In honor of bluefish season …

Lisa in the comments admits to detesting bluefish. This is for her, an oldie from my days as FishWire correspondent for Cape Cod and The Islands at Reel-Time.

“Fish was rarely on the menu in my childhood unless it came out of a box, was pre-breaded, and could be cooked on a cookie sheet in under an hour in a 450 degree oven. My father, the original meat-and-potato man, forbade fish or chicken in the house. Chicken, because he had a phobia of chickens due to his World War II duties as keeper of the household chicken coop; fish, because his mother would can bluefish with a pressure cooker in Mason jars to lay up some protein for the winter months.

My brother and I took the tale of canned bluefish as pure Cape Cod legend, up there with stealing coal and catching cabbages that fell off of trucks as part of the “penny-saved-penny earned” lectures we were subjected to whenever the old gent finished paying the monthly bills and decided we would live without electricity for the next month (his favorite economizing move was to make orange juice with the frozen stuff but forbid it ever being shaken or stirred. The idea was to add more water over time, allowing the orange sausage of concentrate to hang on the bottom of the bottle, pale orange water above it).

The canned bluefish was just a quaint myth until I cleaned out the cellar last winter and found a sixty-year old Mason jar filled with what appeared to be a pickled demon fetus from the Omen IV. We opened it on the front lawn while wearing heavy rubber gloves. The grass is still dead there, like some sort of crop circle left by aliens.

Here are some recipes from the Churbuck Culinary Academy of Ruined Food, courtesy of my predecessors who never met a fish they could stomach:

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 all afternoon in a 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 into a pretzel shape 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 Hellmans Mayo.
  • Bake or broil (it just doesn’t matter) until the Miracle Whip is kind of browned like a meringue.
  • Serve, and then remember you forgot to make any kind of side dish. Dig out some freezer-burned Tater Tots and bake in the 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

14 thoughts on “In honor of bluefish season …”

  1. I am fairly certain that there were several 60-year-old jars of Betty’s crab apple jams unearthed from the dark nether regions of the cellar across the street – would’ve made a nice dipping sauce for that canned bluefish!

    I almost feel a need to defend the lowly bluefish after reading today’s posts and comments. Maybe it’s just the Virginia redneck in me, but I have fond memories of chasing blues in Grandpa’s waterlogged old green Winner with the rickety Johnson 40 hp outboard rattling away in the back, struggling to get us up on plane. Finding a flock of diving terns and splashing blues in a feeding frenzy, then casting out a plug (or anything shiny with a hook) and landing a blue on each line in seconds was serious fun and a great way to spend a morning with my dad and brother. That said, it is a bland fish at best and I would never choose to eat bluefish that wasn’t fresh off the boat and grilled in Cotuit after a few Sapphire and tonics. 🙂

    Love the blog, btw – has a top spot on my Google Reader.

  2. Oh. My. Gawd. That is so funny. Your Dad and my Dad would have gotten along … they’re so much alike. My father was in the National Guard so he was able to shop at the commissary, so he used to bring home ‘institutional’ sized cans of crap (nowadays, Sam’s Club and BJ’s fulfill that role). He brought home a vat of apple butter and my sister, brother and I ate peanut butter and apple butter sandwiches every day for a year.

    To this day I cannot stomach apple butter.

    Dad’s other favorite trick was to make powered milk and put it in the milk bottle (yes, they were still bottles back then). It never worked. Regular milk isn’t supposed to be chunky.

    The final straw was when he came home with a bunch of tuna that he’d caught. He thought, to be economical, that he could make tuna like you’d get in a can so he BOILED THE TUNA IN OIL. It was gross. The house stank for days. Nobody ate it. My mother was furious. And you guessed it, I no longer eat tuna unless it’s in sashimi.

  3. A mallett Fight? Hell the tradition in the Forbes Sele families is to innocenly invite the offending person along on a guail hunt and then forget to yell “duck” as a quail goes whizzing by on a high trajectory, thus putting much bird shot in someone’s scalp. (Kaiser removed all seven from the back of my head because they interfered with their MRI images.)


  4. oh boy does that bring back memories. it is especially fun when the neighbor in question has one of those funny white collars.

    we should have a reunion.

  5. For reals, I’ll take a pass on the bluefish as usual (that’s why you made sure the dogs were in the house at dinner time)….but drunken croquet fights, I mean games, with the cousins?? It wouldn’t be summer without at least one. Booger, seems you may be in charge of a reunion.

  6. We are all bluefish trauma survivors together. Feel free to self medicate at will.

  7. Don’t forget that you can mix a little Grey Poupon in with that Miracle Whip to make a high-class bluefish spread.

    And the reunion won’t be complete unless the “demolition expert” blows something up or torches the neighbor’s lawn with fireworks!

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