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How to Cook Your Rockfish

Keep it simple to start

The thrill of catching a trophy rockfish leads to a second act in the kitchen and a third at the table, for rockfish are very good to eat.
    It’s high season here in the heart of rockfish country, where Maryland recreational and commercial anglers catch more than four million pounds each season.
    Having made my own share of that catch, I have experimented with any number of approaches and made a couple of basic discoveries on how to prepare this delicious fish.
    First and foremost: Don’t overdo it. Complex recipes with multiple ingredients, flavors and cooking sequences will generally overwhelm the succulent flavor of the fish.
    My standard strategy is to keep it simple.
    Starting with a fillet or two, blot the fish dry, coat lightly with a good olive oil and add a generous amount of salt and pepper, fresh-chopped dill and a dusting of paprika.
    Put fillets under the broiler in a shallow pan as close to the heating element as you can for 10 to 15 minutes or until the fish is browned on top and flakes firmly.
    Vary this dish by adding a simple sauce. The basic is tartar sauce, served on the side. Never use a ready-made variety. It is too easy to make your own, and it is invariably better.
    Chop small a half-dozen cornichon pickles and a heaping teaspoon of capers, if you like. Mix with two or three heaping tablespoons of an olive oil-based mayonnaise (Hellman’s is my favorite) and add a good squeeze of lemon to taste. You’ll never do it any other way.
    For a special occasion or guests, make a quick Hollandaise sauce. Put two egg yolks, two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and a good pinch of cayenne pepper into a glass bowl and whisk them well. Just before serving, melt a stick of butter in a saucepan until it just starts to brown. Slowly add it to the egg yolks while constantly stirring until the sauce is well mixed, smooth and frothy.
    Pour the Hollandaise over your fillets with a few capers sprinkled about for a great presentation. Or serve the sauce on the side in a warm gravy boat, so that your guests can decide how much to use.
    If your true love is fried fish and you’ll never be satisfied with it prepared any other way, I recommend the following method.
    Mix well an egg, a tablespoon flour and just enough beer or cold soda water to make a medium-thick slurry. Spread over a large dinner plate a generous amount of Panko (Japanese bread crumbs). Rinse and dry the fillets well, then dip them in the slurry, coating them thoroughly. Next, place them in the Panko, pressing down firmly to completely cover with crumbs. Refrigerate for an hour or more in advance of preparing the meal.
    In a large, heavy skillet pour in about half an inch of peanut oil (corn oil will do almost as well) and heat to about 400 degrees or just before it begins to smoke. Ease in each fillet and turn when the first side is golden brown. Remove when both sides are crispy, and serve immediately with a side of the tartar sauce described earlier or a spicy hot sauce such as Texas Pete’s or Cholula.
    Side dishes can be almost anything. I recommend fresh asparagus, now in season, fresh sliced tomatoes in their time or diced and steamed new potatoes with butter and parsley. A chilled Pinot Grigio goes great with the broiled fish; Rockfish Pale Ale goes especially well with the fried variety.