I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I ordered the snapper throats.
I’d never seen those two words together on a menu — or anywhere, for that matter. I’d never eaten any kind of throat, at least that I was aware of. Snapper throats sounded visceral, even a bit dangerous, in that badass butcher sort of way. Like venison cheeks or pig ears.
But I still wasn’t prepared for what showed up when my server set the plate in front of me at Southerleigh Fine Foods & Brewery, a restaurant in San Antonio that fuses Texas’s diverse cultural influences.
Snapper Throats on the Plate
It looked like a mad tangle of fried fish body parts, festooned with nearly transparent, fine-boned fins as long as my thumb. I counted eight fins. They looked like wings. The whole thing looked like it might take flight and hover above my table like a drone.
The throat of a snapper — the part of the body between the gills and the filet — turns out to be an obscure Southern delicacy, popular among fishers on the Gulf coasts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. It’s one of those discard cuts that makes the insiders say, “They throw away the best parts.”
Executive chef Jeff Balfour was born and raised in Galveston, Texas, where fishing boats ply the Gulf of Mexico, the nation’s best snapper fishery. His suppliers know that the filets will go to just about any restaurant, but to save the throats — at least the ones they don’t eat themselves — for him.
Big Chunks of Meat
Snapper throats are a thing in the first place because they are full of big chunks of tender meat.
“It’s best to just pick them up and eat them like chicken on the bone,” my server said.
I did as told. The fish was luscious, white, tender, and mild. The skin was crackly and delicious. There’s none of that delicate picking among tiny bones when you eat a snapper throat. Big chunks of meat dropped off the sturdy bones, almost like you were eating a chicken thigh.
Southerleigh serves the throats with two dipping sauces, one a straight-on tartar sauce and one an aioli pinched up a bit with Crystal hot sauce. The sauce comes mild. I goosed it with more Crystal and, with the squeeze of the lemon slices that were laid across the fish, the whole thing came together.
Go Ahead: Eat the Fins
But the fun wasn’t over. “Don’t forget to eat the fins,” my server said when she came to see how I was doing. “Break them off and dip them.”
Once again, I did as I was told. The brittle fins snapped right off with a satisfying crack, and I swooped them through the aioli. They were a treat, sort of like a pescatarian cracklin’.
I picked the platter clean.
Snapper Throats Elsewhere
In more polite quarters, fish throats are known as “collars.” You might find them marketed under that name at your local hipster fishmonger.
They are not entirely obscure. Some Asian cooks use the throats of other fish, and they are familiar in some New England fish joints. A scattering of restaurants near the water in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas offer them (though often with less stylistic flair).
Throats are a kind of secret handshake among the folks who work the docks just about anywhere big fish are brought ashore.
Get You Some Snapper Throats
But if you’re in San Antonio, by all means, head to Southerleigh and order the snapper throats. You’ll enjoy some fine eatin’, get an unexpected lesson in piscine anatomy, and experience the curious satisfaction of cracking off some fish fins and popping them in your mouth.
Damn: I wish I’d kept one of those fins as a souvenir.
For more information on Texas, check out this article.
Thanks to Visit San Antonio for hosting my visit.