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TXChefs3: Trashfish Creole: Bryan Caswell and Felipe Riccio

It’s hard to figure out where Texas cooking is headed right now. There are a lot of different trends going on and they have little to do with each other. In fact, sometimes it seems like the chefs in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin arrived here from different planets. In this series, I’ll check out food from some hot Texas chefs and look for clues about the big picture.

Felipe Riccio’s “Rainbow Runner-Mayhaw Ceviche” appetizer at Reef in Houston, is a marvel. It combines two unique ingredients in a sensational dish that neatly sums up the restaurant’s philosophy.

While restaurants in Dallas and San Antonio concentrate on finding local sources for produce and meats, chef Bryan Caswell at Reef in Houston has led the way in expanding the definition of locavore to include local waters. Reef was one of the first restaurants to identify Galveston Bay oysters by specific reef names. Caswell and fishmonger P.J Stoops have helped launch the “Texas trash fish movement” in Houston and Austin.

“Trash fish” refers to underutilized species like sea bream, tripletail, and rainbow runner. These bycatch fish are harvested accidentaly while fisherman are targetting something else; creating demand for them is one key to building a sustainable fishery.

Rainbow runner is a member of the jack family. To make Reef’s rainbow runner ceviche, the flesh of the fish is salt cured and the bones are used to make a fish jus that is reduced with Maderia. The fish is marinated in mayhaw vinegar, which “cooks” the ceviche. The fish is served with blood orange supremes, pickled Gulf sea beans (a kind of seaweed), and pickled mayhaws.

Mayhaws were once gathered wild and turned into the mayhaw jelly sold at East Texas farmstands. The “haw” is the fruit of the hawthorne tree, and May is the season when its ripe, hence “mayhaw.” The traditional East Texas fruit has become rare in the wild and is now grown on a handful of farms including Jackson’s Fruit Farm in the Big Thicket where Reef gets its mayhaws.

Pickled mayhaws, pickled sea beans and candied kumquats are among the jars and jars of things you’ll find in Reef’s refrigerator–the kitchen turns out a steady stream of pickles, vinegars, syrups and preserves made from local produce on a weekly basis.

Riccio has been at Reef for two years now, he became sous chef one year ago. He received his training at HCC’s Culinary Arts program. In his last job, he worked with French chef Frederic Perrier at Aura Restaurant. The French have long been an inspiration when it comes to trash fish–bouillabasse was first concocted by fishermen’s wives as a way to use the varieties of fish that no one wanted to buy.

Felipe Riccio, Bryan Caswell, Adam Saxenian

At Reef, head chef Bryan Caswell and young stars Felipe Riccio and Adam Saxenian are combining local ingredients, sustainable fishery products, and techniques and ingredients from Houston’s wildly varied ethnic cuisines. The result is a new style of creolized seafood cookery that tastes uniquely Texan.

7 comments to TXChefs3: Trashfish Creole: Bryan Caswell and Felipe Riccio

  • annette gabbert

    Felipe was a student of my culinary program in high school. I have followed his success and salute him.

  • Thanks for letting us know about “trashfish”. Maybe it’s time for us to make another trip to Kemah and visit the fish mongers. My only problem with that is they sometimes can’t tell you anything about the fish or how to cook it. I’ll be following your series to learn more.

  • Gary Wise

    Great piece!

  • Jack Flannery

    I had tripletail at Water Street Seafood in Corpus last summer. Never heard of it, but what a great tasting fish.

  • robbwalsh

    Total Catch Market at Louisiana Foods sells trashfish on Saturday mornings–but they haven’t been open for a few weeks due to a slow period in the fishing business. Keep an eye on their website: http://totalcatchmarket.blogspot.com/

  • Mark Myers

    I’m a big fan of “trash fish”. Far too many fishermen, both commercial and recreational, focus their efforts on far too few a number of species. In the Gulf it is dolphin (mahi mahi) and red snapper, and in the bays it is redfish, speckled trout, and flounder. Such tunnel vision fishing puts too much fishing pressure on these species, and also ignores other great fishes out there. For a recreational angler, a day skunked while fishing for the “big three” can be salvaged by getting into sand trout, sheepshead, a spot, or a porgy. I have enjoyed adapting recipes from around the world to suit these fish. Sheepshead goujons, smaller fish like spots and sand trout grilled the way I have had red mullet in Greece and Spain, or cut up and used to make kakavia, a Greek fish soup. I’ve even found our own grey mullet (unrelated to red mullet) to be a good foundation for a smoked fish spread. I’ve eaten enough smaller fish throughout the Mediterranean and Japan that I have learned Americans are way too finicky when it comes to which fish we eat.

  • P.J.

    Could have a good debate about what should be labeled “trash” and what should not. I’ve eaten tripletail. For the dinner table, it’s a primary target here in E. Central Florida. I love to take “trash fish” and make them taste good. With some of them threatening our waterways and destroying natural habitat, eat those lionfish, Asian carp, etc. etc. Jack Crevalle, if trimmed and rinsed properly can be used in a Sicilian swordfish meatball recipe. If fresh and breaded, tastes like a pork cutlet. Skate, while a little gelatinous, is elegant fare served in fine restaurants. Here’s where I agree with Zimmern, “if it looks good, eat it (sometimes it doesn’t look good until after it’s cleaned though.

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