Yesterday Larry went gigging for Red Horse with some friends of his, and brought home four of the 35 they killed. Today he cut up two and I fried ’em up. Now, if you are not familiar with Red Horse, don’t feel bad. When I married Larry in 1977, I hadn’t heard of them, either. The Shorthead Redhorse is a game fish that is found east of the Rockies and is prevalent in the Ozarks. Instead of dropping a line in the river, as you would with Bass, you either gig or grab them. They will bite fish worms, Larry said, but the season for grabbing and gigging is from September 15 to Jan. 31 and grabbing opens again from March 15 to May 15. Please don’t ask me what grabbing is. I’m not sure I understand gigging, even. But the fish are good.
When we got married, Larry told me that I would have to agree to let him go to these massive kills and fish frys, which were men only. I agreed to it, as long as he brought me home some of the fish. In the years since, there are fewer of these “men only” events around here, as most of the old men who held them are now doing their gigging and frying in heaven. So Larry goes to these events and brings home some raw fish, and I have learned to cook them. After Larry had his heart attack, in 1998, a man named George who works for the telephone company used to bring him by a few red horse now and then, because he knew Larry loved them. And I’ve heard the late Pauline Carnell, a good friend who died last year at the age of 101, say she remembered taking fried red horse to school in her lunch pail as a child. But all the time I was growing up, I never heard of them.
Cooking Red Horse
You don’t cook red horse the same way you do other fish. When I fix catfish, I add a little flour to the cornmeal I bread them with. But with Red Horse, I simply shake them in a plastic bag with cornmeal and a little seasoning. I fry them in peanut oil, using a cast iron skillet or a carbon steel wok – the wok makes frying so easy, and the conical bottom gives an almost deep fry experience. My suggestion is to use a gas stove; it is hard to get the right temperature safely using electric stoves, because the heat can’t be turned up and down easily. I have a gas stove with a high burner (14,000 btu) and this is perfect for frying fish.
I check my oil heat by using a little raw potato – I place a slice of raw french fry in the pan while it is heating; when the french fry is done, the oil is ready. The oil has to be very hot; do not pack the pan full; make sure there is lots of room around each piece of fish, because it is important to cook them to a very crisp doneness; it is almost impossible to overcook these fish. Here’s a pictorial essay: