"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Dinner On North Carolina's Outer Banks
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

Avon, NC--Stars of the show were a seven-poundish sheepshead and a three-poundish pompano.

It was my night to fix dinner for our crew at North Carolina's famed Outer Banks, and they were my centerpieces.

There were, of course, other great dishes (prepared by other members of our vacation crew), and there even were other species of fish--spot, Taylor blues, and even chicken of the sea (a.k.a. blowfish, or toad). But the big, baked sheepshead and the pan-fried pompano fingers were show stoppers.

It was all quite easy, starting with dressing (or should that be undressing?) the fish.

I wanted the sheepshead in one large piece for baking. So I scaled it with a large spoon from the kitchen, cut off the head, cleaned out the body cavity (including some large deposits of fat), and pronounced it fit for a baking pan. Big baking fish are a lot like game birds, in my cookbook. They need to be baked with skin and bones.

I filleted my first big pompano (the size I usually catch are more like bluegills), and removed the skin, even though this species is not heavily scaled. If I planned to bake a big pompano, I probably would remove whatever scales were present and leave the skin on.

At this point, to be brutally honest, I probably should "sheepishly" admit that sheepshead and pompano were caught on a silver hook at the Avon Fish House. I was a few days late to hit the big sheepshead run at the Avon Fishing Pier. This is somewhat academic, I believe, because fish caught by commercial fishermen tend to taste just as good as the ones I catch.

Now for the cooking, which was just as easy.  I placed the big sheepshead in a shallow (two-inch sides) aluminum pan and rubbed it with olive oil inside and out. With enough potatoes for 11 diners, chunks of one large onion, and carrot sticks well salted and peppered, I tossed them in olive oil and filled the fish cavity and available open space around it. A few strips of bacon across the top of the fish completed my dish, which was covered with foil and baked at 400 degrees until the veggies were tender (about two hours). At that point the oven was turned off, and the foil removed to crisp the bacon and brown the veggies.

The pompano filets were cut crosswise into finger-like strips, salted and peppered, dipped in a mixture of egg and milk, rolled in an equal-parts mixture of finely-rolled Keebler Club crackers, and flour, before fast frying to a golden brown on all sides in olive oil.

Incidentally, frying the pompano fingers--any fish--requires constant attention to avoid overcooking. Check down sides often to avoid burning. Golden brown on all sides says the fish is done.


Readers of this column probably are familiar with my procedures for saving meat that might otherwise be wasted when a fish is filleted. A seasoned commercial fisherman here put a new wrinkle in my thinking.

His idea (name unknown) supports my thinking that filleting fish leaves a lot of good food on the bones. But he boosts my thinking a notch or two by pointing out that he filets fish, but that folks in this seashore town fry the bones right along with the filets.

"Fried bones offer a lot of good fish," he says.

That lesson came after I had "cleaned" the pompano. But the meat on the pompano bones was not wasted. I parboiled the bones, picked off the good meat and turned it into a skillet of pompano a la king with hot homemade biscuits.
The sheepshead (bottom) is not a favorite of many salt water anglers, but offers flaky white meat that is delicious. The streamlined pompano (top) is both beautiful and tasty. Pompano feed on sand fleas in the surf, often very close in the last breaker. My sheepshead, baked with veggies, proved a popular dish.

[Click on photos to see larger images.]

All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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