The Sporting Life
by Dennis Doyle
Rockfish Three Ways
Once you catch it, you get to eat it
One of the challenges facing an ardent angler is, having harvested the bounty of the wild, how to prepare it for the table. Fortunately rockfish lends itself to the task and is so easy to prepare that even I am competent at it.
I try to keep the dishes as simple as possible and let the striped bass find its own natural glory. It is a firm, delicately flavored fish that will blossom on your taste buds like few others.
I use three basic techniques: broiled, fried and not cooked at all. I rarely vary from these approaches. Each produces an excellent result.
My technique for broiled rockfish is first to excise the lateral line, the dark meat concentrated down the center of the fillet. I do this for two reasons: One, I don’t like its flavor; Two, if the fish has accumulated any contaminants in its wanderings, they will be concentrated in that strip.
Next, pat the fillets dry with a paper towel, anoint them generously with olive oil and sprinkle both sides with paprika, coarse salt and fresh-ground black pepper.
Using a baking pan with about one-half inch of water or white wine) in the bottom and a rack that will suspend the fillets over the liquid, place them ugly side down (the side on which you cut out the lateral line) and put them in the oven close to the broiler heat.
After three to five minutes, or when the smoke alarm goes off, the top side should be just getting crispy brown, at which point carefully flip them and repeat the process on the other side.
Then they are done. Melt one-half stick of butter and add a healthy squeeze of lime or lemon juice. Pour it over the fish and sprinkle a few capers on each fillet just before serving.
Accompany the rockfish with anything from wild rice, mushrooms and asparagus to fresh corn on the cob and baked beans.
My approach to frying the fish is as simple. Having excised the lateral line, cut the fillets into finger-sized pieces and place them in a bowl of milk. Then prepare a mixture of finely ground corn meal, a few generous shakes of ground cayenne pepper, coarse salt and fresh-ground black pepper, putting the mixture in a paper or plastic bag.
Heat a deep-sided, cast-iron pot or pan with about two inches of (only) peanut oil to about 400 degrees, or just before it smokes. Shake about a dozen pieces of fish at a time in the sack of spiced corn meal, and place them in the hot oil with tongs, turning them as needed. Remove them as they brown and place on paper towels on a plate or pan in a warm oven, repeating the process until all of the fish is done.
This approach is nicely served with corn on the cob, cole slaw, and potato salad or French fries. A nice touch is a chilled homemade tartar sauce done with three-quarters cup of mayonnaise, one-half cup of finely chopped cornichon pickles and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Lastly the not cooked at all technique, also called ceviche, is a dish I learned to prepare during a sporting trip to Costa Rica long ago. Cut the fillets (minus the lateral line) once lengthwise, then into quarter-inch thick strips, and place them in a large glass bowl. Pour a couple of healthy glugs of olive oil onto them, add a heaping teaspoon of coarse salt, fresh-ground black pepper and mix with your fingers until all pieces are covered.
While this simple elixir embraces the fish, very thinly slice one and a half cups of mild, sweet onion, chop a handful of fresh cilantro, mince two jalapeño peppers. Mix together and add to the fish in the glass bowl, pouring over them the juice of three lemons and three limes to cover the fish. Mix well with your fingers and refrigerate, covered, overnight, disturbing the mixture at least once more to be sure all pieces get exposed to the juice.
Marinating at least six hours in the acid of the citrus juice will effectively cook the fish. An hour before serving, pour off about half the liquid and add in two cups of diced tomatoes and one cup of chopped spring onions, again mixing gently. Sample the fish and adjust the salt and pepper as desired. Serve on a bed of fresh lettuce with French bread or crackers as an appetizer or as a light main course.
As our American goddess of the kitchen, Julia, used to say, Bon appetit!
Fish Are Biting
The main bite remains to the south at the Gooses, two fishy lumps south of Plum Point on the Western Shore, where chummers are having a ball with big schools of blues and some good rockfish. From the Baltimore Light to Podickery, and at the mouth of the Chester River, trollers dragging medium-sized bucktails are scoring on nice rockfish about 25 to 35 feet deep. Live-liners are still doing well drifting small perch and spot on fish holding on the edge of the channels.