This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
One of the very finest American fishes. Its flesh is the whitest and very firm, if there be a defect at all it may be that the flesh is too firm. Its flavor is delicate without being so decided as to repel the people who do not like fish in general. It is the most satisfactory fish to fry for breakfast, the whiteness of the meats howing through the breading &..d affording a fine color which some other fish never acquire in the pan. The snapper is abundant also, being found in the markets of every considerable town of the middle and southern states aid beyond. In color is like the gold fish in the globes, but attains a noble size.
This magnificent fish is one of the most common in the Gulf of Mexico. It is gorgeously colored, very graceful in all its movements, and unusually wary and capricious. In weight it ranges from 2 to 35 lbs., averaging 7 lbs. Its home is in the strictly salt waters of the Gulf a short distance from the coast. There it lives on the bottom at a depth of 60 to 240 feet. The ocean floor of Florida declines gently at first, for a distance of from 30 to 50 miles from the shore, to a depth of 300 feet, then very abruptly decends to a depth of 600 feet, beyond which the slope is more gradual to a depth of about 12,000 feet. The first slope is a sandy one; the second is sandy, rocky and muddy, while the third is wholly muddy. The surface of the second with its uneven rocks afford homes and comparative security for all kinds of small marine animals, such as crabs, barnacles, corals, etc., etc. The red snapper is most prominent in these communities. It is one of the largest, most active and handsomest species. Its life is spent about the patches of rocks, swimming about 6 feet from the bottom among tall branching oscols and waving grasses in a lazy graceful manner, forever on the alert to dash upon some reckless smaller fish.
Ordinarily it has about fifty species of beautifully delicate fishes to select its food from. Among these are rare fishes that live only about the coral reefs of warm seas. Even the most celebrated little fish of the Romans - the red mullet, that was so highly esteemed by the epicure emperors, furnishes an occasional meal for the red snapper. In consequence of living upon food of this character, the flesh of the red snapper is peculiarly firm and sweet, being disposed in regular layers that make it especially desirable for serving at the table. The red snapper is caught altogether with hook and line. Vessels carrying 6 to 8 men go from home as far as 250 miles, being then about 50 miles from land. The places where the fish live is found by sounding-lines that indicate the depth known to the fisherman, and that have baited hooks attached which are quite sure to get a victim if there are fish near by and they are disposed to bite. The vessels are anchored over the spot or allowed to drift across it, while the fishermen ply their lines as rapidly as possible. Each man handles a single line, which has two large hooks and several pounds of lead attached.
When the fish are hungry they bite as fast as the lines are lowered to them, and even rise near to the surface of the sea in their eargerncss, biting at the bare hooks or anything that is offered. From this habit they have gained the name of snappers. Very often two large fish are hooked at once, and then the fisherman has a hard pull, for the snapper is gamey. While it is so easily captured at times, there are spells when it cannot be lured by any kind of bait or snare.
Put in enough hot water to cover well, resting on the drainer bottom, with salt and little vinegar; simmered about 3/4. hour, lifted out by means of the false bottom, and onto a dish, served with any of the usual fish sauces; caper sauce is especially suitable, and Hollandaise potatoes.
Cooked with the head on, the fish having the back bone removed, without quite severing the skin, from the back, and the bone separated from the head at the shoulders; stuffed and restored to original form, fastened with twine. Baked with slices of salt pork in the pan; served with tomato sauce made in the same pan.
Split down the back and laid open in a pan. the skin side down, the upper surface dusted over with salt, while pepper, coloring pepper; set in the oven to get hot; taken out in a few minutes, and warm butter poured over; then baked brown with frequent bastings; served with lemons and tomato catsup.
For a fish of 5 to 8 lbs. is required 2 teaspoons coloring pepper, 1/2z teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, 2 cloves of garlic sliced thin - all these to be placed in water ready in a cup. Next, 1 onion lightly fried in lard, 1/2 can tomatoes added, fish in pieces put in, pepper mixture added; cooked lomin-utes, 1/2 cup flour to thicken; served with fried bread.
Fish boiled whole in kettle with stock, white wine, water, aromatics; when done, upper-side skin removed, fish glazed, decorated with lobster coral; served with matelote sauce of oysters, shrimps, etc.