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Catch of the Day
by Elizabeth Norcross

One of the best things about living on the Vineyard is the fish markets, and right now we are in the middle of the bonus five weeks of fishing – it’s the annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.

Sixty-six years ago, a year after World War II, when optimism was running high and tourism was just a gleam in the eye, fishermen have been flocking to the natural sanctuary that is the Island of Martha’s Vineyard.  I can’t even describe the colors here, especially
at dawn and sundown. It’s a time of camaraderie, bonding and making new memories. 
Not to mention that age-old expertise of building new tall fish tales. Around 3,000 fishermen/women travel here from all over the country and beyond to experience this,
the most popular and historical saltwater fishing on the East Coast.

The tournament fish are Striped Bass; Bluefish; Bonita and False Albacore (“Little Tunny”).  Little Tunny – as one fisherman said to me  - “even the cats don’t like it.” So no recipe for that here. I did add a recipe for a very tasty fish which caught my eye this summer at the fish market. The skin had these beautiful yellow luminescent spots. ‘Spanish Mackerel’ it’s called. The owner of the market, didn’t know how to cook it or what it tasted like. But I can tell you – it’s delicious.  Fry it up in a cast iron skillet in a tablespoon of butter. I served it with a bit of crème fraiche and hot pepper jelly.

These recipes are great for dinner parties, especially the Stuffed Striped Bass;  a showstopper, elegant and delicious.  Garlic mashed potatoes or wild rice risotto make perfect accompaniments to any of these fish.  Enjoy the prep work, but moreover enjoy serving and sharing.

Baked Bluefish

Preheat oven to 375*
2 lbs. Bluefish
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup crème fraiche or sour cream
1 lemon (juice)
4 tbls. minced fresh chives (reserve some to sprinkle on top)
parchment paper
Baking sheet

Mix the mayonnaise and crème fraiche together with lemon juice and chives. Spread over the tops of the Bluefish fillets. Place on parchment paper on baking sheet; sprinkle reserved chives and bake for about 20 minutes. Check, sticking fork to make sure it’s white and flaky. This is the ultimate recipe. So easy and delicious.

Seared Tuna au Poivre

4 Tuna steaks, 6oz. each
¼ cup cracked black peppercorns
1/3 cup port
¼ cup cognac
½ cup reduced chicken stock
2 tbls. butter cut into pieces
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons bottled green peppercorns, drained

Season the tuna steaks lightly with salt. Pour the peppercorns on a sheet of waxed paper or a large plate and press each piece of tuna into the pepper to coat both sides evenly. Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until needed.

Put the port and cognac in a small skillet or saucepan and boil over medium-high heat until 2 tablespoons remain, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in the stock and continue boiling a few minutes more until the sauce reduces and thickens. Pour the sauce through a strainer into a clean pan, whisk in the butter, and season with a little salt and black pepper. Cover the pan and keep warm. Select a skillet; sear the tuna until its surface is nicely browned and firm, 35-40 seconds per side. Cut each steak crosswise into ½ inch thick slices. Spoon a little sauce in the center of each of four plates.

Arrange the seared tuna slices on top of the sauce and garnish with the green peppercorns.

Serve immediately.

This stuffed Striped Bass is fabulous for a dinner party where you want to impress! Not to mention delicious.

Baked Striped Bass with Herb Stuffing

3-4 lbs. striped bass, cut into two fillets
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 or more tbls. butter
½ cup chopped shallots or green onions
1 clove garlic, finely minced
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh mushrooms
1 tbls. chopped fresh chervil  (or 1 tsp. dried)
½ tsp. chopped fresh sage leaves (or 1/4 tsp. dried)
½ tsp. minced fresh summer savory (or ¼ tsp. dried)
¼ tsp. minced fresh basil (or ¼ tsp. dried)
¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 cup dry white wine
5 slices whole-wheat bread, toasted and coarsely crumbled
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup olive oil
4 slices salt pork thinly sliced
1 tsp. lemon juice
Lemon wedges
Parsley sprigs

Preheat oven to 400*F

Rinse fish well under cold water, dry with paper towels, rub with salt and pepper inside and out. Over moderate heat melt butter in a heavy skillet, when butter foam subsides. Add shallots or onions, garlic, and celery. Reduce heat and sauté about 5 minutes, or until vegetables are wilted. Stir occasionally. Add a little more butter if indicated. Turn heat to high, add mushrooms and cook 3 or 4 minutes more. Add chervil, sage, savory, basil, parsley, and ½ cup of the wine; stir well, reduce heat, and let simmer for several minutes.
Remove skillet from heat, stir in breadcrumbs and grated cheese, lifting lightly with a fork to combine all ingredients. Additional salt and pepper may be added, if required. Allow mixture to cool slightly. Place one fillet on shallow baking pan lined with greased foil. If fish slabs are thick and it looks as though the dish would be unwieldy when assembled, lay two pieces of twine on pan first and use to tie stuffed fillets together. Use larger piece of fish for bottom if they differ. Arrange stuffing neatly on top of fish, then lay second fillet on that. Press stuffing inward if needed to help hold it in place. Rub top of fish with olive oil and dust lightly with salt and pepper if desired. Optional salt-pork slices should be added at this point. Tie with twine if needed.

In a small sauce pan, heat remaining wine and olive oil and the lemon juice. Pour it over fish and bake uncovered, about 30 to 45 minutes, or until fish flakes easily when pierced with a fork. While the fish is baking, baste it three or four times with the liquids in the pan.

Transfer fish to a heated platter and discard twine.

Serve the fish very hot, garnished with lemon wedges and sprigs of parsley.

Note:  For fewer diners, the stuffing can be carefully piled on a single bass fillet, the salt pork slices (if used) placed on the stuffing, a dusting of salt and pepper added if desired, and the mixture of wine, olive oil, and lemon juice poured over the top. Adjust proportions and baking time accordingly. If salt pork is not used, a piece of foil placed over the fish during final 10 minutes or so baking will keep stuffing from drying out too much.
6-8 portions – Martha’s Vineyard Cookbook

A great accompaniment, simple and elegant, is this saffron risotto with pistachios from the Silver Palate Cookbook.

Saffron Risotto with Pistachios
2 tbls  1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
1 tsp. saffron threads
2 cups Italian Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
4-5 cups chicken broth
3 tbls. shelled pistachio nuts
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated pepper

Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes. Stir in the saffron and cook 1 minute more.

Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter and onions. Pour in the wine and 2 cups of the broth. Simmer covered until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Continue to simmer covered, adding the broth ½ cup at a time, until the rice is tender. The entire cooking time is usually about 30 minutes. The rice should be bound lightly together with a little of the cooking liquid.

Stir in the pistachio nuts and Parmesan. Serve immediately.
6-8 portions.

Enjoy every one of these recipes, each one is worthy of your table.
As Julia would say, ‘Bon Appetit’.

Thanks to the Derby Committee for these larger than life fish photos.