From Lake to Plate
Louisiana’s “Catch and Cook” Program Ensures the Freshest Fish Possible
Story By Chris Chamberlain
Louisiana is known as a destination for hunting and fishing excursions—the state’s license plates even read “Sportsman’s Paradise.” With access to the Gulf of Mexico, bayous, rivers and estuaries, Louisiana supports a wide variety of fish for sportsmen to pursue. Yet while many folks love to go fishing and eat seafood, most aren’t interested in the cleaning and cooking chores that are part of a great fish dinner.
If you’re one such foodie, problem solved!
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has developed an innovative “Catch & Cook” initiative in partnership with local fishing guides and restaurants that allows anglers to bring the fish they harvest to an eatery that will prepare the catch as a delicious meal. The program requires that diners fill out an assumption of risk form to ensure that the fish has been properly handled and chilled between when it came off the hook and when it hits the plate. Fishing guides and participating restaurants must also be permitted to demonstrate that they are undertaking proper safety procedures from bagging and labeling the fish fresh out of the water, cooling and transporting the catch safely between the boat and the restaurant, and making sure that proper sanitary codes are followed.
Diners can be assured that they will actually be eating the fish that they caught and that nobody else in the restaurant will get to enjoy any fresher fish that evening. A list of participating Catch & Cook restaurants is available of the program’s official website. We reached out to two popular spots where you can experience the pleasure of eating your own catch without the mess of cleaning or cooking.
Restaurant des Families
Brooke Zar owns Restaurant des Families with her husband Bryan. The couple purchased the cozy eatery in Crown Point ten years ago, and many recreational anglers make the trek about 15 miles south of New Orleans through Jean Lafitte National Park, a natural wonder with swamps, bayous, marsh areas, and hardwood forests featuring century-old trees draped with lovely Spanish Moss. The area is also very popular for anglers thanks to easy access to prolific fisheries in the bayous: Lake Salvador and Lake Hermitage. Multiple charter services offer guided fishing trips in the area, and those guides are integral in making the Catch & Cook program work so well.
“The guides are our best salesmen,” explains Zar. “The charter captains refer their clients to our restaurant to prepare what they catch, and our participation helps to provide a living to the local guides. We like that it offers a genuine Louisiana experience, and it gets people out of New Orleans to do some different Louisiana things. We’re also proud that our guests can know the actual source of their food and that it’s as fresh as possible. Some people love farm-to-table, so we call it bayou- or lake-to-table!”
It’s a full-service program with the guides cleaning, bagging, and icing the fish for their clients who can deliver it to Restaurant des Families in less than ten minutes after leaving the docks in the town of Lafite. It’s also a great bargain with the kitchen charging a flat rate of $10 per diner to prepare the fish and serve it up with one side dish and a house salad. Zar shares that there are a variety of preparations available: “The way we cook it is based on the size of the fish. If they bring in big fillets, we’ll blacken them and grill them. For smaller fish, we can add a family-style fish fry platter with house-made cocktail sauce and tartar sauce for just $5 more. And if they weren’t lucky enough that day to catch enough to feed everyone, we can always add on some gumbo or our famous turtle soup!”
Jack Daniel’s Bar & Grill
To the west of New Orleans in the heel of the Louisiana boot lies Lake Charles, a popular destination for sportsmen and casino devotees thanks to spots like L’Auberge Casino Resort, a luxurious property located on a bayou between two lakes. It’s also just a 20-minute boat ride to the Gulf, so anglers have access to all sorts of different water to chase aquatic quarry. Another prime amenity is L’Auberge’s Jack Daniel’s Bar & Grill, a popular casual steakhouse that features fantastic seafood and barbecue dishes as well.
Lyle Broussard has been the chef at Jack Daniel’s since it opened in 2005, and he loves being part of the Catch & Cook program. “It’s really popular with our guests from Houston,” he explains. “We feature it on our website, and guests will call or email us a day or two before coming. We can help connect them with a charter service to book a fishing trip, or sometimes the guides will tell them about us. Since the fish is already cleaned and ready to go, all they have to do is drop it off at the restaurant. We usually tell them to come back in a couple of hours so they can take a shower and clean up for dinner.”
While the guests are freshening up, Broussard’s kitchen is hard at work preparing complete plated meals for just $22 per person. “We cook the fish in all sorts of different ways, depending on what kinds they bring in. We see a lot of redfish, trout, and flounder, so we might take half of the fillets and grill them and blacken the other half. One of my favorite things to do is serve redfish on the half shell,” says Broussard. Unlike the oysters you might have enjoyed on the half shell, this iconic Louisiana redfish preparation involves grilling or roasting the fish skin-side down until it creates a crispy shell that allows the meat braise in its own juices to create a tasty dish.
That’s not all you get for the price of your meal at Jack Daniel’s Bar & Grill. “We’ll come up with some side dish options, too,” says Broussard. “We’ll serve either some fresh seasonal vegetables or truffled potatoes along with some appetizers. We’ll also give the choice of three sauces like crab and lemon butter, blackened crawfish sauce, garlic/parmesan or a traditional New Orleans BBQ sauce made with butter, Worcestershire sauce, and dark beer.”
Broussard usually serves about two to three Catch & Cook meals throughout the week, mainly on weekends. In addition to its freshness, Broussard notes that many diners appreciate the exclusivity: “They’ll be eating and everybody else in the dining room will be looking over at their table. It’s always great to know that you’re getting something nobody else can get!”
Plan A Trip
If you want this sort of unique experience on your next trip to Louisiana, plan ahead by checking the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website.
Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink and travel writer based in Nashville, Tennessee.