Fried Speckled Trout with Black-eyed Peas

5 from 5 votes
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speckled trout recipe
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

“Change of plans. We’re heading up river for specks.” Our guide, a lifelong Bay City, Texan named Jerry, turned the boat away from Matagorda Bay, where we’d planned to fish for redfish, and up into the Colorado River. Word was, the run was on.

I’d been duck and goose hunting for days on end with my friends Dick Williams and Larry Robinson, so it took me a second to register that “specks” meant speckled sea trout, not specklebelly geese.

As we buzzed our way upriver, I realized it had been ages since I’d caught speckled sea trout; I could barely remember what they looked like. I think the last time I’d caught one was in the Chesapeake with a member of the Virginia House of Delegates named Albert Pollard, some 14 years ago.

Cynoscion nebulosus is not in fact a trout. He’s a member of the drum family, along with the famous redfish of the area; our California white seabass is a drum, too, as is a croaker or a spot or a freshwater sheepshead. I grew up catching his Northern cousin, the weakfish or squeteague, off the coasts of New Jersey and New York. All drum are good to eat, and I especially love these little spotted sea trout.

Needless to say I was stoked to get on the water. Like practically vibrating stoked. Keep in mind I’ve been an angler for nearly 30 years longer than I’ve been a hunter, so the urge to chase fish is strong in me.

We got to a spot near a highway bridge. Jerry grabbed a rod and reel and handed it to me. “Can you use a baitcaster?” He gave me sidelong glance.

Low-profile baitcasters are the reel of choice for inshore anglers throughout the South, but they can be relatively rare elsewhere. Plus, baitcasters can be tricky to throw, so it was a legit question. But I’d just used my own Citra baitcaster to annihilate pike, burbot, lake trout and brook trout in Manitoba a couple months ago, so I just calmly told Jerry “yes.”

We baited up with 1/4-ounce swimbaits in chartreuse. The idea was to cast to the bank of the river and jig the bait back towards the boat. Simple enough. Dick hooked the first fish, a shorty. Then Larry hooked a nice 21-incher.

Photo by Hank Shaw
Photo by Hank Shaw

And then the floodgates opened. Whap! A nice strike on the fall. Vicious headshake for the little bugger, but I’d been fishing barbless hooks all summer long, so there was no way this fish was shaking off with a barbed hook. I guided the trout into the net and the rout was on.

I managed to catch my limit of five fish in less than 20 minutes, and kept catching and catching and catching (and releasing) until we all had our limits, which wasn’t that much longer.

It felt so good. I get an electric thrill from catching fish that’s totally unlike that when I am hunting. It’s probably because fishing is the form of hunting and gathering I’ve been doing the longest. At any rate, we had a cooler of fish soon enough.

Time to cook them.

I wanted to make something accessible and easy; I’d been cooking fancy for the guests at the cooking school we were doing for the better part of two weeks. And I know that all drums are excellent fried. So I looked in the fridge and there, to my surprise, were some fresh black-eyed peas! We had some turnip and mustard greens kicking around, bacon, a jar of roasted red peppers… done and done.

This ain’t fancy food, just a great way to cook sea trout with a nice, Texas-inspired salad to go with it. Give it a try.

fried speckled trout recipe
5 from 5 votes

Fried Speckled Trout with Black-Eyed Pea Salad

Obviously this recipe can be done with any white fish. Other good candidates would be bass, walleye, pike fillets, croaker, black seabass, small codfish or haddock, Pacific rockfish, freshwater sheepshead... you get the point. I wanted the salad to be very Southern, thus the choice of black-eyed peas, turnip and mustard greens and bacon. You can change it up if you feel like it. Want a Nordic flair? Go with Great Northern beans, kale and, well, bacon is a universal...
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 people
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients 

TROUT

  • 4 to 6 skinless speckled trout fillets
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup fine cornmeal, a/k/a "fish fry"
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • Peanut oil for frying

SALAD

  • 1 cup black-eyed peas
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 pound bacon
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 or 2 roasted red peppers, canned or freshly roasted, chopped
  • 3 cups chopped turnip or mustard greens
  • Salt, black pepper and cider vinegar to taste

Instructions 

  • Start by cooking the black-eyed peas. Bring the water and chicken broth to a boil and add the peas. Lower the heat to a very gentle simmer and cook until they are tender, but not falling apart. While this is happening, cook the bacon in a large saute pan. When the bacon is crispy, remove it and chop. Set it aside for now.
  • Saute the onion in the bacon fat over medium-high heat until the edges brown. Add the garlic and the greens and toss to coat in the bacon fat. Cook until the greens wilt. Turn off the heat, add back the bacon, then mix in the red peppers. Cover the pan and set aside for now.
  • Pour the milk into a shallow bowl. Mix all the breading ingredients. Pour enough peanut oil into a frying pan to come up about 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Heat the oil to 325°F to 350°F. If you don't have a thermometer, the oil will be ready when a bit of the breading sizzles instantly when flicked into it. When the oil is hot, dredge the fish in the milk, then coat with the breading. Fry until golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
  • To finish, warm the black-eyed pea salad and put some on everyone's plate and top with the fried fish. Serve with beer or an uncomplicated white wine.

Nutrition

Calories: 413kcal | Carbohydrates: 50g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 25mg | Sodium: 397mg | Potassium: 763mg | Fiber: 9g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 2279IU | Vitamin C: 36mg | Calcium: 158mg | Iron: 4mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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6 Comments

  1. We have their relative the weakfish up in Long Island, and it is by far my favorite fish to catch. It has a habit of finding my hook where it isn’t supposed to swim when no one is catching anything. It seems to be my saving fish for slow days at the shore.

    I have always thought weakfish have a distinct smell when you take them out of the water, the closest I have come to describe it is “watermelon”, but that isn’t quite right. Not sure if this is real, or if I am crazy.

  2. Looks great, Hank. My wife and I will be headed down to the Rockport, TX area in a few weeks for our annual 2-month winter stay down there. We catch lots of seatrout, quite a few redfish and black drum, and the occasional flounder. We normally prepare the trout filets just about as you describe. With redfish, we often cook the larger filets (skin down) on the grill (“redfish on the half shell”, as the locals call it). Good stuff. In my opinion, flounder is the best-tasting fish of the ones we catch, but the others are all very good as well..