Fishing for bluefish is a blast. Bluefish fight vigorously when you hook them up and they are an abundant and often underused resource here on Martha’s Vineyard. For many years bluefish where considered by most to be practically inedible. My father in law, a life long fisherman from the cape, spent most of his life catching bluefish for lobster bait. Though they make excellent bait, I love to eat bluefish. As a chef I am often asked what to do with a fresh catch, so I would like to share with you a simple recipe to make your catch into a crowd pleasing dish that is truly delicious.
First things first, when you catch a bluefish make sure to bleed it immediately. When fish fight, or are put under stress, there is a buildup of lactic acid in the flesh which can “cook” or “burn” the flesh if it is not metabolized. With big game fish like tuna some fishermen will let the fish rest on the side of the boat before it is killed to allow the acid to be metabolized. The second reason to bleed and ice your fish as soon as possible is discoloration of the meat, and of course the fishy taste that is often associated with bluefish. Bacteria is harbored in the gills and guts of any fish, so it is important to gut and rinse the fish before you filet it. With bluefish I like to bleed, gut, rinse and ice them before I get home. Bluefish fillets should not be red if they are handled correctly.
Smoking is a great way to introduce people to bluefish. There are many smoking methods for fish, but I would like to share with you one of the simplest methods to get you started. Begin with a 50/50 salt and brown sugar cure for 5-6 hours. Simple pack the fish in the cure and leave it covered in the refrigerator. If you have one you can place a rack under the fish so the liquid drains away from the filets. This will draw a considerable amount of water out of the filets. Rinse the fish with cold water and pat it dry with a paper towel. Lightly salt the filet and let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour or two until a nice pellicle has formed (a thin film that allows the smoke to adhere to the fish). Drizzle a little maple syrup and your favorite spices on top of the filet and smoke them on low heat (150-200 degrees F) until the fish is dark and firm. The fish will be cooked in about an hour, but for the purposes of smoked bluefish we want to take that a little further and allow the fish to really soak up that smokey flavor.
Smoked bluefish can be eaten on its own, but the prefered method these days seems to be bluefish pate. While dining in new york, I had a smoked trout pate that used cottage cheese as its main ingredient and was blown away by how well it stood up to the flavor of the smoked fish. Here is a fun and easy recipe to make smoked bluefish pate at home!
1 cup smoked bluefish (shredded)
¼ cup cottage cheese
2 Tbsp Sour Cream
2 Tbsp capers
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp horseradish
Lots of chopped chives, or garlic chives (1 whole bunch will not be too much)
Simply mix all of the ingredients together, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with crackers or freshly sliced cucumber. Feel free to experiment with proportions and add ingredients like mustard seed or soy sauce to make it your own!