Big Fish Story
Island Cooking

Big Fish Story

by Chef Jenn Farmer

Robson Reed with his big fish.
Robson Reed with his big fish.

My son and I were doing our usual stroll around town last weekend, when we came across an impressive catch of bluefish and striped bass on the docks by a charter boat.  My son was fixated with the fish.  They were lovely, anyone would agree.  He said he wanted one, and I told him to run up and ask the captain or first mate if any of the fish were for sale, since dinner time was just a short hour or so away.  My son agreed, and finally overcoming his initial 6-year-old shyness (this sort of silence only happens when I WANT him to speak; otherwise he is loquacious—talking nearly every waking moment of the day).  He was rewarded by the captain, who happened to be a friend of his father (a voracious fisherman and chef) and mine.  The boat captain took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with him, and show him how to properly hold up a fish.  My son chose the biggest fish to hold up for pictures, a lovely 18 pounder, and even complete strangers stopped and chuckled, snapping quick photos of the precocious child and freshly caught sea creature, that appeared to be as big as he was.  His diligence at attempting to hold the fish high was rewarded.  The captain gave him a nice filet to take home.  My son insisted we stop and have a lemonade at the Rose and Crown on the way home, and with puffed out chest proceeded (in true island fashion) to tell his first fish story, saying the fish was “at least 18 pounds, maybe 20.” He could not have been prouder if he had caught the fish himself.

I prepared it on the grill, since messing with such a fresh piece of firm, sweet striped bass would be a shame.  Simplicity is important; it is easy to ruin fish with over-preparation.  A little olive oil and salt and pepper were all that was required, and were soon devouring the delicious catch.  Thank you again Captain, for your patience and generosity, we deeply appreciated it.  Since it was a lot of fish, I used the leftovers for some simple Portuguese influenced stew.  I made an adjustment to the recipe by adding the fish later than it is stated in the below recipe, since our fish was already cooked.  It would have ruined the flavor and texture otherwise.  It was delicious and very comforting on what proved to be a stormy day and chilly day.

Striper Stew

  • 1 T. olive oil
  • One third pound spicy Portuguese Chorizo, sliced half inch thick
  • One cup white onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • One third cup dry white wine
  • 1 pound local tomatoes, chopped
  • One quarter pound roasted  local sweet peppers, sliced
  • One cup cooked chickpeas
  • One pound striped bass filet, skinless
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley or cilantro, chopped

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet.  Add the sliced chorizo, and fry until it has nice color and begins to crisp.  Remove the chorizo from the pan carefully to preserve the natural oils released during cooking; this is what gives the rest of the recipe such depth of flavor.  Cook the onion in the chorizo oil, until the onion begins to soften, about 8-10 minutes.  Add smoked paprika, and coat the onions thoroughly.  Add the wine, tomatoes, peppers, chickpeas and bring to a slow simmer.   Taste and season with salt, pepper, and a little red chili flake if you enjoy heat.  Meanwhile cut the striper into 2-3 inch chunks.  Add the striper into the simmering liquid, and cook for about 4 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked.  Stir in the reserved chorizo, and heat through.  Serve topped with generous amounts of the parsley or cilantro, and serve.  Serves 4.

I like to serve this fish with some long grain rice, garlic mashed potatoes, or a slice of baguette or crostini with garlic rouille smear.  Rouille is a heavily seasoned, garlic mayonnaise that is very popular in some southern cooking.  It is a traditional accompaniment to fish and spicy fish dishes.

Roasted Garlic Rouillle Smear

  • 1 head  garlic (local hard neck garlic is delicious)
  • One cup mayonnaise
  • One half  cup roasted red peppers
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced (optional)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hot sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Meanwhile slice the top off the garlic, just to expose the tops of the cloves.  Wrap in foil, and bake until soft, 40-45 minutes (I usually do several, then press the garlic out and refrigerate or freeze for future use).  Squeeze the garlic out of the head, and place in the food processor.  Add the red peppers and pulse, add remaining ingredients and process till smooth.  If it seems too thin, bread crumb may be added as a thickener. If you like the heat of raw garlic, the addition at the end of fresh garlic makes the rouille more piquant and gives it a different depth of flavor.

This recipe makes about a cup and a half rouille. You can serve it on baguette slices or crostini.  If you enjoy extra heat, raw garlic may be added, instead of the roasted or in addition to it, for a nice depth of flavor.

Vegetarian Saffron Rice

  •  1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups basmati rice, rinsed
  • One half teaspoon saffron threads
  • One half cup local peas
  • One half cup local carrots, shredded
  • A half cup roasted cashews or almonds (optional)
  • 3 and one half cups water
  • Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy 4 quart pan, on medium high heat, sauté the rice for a minute or so to coat it.  Add the saffron threads, and stir.  Add the water, and allow it to come to a hard simmer. Stir it, and then reduce heat to a quiet simmer and cover.  Cook for about 15 minutes, adding the peas, carrots, and nuts.  Cover and cook for about 4 more minutes, or until the rice appears done.  Turn off the heat and remove the lid from the pan.  Allow the rice a few minutes to rest, then fluff it up and season with salt and pepper if necessary.  Eat and enjoy. Serves up to 6.

To round out the meal we had a nice salad of assorted chopped vegetables with very simple lemony vinaigrette, and my son’s favorite lemonade.  We also made an adult version of lemonade for the rest of the crowd.  Equal parts gin, lemoncello, and cranberry juice over lots of ice, with double the amount of club soda.  It was just as refreshing as it sounds, and was a nice accompaniment to the favorite local delicacy we all love so dearly.

Articles by Date from 2012