I forgot to mention the bluefish are back on the shoals off of Cotuit — my son and I caught a couple big ones on orange plugs off of Oregon Beach on Saturday — filleted them on the bow of the skiff and cooked them right up that night in what may be the best bluefish recipe I’ve come across since adapting Paul Prudhomme’s blackened redfish recipe to the oily things. This one is courtesy of the late, great Marcella Hazan — the grand dame of true Italian cooking who wrote two of the classic cookbooks on my kitchen bookshelf: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.
Bluefish are a fairly global species of fish — and especially popular in the Mediterranean. I’ve had snapper bluefish in January in Istanbul (cop cop) and legend maintains some unlucky downed American airmen were devoured by schools of monster bluefish off the coast of North African in World War II. So, that Marcella would suggest the oily bluefish as a preferred substitute for fillets of anchovies in her recipe for Genoese Style Bluefish with Potatoes roasted with garlic and olive oil is not a surprise. This is a drop dead simple recipe.
- Take two fillets, skin-on, from a big bluefish. Pre-heat the oven to 450
- Grease a baking dish big enough to comfortably fit the fish with some olive oil
- Peel two pounds of potatoes, slice almost as thin as chips, dry on clean dish towels then cover the bottom of the baking dish with the spuds
- Peel and mince four to six heads of garlic. Go nuts.
- Mince a quarter cup’s worth of flat Italian parsley
- Combine a quarter cup of virgin olive oil, with the garlic and parsley. Pour half of it over the potatoes and toss them three or four times. Hit that with some salt and pepper.
- Roast the potatoes in the upper third of the oven for 15 minutes
- Pull the potatoes (leave the oven on) out and lay the fish on top — skin side down — and pour the remaining half of the oil-parsley-garlic over the fish
- Roast another ten minutes, pull it out a couple times to baste the fish with the hot oil a few times. Use a spatula to free up the potatoes around the edges and get the less roasted ones some time in the “sun”.
- Finish off for another eight to ten minutes. Then let it rest five minutes.
Simple and awesome. John Hersey wrote in “Blues” that parmesan cheese is death to bluefish — totally toxic. And I agree. Don’t get tempted to get all Mama Leone on this dish. Hazan explains that in Genoa the holy foundation of the cuisine is potatoes, parsley, garlic and olive oil — with everything from porcini mushrooms to anchovies to octopus added as the variable. I hate bluefish but dutifully eat one every summer out of some weird ancestral homage to my grandmother Nellie who truly could murder a bluefish. In past homages to the scourges of Nantucket Sound I related my family’s traditional recipe for Bluefish.
“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 the young 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” Depression-Era 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.”