Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 39 Issue 3 • May 21-28, 2009
now in our 39th season

Fish On!

by Jenn Farmer
Sous Chef at Bartlett's Farm

Several years ago I cooked in a restaurant on the wharf whose Executive Chef had been cooking on Nantucket for several years, but never been fishing.  We were all shocked and amazed, since the fishing here is great, and the restaurant had made friends with so many charter boat captains and mates (on cold foggy days a cup of hot chowder or soup can really make you friends quick).  The kitchen staff decided to take our chef on a fishing excursion for his birthday. 

All of us were to set out early in the morning, a huge feat, since most of us worked until about midnight, then had to catch last call at our favorite local bar.  None of us hit the sheets until three or four a.m.  We all showed up wearing sunglasses, even though it wasn’t bright yet.  The two gallons of coffee we brought along didn’t help the mood either.  We didn’t speak to one another as we waited for the birthday boy.  There were some nods and grunts of acknowledgement as the second gallon of coffee was being passed around.  The mood instantly lifted as the chef arrived, grinning like a kid going to his first baseball game, ready for his first fishing trip. 

We boarded the boat and off we went into the misty morning, salt air bringing us to a more conscious and content state.  We were out for a little under a half-hour when the captain slowed the boat and let us begin the fishing.  Since the water temperature was still chilly, the much sought after stripped bass weren’t running yet, but the bluefish were abundant.  Every time we cast out there was another cry of “fish on!” the bluefish were striking hard. 

Bluefish are known for their fight and ferocity.  Bluefish are actually one of the only fish that maim or kill other fish that they do not intend to eat.  Bluefish are very spirited and a lot of fun to catch.  Every time one is on the line you expect a much bigger fish than what comes out of the water.  The Blues gave us all a pretty good fight, and we were tired as the captain brought us back to the harbor. 

We had caught a lot of bluefish; we were starving; and we were all cooks- yet most of us had only had smoked bluefish.  Bluefish have a bad reputation for being an oily, strongly flavored fish.  The flesh has a smooth, long, moist flake, and is packed full of omega 3 fatty acids.   We asked the mate if he enjoyed bluefish and he energetically told us he ate it nearly every night.  The key, he told us, was to clean and eat the fish as soon as possible.  That sounded like pretty simple advice, but he insisted that if the bluefish sat for too many hours the strong flavor would get very pronounced and make the fish very gamey.   

The second piece of advice he gave us was to cut out as much of the blood line as possible before or after cooking.  The bloodline is the very darkly colored flesh that runs down the center of the bluefish fillet.  We asked him how he liked to cook the blues and he gave us a variation of the following recipe.  We tried his recipe immediately on arrival at the restaurant, it is delicious.  This recipe is also great because there is very little clean up and it is so fast...and did I mention, delicious!

Grilled Bluefish Teriyaki

Aluminum foil
2 fillet bluefish
2 carrots peeled and thinly sliced
1 onion peeled and thinly sliced
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon grated ginger
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
One half cup pineapple juice 

Place the a clean bluefish fillet on a large piece of aluminum foil—leave enough room to created a closed pouch when you are finished.  Top each fillet with the prepared vegetables.  Make a teriyaki sauce from the ginger, garlic, pepper, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, pineapple juice, and sesame oil.  Pour over the fish and seal the aluminum foil up.  Place each pouch on hot grill for about 10- 12 minutes; check the fish, and vegetables to see if they are ready.  Consume immediately with an ice cold beverage.  Serves 4-6.

At that same restaurant we made, and they still serve, the best smoked bluefish pate.  It is served on the most exquisite homemade Melba toast.  They even smoke their own bluefish when it is in season.  No matter how much we made for the evening, it always seemed to be gone at the end of the night.  I believe the staff was assisting in the consumption of the pate, which is a testament to how tasty it was.  This is a variation of their famous recipe.  Smoked bluefish pate is best served at room temperature, while overlooking the ocean, with good company and a crisp glass of wine.  

Smoked Bluefish Pate

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 ounces butter, softened
1/4 pound smoked bluefish skin discarded and fish crumbled
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Dash of hot sauce
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
Melba toast of crackers

Sauté the shallots in a tablespoon of butter, then place in a medium mixing bowl.  Add crumbled bluefish and mix together for a moment. Add the remaining butter and cream cheese to the bowl and mix until smooth (this step can be done by hand, but a mixer works the best).  Add lemon juice, and hot sauce, and then whip until light in texture, and all the ingredients are fully incorporated.  Garnish with chives, and serve on Melba toast or crackers.  Serves 4-6.

These crackers are a fine match with smoked bluefish pate or clam chowder.

Salt and Pepper crackers

Olive oil for brushing pan and dough
1-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons very cold, unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/2 to 2/3 cup very cold water
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, or kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 375°F.  Brush 2 large baking sheets generously with oil.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon table salt in a bowl (or pulse in a food processor). Add butter and blend into flour mixture with a pastry blender (or pulse in processor) until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size lumps. Drizzle evenly with 1/2 cup ice water and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful: If it doesn't hold together, add more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until incorporated, test again.

Divide dough into 2 portions and flatten each into a 3-inch square.

Roll out each square on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 20- by 8-inch rectangle. Trim edges and sprinkle each sheet with a half teaspoon of pepper. Run rolling pin lightly over dough to embed pepper in pastry. Brush each sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt.

Cut sheets crosswise with a small sharp knife into 1-inch-wide strips. Arrange strips evenly spaced in 1 layer on sheet pans and bake.  Rotate the sheets halfway through baking, until golden, 16 to 20 minutes total. Transfer to racks to cool. Crackers keep in an airtight container at room temperature for about 5 days.

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