Birthday Blues

When the subject of reincarnation is raised, and the question is put to me: “What do you think you will come back as?” I am always jealous of my dissolute friend Peter’s answer, which, due to his high cigarette, alcohol, and caffeine consumption makes his answer — “A garbage dumpster” — highly humorous. Me, I have to pick the mighty Bluefish, aka Pomatomus saltatrix, mostly because I usually catch the first one of the season on or around today, May 13th, my birthday.

I have a strong affinity for the bluefish. My college writing teacher and mentor, John Hersey, wrote a fantastic book devoted just to the bluefish, Blues, in which he expressed his deep respect for this voracious, sporting, bulldog of a fish, one of the most ubiquitous in the world, and a star or villain of any Cape Cod fisherman.

The blues return to Cotuit in early May to ravage the schools of spawning squid. They come in close to shore and sun themselves on the sand flats, where they fin and lay stationary in the sunlight, waiting to attack anything that invades their space.

Off I went this morning, straight from bed, solo with no company, out to the boat and out of the harbor to the flats off of Sub Rock off of Sampson’s Island. There I casted the great Ballistic Missile, a fluorescent orange lure, and then reeled it back as fast as I could, causing it to splash and skip over the surface.

On the second cast my heart gladdened at the tell-tale swirl of a fin behind the skittering plug. With a firm pull the fish was hooked and began to run, vigorously shaking its head.

I got it aboard, avoided its toothy snapping jaws, slipped the barbless hook from its lower lip, and then gave it a big smooch before tossing it back in.

That was it. Birthday present delivered I motored home.

I want to come back as a bluefish. I hope John Hersey did.


Due to overwhelming reader demand for what to do in the event they are presented with a bluefish to cook, here is my favorite recipe”

“Honey, the Dog Is Eating Grass Again Bluefish”

Take one bluefish, preferably one caught early in the morning and then thrown into the stern of the motorboat back by the scupper plugs where it can curl, get stiff in the sun and baste in rainbow patina of gasoline and two-stroke outboard oil.

Filet with a rusty knife, taking care to leave scales and the rib bones in the flesh.

Leave the dark meat in the fish. For that is where the PCBs are most concentrated.

Take a cookie sheet. Preferably the kind that warps with a loud “thwang” when heated. Cover with aluminum foil. I don’t know if the shiny or dull side up matters or not.

Do not grease the foil. The fish must stick to the foil so your guests will have the electric thrill of finding out what happens when foil meets one of their fillings.

With the meat side up: cover the bluefish with a one-inch thick layer of Miracle Whip, the evil stepsister of Hellman’s Mayo.

Bake or broil (it just doesn’t matter) until the Miracle Whip is kind of browned like meringue.

Serve, and then remember you forgot to make any kind of side dish. Find Tater Tots and bake in oven until lukewarm while the fish gets cold.

Eat. Feel bad. Then start drinking. Get angry at nothing in particular and call your nearest relation “a leech who contributes nothing” or “an oxygen thief” and then start a mallet fight with the kids’ croquet set on the lawn in front of the horrified neighbors.  Ask them what they are looking at.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Birthday Blues”

  1. i will die a happy man if i never have to eat bluefish pate again. it made frequent appearances during summers in Orleans, and to this day i shudder when i think of it.

  2. hmmm, I’ve been to that dinner party. At least once a summer. But I can’t remember whether bluefish was involved.

  3. Actually, this isn’t too terrible. Bluefish with gin. Both as an ingredient and an accompaniment:

    Ingredients Directions
    1 bunch scallions, roots trimmed
    1 Tbsp butter
    Salt Preheat the oven to 400F.
    Wrap a broiler pan with aluminum foil. Place scallions in the broiling pan in one layer. Dot with butter and sprinkle with salt. Roast in the middle of preheated oven for 10 minutes or until scallions start to soften.


    2 Lb skin-on bluefish fillet
    1/4 cup finely chopped shallot or onion
    Salt and pepper
    Juice from 2 limes
    6 Tbsp butter
    1/2 cup gin
    Generously season bluefish with salt and pepper on both sides. Move scallions into the center of the broiling pan and place bluefish onto scallions skin side down. Tuck loose scallions under fish so that they don’t burn. Sprinkle fish with shallots or onions and 1 Tbsp lime juice.
    Set the oven to broil.

    Combine the remaining lime juice, gin, and butter in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Season with a generous pinch of salt. Pour over bluefish.

    Set the pan with fish under the broiler (3-4 inches from the flame). Broil bluefish without turning for 8 minutes per inch of thickness. After the first 6 minutes, check to see if the bluefish browned on top. If it did, turn down the oven to 400F and finish cooking in the oven. If the top is not browned yet, check it again every 2 minutes.

    To test for doneness, separate the flakes in the thickest part of the fish with a fork and peek inside. Bluefish is done when a trace of translucency remains in the center. Serve with scallions and juices accumulated in the pan. Have plenty of bread ready for mopping up the sauce.

  4. Charles:
    Very noble of you. What a waste of gin.
    Here’s an alternative:
    Take a blob of horse manure. Pack it around the bluefish. Bake. Crack off the manure. Throw the bluefish to the cat. Eat the manure. Bury the cat.

    Maia: yes, those dinners are an annual affair on both sides of the street. Which is why I don’t own a croquet set any longer.

  5. The recipe is hilarious.

    I first encountered blues on the bridge from Newport to Goat Island. (I was on the bridge. Fish were not.) The water boiled up here and there as they ran through the channel eviscerating baitfish. Pretty clear on those runs they’ll hit anything up to and including car keys, old N’Sync discs, whatever. Exciting.

  6. Happy b-day! Next one’s a biggy! Bluefish are the ‘tossed salad’ of the culinary world & I don’t mean the kind w/ lettuce… Cheers

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