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Volume 37 Issue 9, - June 21 - 27, 2007 now in our 37th season

Striped Bass

by Maryjane Mojer

I am not a fisherman:  my attempts at netting for herring are well documented and now part of the family lore...surfcasting for blues and bass gleaned some success and a few minor bites...bluefish have very sharp teeth, and I am less than well-coordinated despite my profession which involves playing with fire and sharp implements.  No death wish, just a desire to tempt fate I suppose. Bass have always been, for me, the stuff of legends and an occasional treat. I have a photo of my dad, who at six-foot-two and standing tall held a bass straight out from the tail and it hung just a few inches above the ground. I have caught one bass in my life. My friend Bruce, who is a fisherman, took me just off Brant Point in his boat about 15 years ago. He explained that, when you hooked a bass you knew it.  “They’re fighters,” he said.  “You have to play them, to wear them out.”  Moments later the fight was on and what a fight!  A solid hour of letting the fish run, reeling him in, letting him run, reeling again.  Finally, exhausted and thrilled, we reached over with the net to scoop up our dinner.  Not a bass.  I had, very cleverly I might add, tail hooked a small sand shark.  I was delighted at my fishing ability.  Who could do this?  This was a once and a lifetime trick.  I beamed—Bruce scowled.  He started to cast again, and this time, he caught the keeper. At least I could gut and clean it, so I was somewhat redeemed.

My grandmother was the chef at the Nantucket Cottage Hospital for a couple of decades and then some.  In those days, there were fewer restrictions in the food service industry.  She would often be presented with several flounder or cod or bass that the local fishermen would catch, and that would become part of the day’s offerings.  Nana Gardner could filet a fish like nobody’s business, and it was just plain fun to watch.  I learned from her, and also from my Dad and, second only to knowing all of the words to Bohemian Rhapsody, this is a skill that can knock the socks off of teenaged boys, who, quite often, like to fish.  If you have a grill handy and a sharp knife, they’ll know who to see when they’ve hooked their first blue or bass.

Though I don’t have a lot of fish sense, I have had the good sense to have friends who fish and fish well.  Not all who fish can cook, so I have become the drop off point for their surplus.  Gutting and cleaning come with the territory, and I keep an old cutting board by my outdoor sink just for this.  Growing up, the guts, skin, and bones went directly into the vegetable garden. Nowadays, I grow all of my herbs, tomatoes, and squash in containers, so I just bag up the guts and throw them away.

Striped bass is indeed a treat, and should be treated as such.  No matter how you cook it, it’s divine.  Finding filets in my refrigerator (because my friends who fish know where to store it if I’m not home) is cause for celebration and an instant dinner party.  Even if I have just enough for my husband and myself, we’ll fill in with other dishes and share the bass.

My favorite way to cook fresh bass is by simply grilling it.  Having a hot grill for grilling is as important as having a hot pan for sautéing—that is to say, it is imperative.  Taking care of your grill is also important. Clean it off or at least brush it down after each use.  I’m not a big fan of the heavy chemical cleaners.  A good cast iron grill grate can be kept in the same manner as a good cast iron pan.  Once it’s seasoned, use a good stiff brush and scrape the bits and pieces off while it’s still hot.  Then, clean out the catch pan underneath.

When I’m grilling something that is as delicate as fish, I make sure the grates are especially clean.  I also dip a wad of paper towels in vegetable oil and wipe the grates down.  Then, I turn the grill on, let it heat up and wipe it down again with the oiled towels.  While the grill is heating up, brush your fish with oil, and season it with a bit of salt and pepper.

When your grill is ready and hot, place the lightly oiled fish, skin side up, onto the hot, oiled grate.  Now—and this is important—leave it alone.  Don’t be one of those grillers who keeps checking to see if it’s ready to flip.  Close the lid, and leave it alone for about four minutes.  If you try to pick it up to turn it and it sticks, it’s telling you something.  It’s not ready.  Wait.  Patience, my friend.  Using a large, flat spatula, lift the fish, and turn it 90 degrees.  This will give you the gorgeous grill marks that make it look and taste so spectacular. Leave it alone, again, for about two minutes.  Then, pick it up and turn it over. When I filet bass, I like to leave the skin on.  I think it helps to keep it moist when grilling or sautéing, and it helps to hold it together with all of the turning and flipping.

Leave the fish on the grill for about four or five more minutes, then plate it. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime, and there’s nothing better.  The best accompaniments are a matter of taste and tradition.  For me, there’s nothing better than Bartlett’s tomatoes and corn with steamed new potatoes.

If you’d prefer to cook bass with a bit more sophistication and break out the good dishes, the following is delicious and elegant.

Striped Bass with Prosciutto and Beurre Blanc

For this dish, I take the skin off of the bass. This can be done when you filet the fish, or you can buy skinless filets.

For each six-ounce portion of bass, lay out two slices of prosciutto.  Place the bass on top of the ham, drizzle it with a bit of olive oil, and dust with salt and pepper.  Wrap each filet up like a gift, place seam side down on a plate and chill for a couple of hours.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a hot sauté pan, pour two tablespoons of olive oil. Gently place the wrapped fish into the hot pan, seam side up.  After about four minutes, turn the fish over, and put the pan into the preheated oven.  Let this cook for about 12 minutes, remove from the oven (be careful, the pan will be sizzling hot!) Elegant though this may be, the best side dishes are still corn on the cob, fresh sliced tomatoes and steamed new potatoes.  Whether it’s one or ten at the table, it’s still a summer bash with bass.

Beurre Blanc

This is an elegant feast requiring a rich, luscious sauce. Not something you’d have every day, but a wonderful extravagance.

Put two tablespoons of white wine and two tablespoons of white wine vinegar in a stainless steel pan.  Toss in a sprig or two of thyme.  Bring this to a boil and reduce volume by half.

Reduce the heat to low to medium.  While constantly whisking, add a half pound of butter, piece by piece.  Wait until each bit is completely incorporated before you add more.  When all of the butter is in, remove from direct heat, and keep in a warm, not hot, spot.

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