Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Lights... Camera... Bluefish!

"There is only one problem," I told Tom. "I don't do boats."

Tom Richardson is the editor of the Northeast Boating Magazine. He contacted me this summer to ask if I'd be willing to help him do a story about catching the fish and grilling it on the boat. At first, I thought he just needed some recipes, but after a little phone conversation, it turned out that he wanted me to come out to the shore, meet a local fishing family, and grill their catch on the boat.

As much as I thought that grilling bluefish straight out of the water would be awesome, I was almost relieved that I had an excuse not to go. Media and I are like vinegar and oil in a dressing -- we don't mix! After the fiasco with Real Simple, I promised myself to never get involved with the media. Couple of years ago, they asked me to help them with a TV show on Boston ethnic markets. The producer was very interested when I suggested Armenian. The only ethnic markets they could think of were Asian, and Food TV was already flooded with that. I took a day off work to show them around Armenian markets in Watertown. After that, I didn't hear back from them for weeks. As I eventually found out, they found someone with more of a TV "personality" to do the market tour, and I got no credit for all the ground work.

I was sure that the same would happen with this boating magazine. The good thing was that I didn't have to make up a fake excuse (I am a terrible liar). I had a real one. Really, I don't do boats. I get terribly motion sick, and who wants to have a puking chef. Dramamine improves things if my only job on the boat is to sleep. It makes me so drowsy, I am completely useless for anything else. I was about to wish Tom all the best with his story, when he said. "Well, you don't actually have to go fishing with us if you don't want to. We can dock the boat for the cooking part." That left me with no excuses, and I said yes.

Tom had the not so enviable task of coordinating 5 schedules: his, mine, the photographer's, the fishing family's, and the bluefish's. That's not to mention the necessity for a nice sunny day. Finally, it all seemed to come together, and we chose the Friday before Labor Day. The location was Scituate, MA. Now, all we needed was the fish.

Since it was Jason's birthday weekend, he decided to take a day off work and join me for the boating adventure. Friday morning, we packed the food for the side dishes and headed to Scituate Harbor. When we gave Tom a call from the road, he told us the good news -- 3 lovely blues were on board awaiting our arrival.

An hour later, we were on the dock, meeting crew and fish.

Here is the family that was hosting us: Rich, Karen, and their sons, Mason (12) and Will (9).

Will jumped right in to help me with the panzanella.

Mason left me speechless when he volunteered to scale the fish. To my surprise and delight he did a fabulous job, and I wished the people from Whole Foods would come and watch how it's done.

Tom helped Mason with filleting the first fish, and by the second one, Mason was a pro.

We cooked some corn to get a feel for the grill and then moved to the bluefish. Nothing fancy -- just sprinkled with salt, pepper and coriander. Once it was off the grill, we topped it with cilantro-lime butter.

"Wow, it actually tastes good!" said Will. "Of course, it does -- it's bluefish," I said. When I saw the same amazement on the faces of Tom, Rich, and Karen, I was confused. "Don't you guys eat it all the time?" "Oh, no!" they replied. "We just catch it, and throw it back, or give it away. We don't eat it. At least, we didn't until now."

Will was so excited, he helped me grill the second fish. Other fishermen stopped by to see what we were up to. They looked at us like we were nuts when we offered them bluefish. "No, thanks. We don't touch this stuff." No wonder bluefish is so cheap -- even the people who catch it don't want to eat it.

The third fish was given to us by the Johnson family to take home. Good thing I brought a cooler and ice. In my opinion, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy got it wrong---it's not a towel you should always have with you, it's a cooler!

When all the fish was grilled and eaten, we made a little dessert out of grilled peaches and maple yogurt whipped cream. The local blueberries that Karen picked the day before with the boys made a perfect finishing touch.

Jason and I had such a great time (well, besides the insane Labor Day traffic) that the idea of this story appearing in a magazine seems like an afterthought now. But if it ever does, it would be pretty cool.

Grilled Bluefish with Cilantro Lime Butter

Serves 4

For the butter:
1/2 stick unsalted butter at room temperature (but not melted!)
1 tsp lime zest
1 tsp lime juice
1/2 garlic clove, mashed
1 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro
Pinch of chili flakes
Pinch of Salt and pepper

For the fish:
Disposable aluminum pan
4 pieces of scaled bluefish fillet, skin on (6-8 oz each)
1 tsp ground coriander
Salt and pepper
2 tsp canola oil, plus more for oiling the grill

In advance:
Mash all ingredients for the butter together. Bring with you in a cooler with ice packs.

On the boat:
  1. Scrape the grill clean. Place a disposable aluminum pan upside down on the area where you'll be grilling the fish. Cover the grill and preheat on high heat for 10 minutes. Do not remove the upside down pan until you are ready to place the fish on the grill.
  2. Dry the fish very thoroughly with paper towels. Score the skin on a diagonal at 1/2 inch intervals (without cutting through the flesh) to prevent the fish from curling up. This is just a precaution since bluefish rarely curls up.
  3. When the grill is ready, sprinkle the fish with coriander, salt and pepper on both sides. Rub all over with 2 tsp canola oil.
  4. Remove the upside down pan from the grill. Dunk a wad of paper towel in canola oil. Hold it with tongs and wipe the grill with oil where the pan used to be.
  5. Place the fish on the grill skin-side up diagonal to the grill grates. Cover the grill and cook for 3-4 minutes per inch of thickness or until the fish gets grill marks.
  6. Slip the tins of a fork between the grill grates and gently push up on the fish. Do it in a couple of places until the grill lets go of the fish. Flip the fish and grill on the skin-side until cooked through, 3-4 minutes per inch of thickness. To check for doneness, separate the flakes in the thickest part of fillet with a fork and peek inside. The fish is done when a trace of translucency still remains in the center. It will continue to cook once it's off the grill.
  7. To remove the fish from the grill, dislodge it with a fork like you did when turning it. Then lift it off the grill with a spatula. Top with cilantro lime butter.

Panzanella -- Tomato Bread Salad

Serves 4

2 large slices of rustic bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1 whole garlic clove, peeled
2-3 large, ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
3 oz feta or fresh mozzarella, chopped (optional)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

In advance:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. Brush the bread with butter on both sides and toast in the middle of the oven on a foil-lined baking sheet until golden on the bottom, 4-7 minutes. Flip and toast the other side until golden, 3-5 minutes. Dunk the garlic clove in salt and rub all over toast (both sides). Cool the toast completely and cut into large cubes. Pack in a zip lock bag.
  3. Cut tomatoes into wedges and place in a large bowl with onions. Cover with plastic and bring with you. Do not place in the cooler with ice packs as tomatoes do better at room temperature.
On the boat:
Add the toasted bread, cheese, basil, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to the bowl with tomatoes. Mix well. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt as needed.

Jason's Grilled Corn

Any number of ears of corn, peeled
2 tsp butter per ear of corn
Salt (if using unsalted butter)

In advance:

Rub corn all over with butter using about 1 tsp of butter per ear of corn. Place in a zip lock bag and bring with you in a cooler with ice-packs. Don't forget to pack extra butter (about 1 tsp per ear).

On the boat:
  1. Preheat grill to high.
  2. Place corn on the grill, cover, and cook until it browns on one side. Rotate corn 3-4 times to let the other sides brown. Each side will take 1.5 – 2 minutes.
  3. Remove corn from the grill and let cool a little, about 2 minutes.
  4. Rub each ear with another tsp of butter and sprinkle with salt.

Grilled Peaches with Maple Yogurt Whipped Cream

Serves 4

For Maple Yogurt Whipped Cream:
1 cup thick Greek yogurt (such as Total brand) or Sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

For peaches:
1 tsp lime juice
1 tsp lime zest
2 tsp honey
2 tsp olive oil
4 ripe peaches, cut in half, pits removed

In advance:
  1. Place all ingredients for maple yogurt whipped cream in a bowl of a mixer and whip with a whisk attachment on medium speed until thick and fluffy. Pack in a bowl and bring with you in a cooler with ice packs.
  2. In a small container that can be covered, mix lime juice, zest, honey, and oil.
On the boat:
  1. Preheat the grill to medium-high.
  2. Rub peaches all over with the honey lime mixture.
  3. Place on the grill cut-side down. Grill until peaches are marked with grill marks, 1-3 minutes. Rotate 45 degrees and grill to form diagonal drill marks, 1-2 minutes.
  4. Flip and grill for 1 minute.
  5. Remove from the grill and top with maple yogurt cream topping.


bratarmy29 said...

oh gosh the grilled peaches look amazing i have to try that. great blog by the way, i've tried maintaining a food blog and it's just too much effort. so good on you

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

A wonderful story, and oh such delicious dishes!

Nick said...

Having been bred and raised in Montuak,ny, I can relate to those anglers who consider bluefish a junk fish. Don't get me wrong, I love oily fishy-fish, as I welcome the current onset onset of mackerel season. But especially this time of year when the blues are full size, they're only palatable when freshly caught, and only somewhat so.
The time for good blue eating, particularly in the northeast, is late spring-early summer, when you get cocktail blues around 2 lbs. These are the kind of guys that are great grilled whole (I use a basket). From the looks of it in the pictures, you probably had a 6 lb-ish blue, which is definitely something you could work with (as you clearly did).
Even better, I treat a cocktail blue as I would spanish mack in a oshisushi preparation. In her excellent book "The Japanese Kitchen", Hiroko Shinbo has a fantastic preparation for vinegared mackerel that I use whenever I can.

Natalie & Jessica's Dad said...

Oh dear lord, that all looks phenomenal. But you forgot one important ingredient in the list for your bluefish recipe....the boat. Living in landlubberville (Pittsburgh) we don't get much opportunity to grill fresh fish on a boat, but hey, I guess a good old fashioned deck grill will do quite nicely as well.

Great story. I haven't checked out your blog in many months, but you got me back with this recipe.

Helen said...

Hi Natalie & Jessica's Dad,

Guess what -- I went to college in Pittsburgh (CMU) :)

I have many great memories of da 'burgh, but fish was not one of them. I was a poor college student back then and couldn't afford it besides, I don't remember supermarket fish selection being that great. Are there any fish markets in the city these days?


tantra flower said...

What a wonderful post! It sounds like y'all had a lovely time, it's great to see kids cooking and appreciating good, fresh foods. Your recipes, as usual, sound out of this world. You and your husband are adorable together!

Could you please tell me about your camera? Your pictures are always absolutely gorgeous and I'm looking for a good camera. Thanks.


Helen said...

Hi Tantra Flower,

I use Nikon D50. It's my first SLR that I got 2 years ago and I love it.

The camera is only 30% of it. Lighting is even more important than the camera. I'd give that 40% (you need day light). The camera positioning, food styling, etc. is the other 30%.

About the pictures... the ones in the boating post are courtesy of Jason :)


tantra flower said...

Thank you, Helen. I think I'm going to find a good book to learn more about the lighting and camera positions.

Tell Jason, Great Job!


mikky said...

Wow!!! what a fun way to spend the day... great feast too... :)

Sara said...

I don't think I've ever had bluefish, it looks really good. I love grilled corn, we make it all the time.

Pia said...

Beautiful menu and great adventure.

Alisa said...

I love your blog, what a great adventure! I love panzanella, let me just share a great beverage recipe i found at foodista, this is their Limoncello recipe and you will absolutely love this

Paz said...

Glad you had a wonderful day and the family enjoyed their fish. Wonderful recipe.


Paz said...

P.S. Happy belated birthday to Jason.


Ken said...

Glad to see you got a chance to try fresh's been a pretty bad year for fishing in the Boston area :-P

So now that you've tried bluefish within hours of it being caught, how do you compare it to the fish monger variety?

It looks like it was bled properly from one of the pictures (it has to be bled and iced immediately). I couldn't tell if the red vein on the skin side was removed though...this is also a fairly strong tasting part that I remove before cooking (usually broiling or grilling).

Helen said...

Hi Ken,

To tell you the truth, this bluefish tasted exactly the same as what I buy at the New Deal Fish market in Cambridge. What can I say... Carl, my fishmonger, is the greatest. His Dad, Sal, goes to the pier twice a day (that's not a typo -- a day, not a week) to pick up fish, so their stuff is as good as off the boat.

I don't remove the bloodline before cooking so that I can keep the skin on, but it's easy to avoid it when eating.


Ken said...

I've never tried getting bluefish from Carl, but we do use him for sashimi (it's wayyyyy better than Sea To You). I'm a bit surprised it tastes the same...guess he only sells day caught bluefish :-)

Andrea said...

They catch the fish and had not eaten it before!? Amazing! How wonderful that you helped them make that connection. Great story and pictures.

Alyss said...

I lived on Cape Cod for a year and found a fisherman who thought I was the bees knees. He gave me a couple big striped bass fillets and a couple smaller bluefish fillets once. I panfried the stripey with a cornmeal coating and broiled the bluefish with lime and ginger. It was fantastic! I never quite understood why folks don't like the bluefish, but then again I grew up on Pacific Northwest Salmon :) Oily fish is good fish!