The summer season has come to and end and so we wave goodbye to dinners on the beach with steamed blue claw crabs, lobsters, clams & mussels, the beer battered fish fry, the sautéed or grilled scallops and the ever popular crab meat stuffed flounder or sole. But, do not be sad, for the fall season ushers in a new catch for all of us to enjoy!
In early October, the last of the soft shell crabs are coming in, so get your sauté pan ready for a sautéed soft shell crab provincial. Tuna and albacore are abundant in our local waters so you can still make a pan seared peppered tuna with sobe’ noodles and peanut sauce. The bluefish are running large but are a little oily and not great eating, because they are fishy tasting. In fresh water, don’t overlook the largemouth bass, if you can catch a big one, or two, which are absolutely delicious. I suggest cooking them whole in the oven, stuffed with lemon slices, green onions and cilantro — maybe baked with a bit of apple cider, sliced apples and fennel and served with an apple & raisin couscous.
Another very tasty fish that most people know nothing about is Monkfish…better known as the poor man’s lobster. The traditional way to prepare monkfish is very basic…just poach with lemon and serve with drawn butter. But, I like monkfish sautéed using a flour mixture with garlic, black pepper, rosemary & tarragon. I dredge the fish, and then sauté it in olive oil until golden. Then, remove the fish, add white wine and orange juice, reduce, then finish with a little butter and pour the sauce over the cooked fish.
This time of year Codfish and Halibut are great for your dinner table. The meat is white, thick and delicious. You can make a baked pecan crusted codfish served with baby red bliss potatoes. Or, If you like Spanish or Portuguese style food, take the fresh cod or halibut fillets, place in a sauce pan with chopped onions, garlic, cilantro, thyme, seeded chopped plum tomatoes and white wine, and finish with a butter reduction. Cod and Halibut are also great in seafood chowders or seafood casseroles. If you have never had a Seafood Casserole, then this is a dish you have to try. It is easy and delicious (see recipe to right).
I hope that you enjoy the ideas that I have given you on fall season seafood. New Jersey has an abundance of seafood all year round. Take some time and visit some of our commercial seafood docks, like Viking village on Long Beach Island, which runs tour of its facility. To find out more about seafood in New jersey, visit
From Currents Own Food Editor Jimi Hilton
Chef Dychtwald’s article on “fall fish dishes” really inspired me to add a few seafood recipes of my own. If you’ve been following my columns over the past ten years, you’ll know that my ideal recipe is for something that can be turned out — from prep to the table — in less than half an hour…even with friends and family hanging out in the kitchen….which, actually, I love.
We have a mania for fish in our family – and pretty much stick to fish that is super-fresh and that has never been frozen. Here are a few seafood dishes I’ve thrown together over the past week or so, as I too got “bitten” by seasonal seafood mania…with some important tips on selecting, and handling fresh fish:
Snapper Blues – a la griglia.
Every fall my boys and I would go down to a nearby pier and fish for “snapper blues.” These are the baby bluefish – usually 8-10” in length, that will bite on almost anything that moves. They are great fun to catch – and some of the tastiest things imaginable. (Just be sure to have a cooler with lots of ice, to keep them really fresh.) This year, my grandkids took up the tradition…and, as usual, all we did was to scale’em, gut’em, sprinkle on a bit of salt and grill them quickly on a lightly oiled barbeque grill. Serve on paper plates with a wedge of lemon. Add a salad, and maybe some Italian bread – and a nice dessert for the kid in us all – and it’s all you need to make a truly delicious meal – one your kids and grandkids will look forward to, year after year. (No time to catch snappers? Fresh sardines are also super when grilled this way.)
Stuffed Sole, Fluke Or Flounder – in 20 minutes flat
1 or 2 pieces of really fresh flat-fish fillets per person, depending on the size of the fish (Really fresh fish will look translucent, and will have a pearly, iridescent color: If the fillets look milky, don’t buy them.)
(1) 1lb can of crab meat: (Spring for something special here: Those pasteurized cans of lump crabmeat that are kept in the refrigerated section are vastly superior to those found “on the shelf”…but even they will do in a pinch. Just use a bit more seasoning)
½ tsp Old Bay seasoning, or a bit more, to taste
½ tsp dry mustard, or a bit more, to taste
1 Tbs finely minced parsley
3 Tbs finely minced onion (optional)
3-4 Tbs finely chopped celery (optional)
Sweet paprika, for sprinkling
1 thin pat of butter per fillet (You could use a dab of olive oil on each, or even a spray-on, but hey, the stuffed fillets are very low in calories, and the bit of butter is better!)
Sprinkle all the herbs and spices over the crabmeat and blend very lightly and gently with your fingertips, feeling for any bits of shell – which are likely there – but don’t over-handle.
Lay the fillets on a plate or a piece of waxed paper, one by one, cover each one with a layer of the crabmeat mixture, and roll them up, starting from the smallest, pointiest end.
Place each rolled-up fillet with the seam side down, on a shallow, lightly buttered aluminum foil baking pan, leaving space on all sides of each individual fillet, so they don’t steam.
Sprinkle each fillet with some nice, sweet, Hungarian paprika and top with a thin pat of butter.
Bake at 350° in a pre-heated oven for about 15 – 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets – until the fish is cooked: Be sure not to overcook…Baste each fillet with the pan juices, and serve. If you wish, you can plate the fish, add a bit of white wine to the sauce and quickly reduce it, for a slightly fancier dish. For a really fancy dish, you could make a Mornay sauce, or a Veloute – but it’s really gilding the lily – and you’d be over the 20 minute limit. Leftovers – if there are any – are even better next day! (If, by any chance, you have more crabmeat than you need, add a small quantity of flavored breadcrumbs, a dab of mayo to moisten, then flash fry them to make a “side” of mini-crab cakes. Yum!)
Pan Seared Fish Steaks
The quickest, easiest and, we think, the best way to serve top quality fresh fish…in a flash
1 really fresh, never-frozen fish steak per person – about ½ lb each, or maybe a tad more – and about ¾” to one inch thick (Fresh tuna, swordfish, wild-caught striped bass, shark, halibut and wild salmon fillets are our favorites, in that order. Work with your fish-meister to select pieces that can be divided into portions that are uniform in size and thickness).
Kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs of fresh, finely minced herbs of your choice, per filet (optional, but worth the trouble)
1 Tbs butter and 1 Tbs olive oil to start…plus a bit more butter to finish the dish
¼ cup dry white wine
2-4 Tbs capers (optional)
Wipe each fillet with a barely damp paper towel.
Season both sides with kosher salt, pepper and a sprinkling of herbs.
Melt the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over fairly high heat: The secret is to have the pan very hot to start and to leave plenty of space between each filet, so they do not get steamed — so use 2 pans if needed.
Add the filets, skin side down if you are using bass or salmon, and cook over high heat, shaking the pan to be sure the oils are well distributed, and making sure to leave ample space between each fillet, until the fish is golden brown, then flip carefully with tongs or a turner to brown the other side. Adjust the heat, and add more butter or oil as needed so the fish cooks through without the need to flip it again. (Be really careful not to over-cook: Don’t be afraid to test by cutting through the thickest parts…and do remember that the fish will continue to cook a bit after plating. Plate up pieces first for those who want rare or medium rare).
When all the fish is plated, add white wine and any remaining fresh herbs to the pan and reduce quickly over high heat, stirring constantly. Add capers if you wish, and whisk in 1 Tbs or so of butter, to finish the sauce. Pour over the fish and serve immediately.
Lazy-Man‘s Baked Bluefish
Here are two secrets for really delicious bluefish: First, make sure the fish has been beheaded and gutted as soon as it’s caught, then iced-down HARD—
if you can’t do this yourself, you probably should not bother to cook bluefish—unless your fish-meister insists that his suppliers do the same. Second, don’t bother to scale the fish! The skin and scales will work together to prevent overcooking, and will produce the tenderest, juiciest and tastiest fish you’ve ever had:
1 whole bluefish – skin and scales left on
Salt & pepper
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 Tbs butter, sliced into thin pats
Melted butter and lemon quarters, for serving
Rinse the fish under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place the bluefish in a shallow baking pan large enough to hold the fish without crowding it. Sprinkle the cavity with salt and pepper and lay in as many onion slices as you can. Place thin slices of butter over the onions. Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of the fish, at 350°. Test for doneness by carefully lifting the skin — and by checking inside the cavity too.
When the fish is done, carefully remove the top skin: It will be quite hard, and will come off in a single piece – which will allow you to serve the top half of the fish, using two spoons, or a metal spatula, leaving all the bones behind. Then, remove the bones – which will usually come off as a single ‘unit’ – and serve the bottom half, being careful to leave the lower skin and scales behind. Pass some melted butter and lemon quarters…and mashed potatoes: If you have any leftover fish, mix it next day with leftover mashed potatoes, extra salt, pepper and butter to make the best fish cakes ever: Roll them first in seasoned breadcrumbs and fry ‘til crispy.