers is salmon, you are in a restaurant that doesn't put a lot of time into obtaining its raw materials. But it could be worse. It could have been tilapia.
Fortunately, fresh salmon, nicely cut, even if it comes from a farm, is pretty good. It's also easy to cook, particularly on the grill or under the broiler.
One other issue: the environmental problems associated with salmon farms. They mess up the water and introduce a foreign species, notably in the southern hemisphere. Another reason to eat local. Or at least knowledgeably.
I saw some beautiful center-cut fillets of fresh Scottish salmon early in a tour of the supermarket one day. As I wove in and out the aisles, a recipe formed. Thinly-sliced ham, I thought, would add an interesting flavor dimension. A crust broiled on top of the salmon would give some textural interest. But what will the crust be made of? Mustard and herbs crossed my mind, to which were soon added bread crumbs and the ham, which my brain by now had sliced into ribbons the size of fettuccine. It was all marvelous. If only I were this creative every day.
Resist the temptation to use Creole mustard for this. I love the stuff, but the crust should sharpen, not bludgeon the flavor. Instead, check that jar of gourmet mustard you bought a year and a half ago but never opened. Especially if it's flavored with herbs and has a light color but a thick texture. It might be perfect, regardless of its components. A German Riesling would be the perfect wine with this, its light sweetness offsetting the sharpness of the glaze.
1 Tbs. lemon juice, strained
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. herb mustard (use your imagination here)
1 tsp. dill
1 tsp. dry tarragon (or 2 tsp. fresh, chopped)
Sprinkle of salt
2 oz. (about 4 thin slices) cured, smoked ham (Chisesi, if you live in New Orleans), sliced into ribbons the width of fettuccine
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. German (or other sweet) Riesling wine (preferred; or whatever white wine you have handy)
4 center cuts (crosswise) of salmon fillet, skin on, about 8 oz each
Preheat the broiler and broiler rack to 500-550 degrees. Set the shelf so that fish on the rack will be about four inches from the heat.
1. Mix the glaze ingredients in a small bowl. Mix the crust ingredients in a second small bowl.
2. Spread the glaze generously over the tops of the salmon. Top with the crust ingredients. Drizzle the tops of the fish with olive oil and sprinkles of wine.
3. Place the fish skin side down on the preheated broiler rack. Broil until high spots on the crust are a convincingly crusty brown.
4. Remove the fish with a slotted turner and serve immediately.
Squid come in all sizes, but the most familiar of them are the small ones from the Gulf that restaurants (particularly Italian ones) serve under the name calamari. In the most familiar squid dish, the cephalopods are coated with flour or cornmeal, deep-fried, then served with some kind of tomato-based sauce–either a cocktail sauce or spaghetti sauce, depending on the place.
No matter where you find fried calamari, you can bet on this: the chef and the regular customers will claim–loudly–that these are the best in the city. Maybe the world.
But squid are less common in restaurants than they once were. And not as good, either. This seems to have happened at the time of hurricane Katrina. The storm killed the city's best fryer of squid–La Riviera in Metairie. No other restaurant has taken its place, although Sandro's (Metairie: 6601 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-7784) is close to equalling La Riviera's squid.
A few matters separate good squid from not-so-good squid. The first is how well they've been cleaned. Squid need to have the "pen" (a stiff sliver of cartilage), the ink sacs, and the little beak (one of which bit me once!) removed. Some squids are stuffed with eggs, but those shouldn't be cleaned out. They're a rare treat, one I haven't had in many years.
Lightness is crucial in frying squid, which can be tough when overcooked. (The texture is somewhat chewy to begin with.) I like to get not only the rings (the body cut crosswise) but the tentacles (which a friend once aptly described as "fried spiders").
Squid don't have to be fried, though. They can be sauteed in olive oil wirth garlic and herbs. They're excellent poached, then marinated in olive oil and herbs to make a cold antipasto. A wide range of great dishes combine squid with rice or pasta. Seafood risotto and cioppino are wonderful. Best of all are dishes using squid ink in the sauce. You see this everywhere in the Mediterranean, particularly in Spain and Italy.
Unacceptable Alternative: Big squid. Larger squid (and they can get so large that they can actually battle a sperm whale to the death) have been turning up on more local menus. They don't look like squid, because large sections of the body wall are cut into rectangles. They are most commonly boiled, then scored (so you can chew them) in sushi bars. Sometimes this kind of squid is grilled. I find it tough and flavorless. I always check to make sure that's not what's coming under the calamari brand. That isn't the local squid, anyway.
Recipe: Stuffed Squid With Pasta
This may be the best squid dish I ever cooked or ate. The late Mexican chef Jorge Rodriguez, who owned the excellent but now extinct El Patio in Kenner, created the dish. The cavities of the squid bodies are stuffed with crabmeat and savory vegetables, then cooked down in a cream sauce.
The advance preparation requires pulling the tentacles off the rest of the squid. If you're ambitious, fry these with a corn-flour coating and scatter them over the pasta to lend a textural contrast.
1 1/2 lbs. small, fresh squid (about five inches long)
2 slices onion, about 1/4 inch thick, separated into rings
1/2 stick butter
3 Tbs. flour
1/2 cup milk
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
4 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. claw crabmeat or shrimp, peeled
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups grated Romano cheese
1/8 tsp. white pepper
1 green onion, tender green parts only, thinly sliced
1 cup corn flour (Fish-Fri)
1 Tbs. Creole seasoning
Calamari wtiffed and ready to go with pasta.
1. Buy the squid already cleaned if possible. If not, use a twisting motion to pull the tentacles away from the body. Avoid squeezing where the two parts of the animal meet, so as not to break the ink sac–a real mess. Remove the viscera and the beak from the tentacles by squeezing the point where the tentacles meet. Rinse everything, then set the tentacles aside.
2. Put the squid bodies and the onion into a small saucepan with barely enough water to cover. Bring the pot to a light boil and hold there for about three minutes. Strain the liquid and save. Remove the onions and reserve. Set the squid bodies aside to dry and cool.
3. Heat the butter in a saucepan until it bubbles. Sprinkle the flour into it and whisk as if you were making a roux, but stop after it thickens, before it begins to brown. Add the garlic and parsley and cook until the garlic is fragrant. Remove from the heat. Add the milk and whisk until the mixture has the texture of mashed potatoes.
4. Add the parsley, cayenne, salt, and crabmeat (or shrimp). With a rubber spatula, stir the mixture gently until the crabmeat is well distributed, but not broken.
5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Using an iced tea spoon, stuff the squid bodies with the crabmeat mixture. Leave the last quarter-inch empty. Seal the opening with a toothpick. Lay the stuffed squid in a large baking dish, at most two layers deep. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about 25 minutes.
6. While the squid are in the oven, bring the cream to a light simmer in a wide skillet, and reduce by about a third. Add the Romano cheese and stir until it melts into the cream. Stir in the white pepper and 1/2 cup of the reserved stock from poaching the squid.
7. Remove the squid from the oven and place them into the sauce. Agitate the pan back and forth to cover the squid with the sauce. Serve two to four squid per person, garnished with sliced green onions and a scant sprinkle of cayenne.
8. If you're inclined to fry the tentacles as a garnish, just dust them in corn flour seasoned with Creole seasoning and fry in 375-degree oil until golden brown.
A crawfish boil is THE great casual food party in South Louisiana, especially in the Cajun country. It’s also a celebration of springtime, when the crawfish are available in enough numbers and at a low enough price to buy them live by the sack. April and May are the peak of the crawfish season.
It’s brave of me to include a crawfish boil recipe here. Anybody likely to have crawfish available is also likely to have his own special way of boiling them, and will disdain any other. The main reason I boil crawfish is to make crawfish bisque or etouffee later. It is necessary to boil many more than I will need, because we eat the majority of them while peeling them.
The peeling process goes like this. You break the crawfish where the thorax meets the tail. After removing a segment or two of the tail’s carapace, you can squeeze the meat out by applying pressure just above the tail fin. There is also some good crawfish fat inside the head, which you need to suck out–but that is not for beginners.
One more subtlety. It’s traditional to boil potatoes, corn, heads of garlic, and other things in the pot with the crawfish, and eat them as side dishes. It sounds better than it is, because everything winds up tasting the same. I say (knowing full well I am pronouncing heresy) to cook at least the corn separately.
20 pounds live crawfish
8 large lemons, quartered
6 yellow onions, quartered
1 bunch celery, with leaves, cut into eighths
1 bunch parsley
4-6 bay leaves
1 bunch green onions, cut up
1 bulb of garlic, cut in half
4 bags crab boil or 1/3 cup liquid crab boil
1 1/2 cups salt
1 Tbs. cayenne
3 lbs. whole new potatoes
1. Fill a bucket or your kitchen sink with two or three gallons of cold water with about a half-cup of salt dissolved in it. Dump the crawfish in; the salted water will purge them. Rinse with two or three changes of water until the water is only slightly dirty. Some cooks say that has no effect on anything, but it seems to me worth doing.
2. Bring a large stockpot with five gallons of water to a boil. Add all the other ingredients except the crawfish and potatoes and return to a boil. Let it cook for fifteen minutes.
3. Add the crawfish and the potatoes. Return to a boil, making sure there’s enough water to completely cover the crawfish.
4. After eight minutes, remove the biggest crawfish you see and open it up to make sure the tail meat is firm and opaque. If not, give it another couple of minutes of boiling, but no more than that. If the crawfish are indeed done, turn off the heat and let the crawfish steep for 20-30 minutes. Remove the potatoes when they’re tender. Take the crawfish out when they’ve absorbed the seasonings to the degree you like.
5. At this point, we commence the peeling and eating process which, if you haven’t learned it, you’re better off picking up the technique from a friend than reading about it. The potatoes are a side dish. Discard everything else. Rinse, freeze, and save the crawfish shells for making bisque or etouffee or sauces.
Serves eight normal eaters or two serious crawfish fanatics.
One Christmas our plans changed suddenly, and we found ourselves at home cooking for a group that grew from just the four of us to eighteen people. I went ahead with my plan to roast prime rib, and went to the store and bought three more standing rib roasts.
I've spoken with a number of chefs lately who said that they think the only way to get that soft, very juicy prime rib texture is to roast the beef at a very low temperature. Although cookbooks are all over the spectrum of roasting temperatures, those who specify low oven temperatures seem to be quite adamant about it. I have been hesitant about trying to roast at, say, 200 degrees, because of food safety issues. Then I read in a magazine that if you eat rare beef, as I do, you're already in violation of the main food safety rule. So I thought I'd try roasting prime ribs at 250, to see what happened.
Knowing that no crust could possibly form on the outside at that temperature, I started by using the grill (on which I was smoking a pork shoulder) to sear the prime ribs. This is how I've always cooked ribs in the past, so I knew what to expect: lots of fat rendering out from the notoriously fatty racks, falling into the charcoal fire and flaming up, sometimes setting the exterior of the ribs on fire. This does not seem to produce any burned-grease flavor, however, so I just let it happen for about six minutes, turning once.
Then I moved them to a preheated (as if it made much difference) 250-degree oven, with a slotted rack over a pan with about a cup of water in it. After three hours, the internal temperature was 120 degrees, which is on the cusp of rare. Another half-hour and it is was at 130. Since my crowd was given to eating well-done meat, I let three of the racks get up to 145 (another 20 minutes) and took them out. After letting them rest for five minutes, I started carving. They were just right: very juicy and tender, with crusty parts for fans of end cuts.
The only disappointment was that I got very little in the way of dripping from the beef, and so didn't make a gravy. However, the beef was so juicy that nobody complained.
The kind of rib roast to look for are those with one very large eye of lean, rather than a smaller eye and bigger crescents of meat surrounding it with fat in between. It's worth asking the customer butcher to cut some for you that way if you don't like what you see in the case.
1 rack of prime rib roast of beef, 3-4 ribs across
Coarse-ground black pepper
Kosher salt: 1 Tbs. per rib
1 small, fresh horseradish root
1. If there is an extravagant amount of fat on the outside of the roast, trim it off. Or not, as you wish.
2. Preheat an outdoor grill, or a black iron skillet over medium-high heat on the stove. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
3. Season the roast with pepper and what will seem like too much salt. Put it cut side down on the grill or in the skillet, and sear for about three minutes, until it's browned and you can see fat running out of the roast at the bottom. Turn and brown the other side.
4. Place the roast on a broiler rack set above a broiler pan to catch the drippings. Add about a cup of water to the pan to create some steam, as well as it keep the drippings from drying out.
5. Turn the oven down to 250 degrees. Roast until the desired doneness is reached, according to the readings on your meat thermometer, inserted into the center of the beef:
This will take about 30 minutes per pound. However, let the internal temperature be your guide, not the time in the oven. The roast will cook a little more after you remove it from the oven, and that those who like their beef done more can have the outside cuts.
6. Remove the roast from the pan and allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes before carving. You may carve it into chops with the bone on, or carve away the bone and slice it thinner. Garnish with fresh horseradish grated over the beef at the table.
I cook my turkey in a big barbecue pit. It gets hotter than a smoker, but because I keep the turkey away from direct heat, it cooks slowly and absorbs a lot of smoky flavor. It comes out with a crisp skin with a beautiful orange-bronze color. It also smells wonderful, and retains more moisture than it would if it were cooked any other way. I get the sugar cane that I use with the charcoal from a friend's sugar plantation. It's worth the trip upriver to St. James Parish for that. During the harvest (which takes place right before Thanksgiving most years), most growers will let you take as much of their scrap as you want. If you can't get sugar cane, standard smoking woods like pecan, oak, hickory, or mesquite will do the job.
1 turkey, about 12-15 pounds
Salt and pepper
2 ribs celery, cut up
1 onion, cut up
1 orange, cut into eighths
1 lemon, cut into quarters
A shake of tarragon
A stem of fresh rosemary
1. Thaw the turkey if frozen. This takes at least four days, and should be done in the refrigerator. Put it into the pan you'll roast it in to catch any leaks. After it thaws, remove that metal or plastic thing holding the legs together (a pair of pliers is essential, I find). Remove the giblets and neck from the cavity, and clip off the wing tips. (You can use these parts for making stock for the gravy.)
2. The day before, marinate the turkey in a brine. The standard proportion is one cup of salt to one gallon of water. Make enough of this to completely cover the turkey in an ice chest with an unopened (so as not to dilute the brine) bag of ice to keep everything cold. The brining process takes twelve to eighteen hours for a fifteen-pound turkey. Another method is to put the turkey and the brine solution inside a leakproof plastic bag, and put it into the refrigerator.
3. The morning of the day you want to serve the turkey, dump the brine and rinse the bird very well inside and out with cold water. Season it with salt (yes!) and pepper. Stuff the cavity with all the other ingredients, and tie the legs just tightly enough to keep everything inside.
4. Fire up the grill with charcoal and sugar cane or smoking wood, soaked in water and then shaken dry. Put the turkey into an aluminum pan with a loose tent of foil over the top. Place the turkeys as far as possible away from the fire, and hang a curtain of foil down to ward off direct heat. Any heat that gets to the turkey should arrive in smoke.
5. Close the cover. Add coals and cane at intervals to maintain a temperature of 200 to 250 degrees inside the pit. It takes six to seven hours for the internal temperature of the turkey to reach about 180 degrees. Use a meat thermometer for this; the useless pop-up plastic indicator will pop only when the turkey is overcooked.
6. Take the turkey out and put it on the table to rest and cool before carving. Although it may be tempting, don't use the drippings for the gravy. They reduce so much during the long cooking time that they become impossibly salty.