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Cape Cod Sail
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Cape Cod Lighthouse
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Cooking the Blues
The New York
Times, July 24, 2002
by David Pasternack
David Pasternack is the executive chef at Esca in Manhattan. This column was
written with Florence Fabricant.
“There’s nothing like bringing in a couple of nice blues in the summertime.
I can do that when I take my little dory out in Hewlett Harbor, near my
house in Long Beach. I call it my backyard. Sometimes I'll get fluke,
sometimes weakfish. Except for the green flies, I love being out there on
the water, especially at the tide line where the sea meets the bay, watching
the terns and the cormorants diving for fish.
When I go out with my commercial fishermen friends like Artie Horning, it's
all business. After all, it's their livelihood. My father used to take me
fishing but I didn't really learn how to fish until I started fishing with
Artie. We go way out and bring in maybe 100 fish. I'll take some for the
restaurant, the fluke and the blues.
It's a funny thing about bluefish. Most people shy away from it, even here
and on Cape Cod, the bluefish capitals. People feel the same about other
dark, oily fish like mackerel. But when these fish are handled properly,
there's nothing better.
When you catch bluefish, you've got to put it in seawater and ice
immediately. You'll see recreational fishermen just throw it on the deck in
the sun. That ruins it.
And when you buy one, buy a whole fish, one that's bright and firm and no
bigger than about three and one-half pounds, and have the guy fillet it in
front of you. A bluefish that's been properly handled will have a very thin
blood line, that dark line up the middle of the fillet.
Grilling bluefish whole is tricky because the skin is very thin: you need a
very hot grill. So I bake it, and when the fish is fresh and done right,
people love it.
Assembling this dish is about as simple as you're going to get. I leave the
skin on the fillets because it's so thin and it adds some flavor.
You've got tomatoes that are roasted to concentrate their flavor, some nice
fresh stem onions, like the ones I can dig up from my garden, and lots of
bread crumbs mixed with herbs. I moisten the whole thing with a little clam
juice cooked with wine and some good olive oil, then bake it in a really hot
oven. Done this way, it doesn't taste like a rich, oily fish. It's even good
But you mustn't overcook it. I grew up hating bluefish because my father
made my mother overcook it. And you know what? I really like it best raw,
fixed almost like a tartare, chopped up not too fine, mixed with coarse salt
for crunch, black pepper, a dab of Dijon mustard, extra virgin oil and
scallions chopped fine to play off the richness of the fish. My mother would
be real proud to see how much I like
About 30 minutes plus one hour for salting tomatoes
Yield: 4 servings
2 medium ripe tomatoes
4 bulb onions or 8 scallions
2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, sliced thin
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed flat parsley leaves
1 cup clam juice
1/4 cup dry white wine
One 3-pound bluefish, filleted and cut in 4 portions,
or 4 bluefish fillets, with skin, each about 6 ounces
Freshly ground black pepper.
1. Core tomatoes and slice 1/4-inch thick. Place on rack over
baking sheet and salt generously on both sides. Set aside 1 hour.
2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. If using bulb onions, trim roots
and leave about 4 inches of stem. Cut each in half lengthwise. If using
scallions, trim roots and leave whole. Brush onions or scallions with 1/2
tablespoon oil. Place on baking sheet and roast until tender, about 20
minutes. Set aside.
3. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in small skillet, add garlic,
sauté over low heat until barely golden, remove pan from heat and set aside.
4. Place crumbs, basil and parsley in food processor or
blender and process until blended. In pan, bring clam juice and wine to a
simmer and remove from heat. Increase oven heat to 500 degrees.
5. Using remaining oil, lightly oil baking dish that will
hold bluefish in a single layer. Place bluefish fillets in dish skin side
up. Place onions or scallions around fish. Place 2 to 3 slices tomato,
slightly overlapping, on each fillet. Season with salt and pepper. Cover
fish, tomatoes and onions generously with bread crumbs. Pour clam stock
around fish and drizzle with garlic oil, with or without slices of garlic,
on top. Bake 12 to 15 minutes, until just cooked through and lightly
browned. Serve at once.
Copyright 2002 The New
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Index - Fish Recipe Archives