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Volume 16, Issue 6 - February 7 - February 13, 2008

Tidewater Feasting

Anything better than this, the gods kept for themselves

The striped bass was as imposing as I remembered. It had given me fits several weeks ago, testing my nerves, luck and skill. But I had eventually triumphed. Now the reward was at hand.

It’s broad, heavy head and thick, powerful body were still impressive, but instead of trying to smash my lightweight tackle, this striped devil was now crisply browned and stretched across a bed of lettuce and delicately sliced vegetables on a large silver platter.

We were celebrating the past fishing season, and our guest of honor, that delectable rockfish, had been the most memorable fish I had caught while plugging the shallows this past fall. I had kept the fish whole when I cleaned it, envisioning just such a feast.

Partaking in this Tidewater celebration were my frequent sporting partner Mike Ebersberger and his date Michelle, at left, Bay Weekly editor Sandra Martin, center, myself and my wife Deborah Banker.

Since that striper had been too large for my oven, or the oven of anyone I knew, we had enlisted the assistance of the Annapolis restaurant Jalapeños for the occasion. They had risen to the challenge. The fish was done perfectly and presented impeccably; the vegetables and three sauces were delicious.

As we shared this savory Bay denizen, it occurred to me that we sporting people of the Tidewater are very lucky indeed, especially in regard to our palates.

Special thanks to Jalapeños’ owner-manager Gonzalo Fernandez and to chef Obed Serrano for arranging and creating such a delicious and memorable meal.

Our Epicurean Calendar

We have one the finest epicurean calendars in the world. Few areas anywhere offer such a procession of distinctively delectable wild game to the outdoor adventurer and gourmand.

The treats start early in the spring, with the arrival of the yellow perch. Of course, securing sufficient fish for your feast can be a special challenge. The weather in February and March, when these guys are making their runs into the upper tributaries, can be especially uncomfortable.

You have to plan for a number of sorties to ensure encountering good numbers of the fish because they are fickle and capricious in their movements. It sometimes takes a number of attempts to catch them at the peak of one of their runs. They are impossible to predict, but they are worth trying.

Next comes white perch. This amiable rascal is the most popular fish in the Bay, and the most numerous. A spring spawning run that begins in April and continues into early June can easily result in a cooler full of beauties that can promptly be transformed into a pile of crisply fried delights.

As an accompanying delicacy, the females of both species are fat with roe. The small roe sacks rolled in flour and browned in butter can be simmered for a few moments in a bit of white wine and served over wild or domestic rice. Adorned with a light mushroom gravy, they will cause the ache from any inclement weather or angling weariness to evaporate with the very first bite.

Then, of course, comes rockfish season. The table qualities of this creature are world renowned and with good reason. No matter how you fix this firm, white-fleshed critter — broiled, baked, fried, steamed, grilled or even served ceviché style — there is no comparison.

Almost every month of the Tidewater calendar brings other wild culinary treasures into season. Whether we’re digging into a succulent rockfish, sitting down to a heaping pile of steaming, spicy, blue crabs, digging into a savory meal of venison, goose or duck or dining on any other of those finny or feathered critters that pass our way in their seasonal meanderings, our opportunities are as delectable as they are endless.

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