Food & Drink
Catch and Cook: Fishing for Dinner with Galatoire’s
This fish story is true: you can catch your own fish and have them prepared at iconic New Orleans restaurants with the Catch and Cook program.
There’s an undeniable connection between the fresh, caught-daily Louisiana seafood and restaurants across New Orleans. What isn’t apparent is just how close we all are to this bountiful natural resource when dining out in the city.
I recently went out on the water with
Bourgeois Fishing Charters from Barataria, a small fishing community just a few minutes outside of the city near the swamps of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Fishing charters make for an excellent family, corporate or small group activity — whether you’re an experienced angler or a novice, it’s one of the most fun ways to explore Louisiana’s waterways and return home with dinner. But most anglers don’t want to do all the work required to make the fish end up — clean, filleted, perfect grill marks and all — on a plate.
I fished with Galatoire’s executive chef Michael Sichel — it’s great to see a chef so in tune with the ecology of the land and where his prized ingredients come from.
That’s where Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ new
Catch and Cook program comes in. After your fishing trip is over, head back to one of nine participating local restaurants and have the fish you just caught prepared in any number of ways for a fantastic, one-of-a-kind meal (and a delightfully true “fish story”). Thankfully, I had Galatoire’s executive chef Michael Sichel with me on the boat and in the kitchen of his historic French Quarter restaurant.
When you use a licensed recreational fishing charter service, they provide the rods and reels, boats, gas, snacks for the trip, and an experienced captain who knows all the good fishing spots.They also safely clean and prepare your catch in any number of ways so it’s ready to cook: scaling, gutting, cutting portions into fillets, and packing them for travel back into the city. Our captain knew all the best spots where the fish were plentiful, and we caught several dozen fish that day thanks to his expertise.
Before you follow along with my photo essay journey from sea to plate, take a look at the participating restaurants:
Catch and Cook Restaurants in New Orleans
Our half-day charter launched from Barataria, about a 25-minute drive from downtown New Orleans. We headed for Turtle Bay, farther south closer to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Bourgeois fishing camp is where we met up and departed from — inside it has antique bottles and other ephemera found during fishing trips and along the bayous.
Louisiana is called “Sportsmen’s Paradise” for a reason: hunting and fishing are a way of life for so many people in the state, either recreationally or as a way to put food on the table.
Our group took two small outboard motor boats, necessary for navigating the shallow, marshy waters of south Louisiana. We met up at the camp and departed before dawn. Early birds catch the best fish — and the sunrise!
The view from the marina as we gassed up the boats. Larger commercial vessels like this boat are what bring so much of the beautiful Gulf shrimp and fish to our tables every day.
Once you leave the city of New Orleans, you’re quickly reminded of how vast the swamps and marshes and open waters of Louisiana are everywhere. We didn’t run into very many other people or boats while we were out fishing. We did see this shrimping boat hard at work, though.
Chef Michael Sichel of Galatoire’s was on the boat with me and a few other journalists. Michael is an avid fisherman, and loves to go out on Lake Pontchartrain with his boat when he has the time. Fishing is so relaxing, and it’s great to see a chef so in tune with the ecology of the land and where his prized ingredients come from. As I snapped this, we had just gotten soaking wet from a pre-dawn rainstorm that passed over us. Fishing charters happen rain or shine!
Our captain has a lifetime of fishing experience and knows these waters better than most. We moved from spot to spot where he thought the fish would be plentiful. He knows his stuff: we caught several dozen fish that day.
Our bait wasn’t worms! You gotta give the fish what they want: fresh Louisiana shrimp.
Although our day trip didn’t have bright, blue sky, the scattered rainstorms gave us some incredible light over the marshy waters. We spent part of the day trying to avoid the storms all while finding the good spots.
Our first catch of the day was speckled trout. It’s what we caught the most of the day, and it is one of the region’s best fish. They love the brackish water, swimming up from the salty Gulf of Mexico into the water mixed from nearby freshwater Lake Salvador.
Look closely and you’ll see the dorsal fin of a dolphin poking out of the water! We also spotted bald eagles and other beautiful, wild birds along the way.
This is what I’ll remember most about that day: our captain Wayne Gonzales (T-Wayne, for short) and chef Michael Sichel laughing and cracking jokes. Fishing with a group is as much about the company as it is catching fish.
T-Wayne shows off a speckled trout we just caught. I took many such pictures — we caught a lot of fish.
For a few brief minutes, the sky cleared enough to cast a golden light on the marsh.
This is definitely off-menu food…nowhere else am I going to get Galatoire’s breakfast sandwiches with egg and house-made sausage and cheese. This was fancy fishing snacks. Not pictured: beer for those not driving the boat, and my homemade cold brew iced coffee, which fueled me for the morning. I put at least double the concentrate of coffee into my tumbler that morning.
The Captain was right: there were redfish in this spot. Instinct and experience helps. Redfish are one of Louisiana’s finest fish!
My favorite thing we caught all day: a gargantuan sheepshead. You don’t get to eat this fish much outside of south Louisiana, but it’s one of the best because of its flaky, tender meat not unlike lump crabmeat.
Look at the crazy teeth on this sheepshead!
Meanwhile, back on land….our Captain has prepared our fish according to our wishes. He removed scales, gutted the insides, left some whole, left some with skin on, and cut others into portioned fillets.They were properly handled and sent back to New Orleans with us. Along the way back, we stopped into Tan Dinh Vietnamese Restaurant on the West Bank in Gretna for some pho and spring rolls to warm us up — we got soaked with rainstorms on the way out to the fishing spots and on the way back. It was exhilirating, but part of dealing with Mother Nature. Once back in the city, all of us got showered and dressed. Chef Michael put on his chef whites and got to work. There were hundreds of people dining at Galatoire’s that day, but only our group would get to enjoy this special meal made up of fish we had just caught.
Our Catch and Cook dinner began with a twist on a familiar Cajun classic: an amuse bouche of a seafood boudin ball. Instead of pork, Chef Michael has replaced the rice and meat mixture with crab and shrimp, battered and deep fried and served traditionally with a Creole mustard.
Dining at Galatoire’s is like stepping back in time to old-world luxury. It’s a traditional fine dining Creole restaurant, and locals love the place because a meal there is more like a celebration with old friends and family. Regulars know their waiters, and often times their waiter has been serving them for more than 20 years. Oftentimes regulars won’t even bother with a menu, as they know what they want and their waiter knows what cocktail they like, and how to make it! We passed around several classic starters from Galatoire’s menu: Crabmeat Maison, Lobster (in lieu of shrimp) Cocktail, and Shrimp Remoulade.
Smoked Trout Deviled Eggs, anyone?
This was the first dish that turned heads throughout the restaurant. Although we didn’t catch it (lobster is found nowhere near Louisiana), Lobster Thermidor is an old-school dish you don’t see too often in restaurants anymore. Galatoire’s makes this dish especially well. Thanks, Chef Michael!
This is the first off-menu dish prepared using the fish we caught that day. A Roulade of Trout Stuffed with Shrimp and Crabmeat.
Next came the huge platter of fried speckled trout. Trout was the most plentiful catch of the day, so it appears most frequently in our meal.
A decadent bisque made with some of the redfish we caught, along with triggerfish, all in a saffron broth with savory whipped cream. By this point in the meal the tables around us were very keen to know what it was we were eating, and how the fishing was today.
Speckled Trout and Sheepshead Amandine. I have no words, it was so good.
Chef Michael Sichel of Galatoire’s might have one of the best culinary jobs in the city: presiding over a famed historic restaurant in the bustle of Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, with a huge staff and several kitchens that can prepare world-class New Orleans cuisine with the best ingredients to a clientele of locals and out-of-towners who appreciate the craft behind fine dining, all in an atmosphere where there’s always a party or celebration going on. Here, Chef Michael is bringing out a whole deep fried redfish from today’s fishing trip. At this point, our entire table is nearly full. But our side of the table managed to do some real damage to this fish.
Food is a major part of the celebration, but at Galatoire’s, expect to be included in other peoples’ milestones. Anniversaries, engagements, weddings, birthdays, and life in general is celebrated daily in the dining room. Waiters will stop, glasses will clink and an entire dining room will join in singing happy birthday (like to this lucky diner) or raise a glass to an anniversary several times during any given meal. You can’t help but feel the joy in this dining room in taking part in the festivities. And this is just an ordinary Saturday night!
We didn’t catch this bread pudding on the boat, but Galatoire’s makes some intensely delicious desserts.
Galatoire’s is actually two restaurants in adjacent buildings. The owners of Galatoire’s recently renovated and opened a second restaurant next door 33 Bar and Steak. This Chocolate Creme Brûlée is only on the 33 menu and not on the Galatoire’s menu, but ask your waiter and it might appear at your table!
Galatoire’s and 33 executive chef Michael Sichel hails from the New York area, so it’s no wonder that this New York style cheesecake is on the menu at 33. This was the brandy-soaked cherry on top of the incredible meal.
All photos by Paul Broussard