There’s an on-going shtick in my family around my dad’s hatred of bluefish.
Every summer, when I make my pilgrimage to Martha’s Vineyard, my mom asks me what I want for dinner on my first night back. “How about bluefish?” I suggest. To which she replies, with a sigh: “well, you know your father.”
Many years ago, my dad developed a prejudice towards bluefish. I won’t go and say it had anything to do with its darker flesh. But probably as a result of a bad experience in a restaurant, he found it to be too oily and fishy. And yes, the darker bottom bits—the kind you’ll experience on a salmon fillet to a lesser extent—didn’t thrill him either.
Only, that was then and this is now.
The summer shtick continues like this: Because I’m a brat, my mom makes the bluefish. Somewhere around the third bite, my dad will say that it’s actually really good. And proceed to clean his plate.
This happens every single summer. Wash, rinse, repeat.
A few years ago, I would get exasperated by being stuck in some sort of perpetual seafood Ground Hog’s Day. But now, instead of screaming I feel like I’m taking CRAZY PILLS—for the love of God, he likes bluefish!, I just play my part, knowing that now if I insist and get my way, at least everyone will end up happy in the end.
For all of her irrational insistence that my dad hates bluefish, my mother and I have always been on the same page that anyone who hates bluefish is, in fact, the crazy one.
Since it’s one of the most populated species in Atlantic waters during the summer season, and therefore, one of the most affordable options at the market, it gets tucked into island menus in a variety of different ways. Charlie and I have our own tradition of picking up a tub of bluefish pate—a fancy label for what is essentially a block of cream cheese with smoked fish mixed in—and eating it on the deck at sunset with a bottle of wine. Or we’ll buy a whole block of smoked bluefish and flake it into our morning potato hash and use it to top a simple avocado toast. But my favorite way to eat it is, of course, my mother’s way. And if you believe the above shtick, then you know that it can make a bluefish lover out of anyone.
The technique is simple and only requires three ingredients—the same ingredients you’ll find in the majority of my mother’s cooking: mayo and good Dijon mustard. Combine these two in a mixing bowl and slather them over the top of the fish. For the lazier among us, you can simply brush them on one by one. The condiment-coated fish then gets set under the broiler, and within just few minutes, dark spots form and the meat beneath becomes incredibly juicy and tender.
I’ve tried this technique on striped bass and it works just as well. For the mayo-phobes, I’ll also note that it tastes great with just Dijon. In fact, for this baked bluefish recipe, you might benefit from a little extra pep in that fishie’s step.
I’m sad to report that we actually skipped our summer shtick altogether this year. Because the last time I was on island, instead of asking for permission, I just made the bluefish myself.
Since it’s sustainable seafood month on the blog, I really wanted to share this easy technique with you in a slightly gussied up version of my mother’s baked bluefish. To make it a complete meal, I served it over a simple bed of roasted potatoes, kale and anchovies, and to make the fish even more festive, I topped the whole thing with a crispy, garlicky pangritata.
For those of you who don’t know the magic that is pangritata, it’s essentially poor man’s Parmesan. Back in the day when money was tight in the old country, Italian peasants would fry up coarsely chopped bread crumbs with other cheap staples –garlic, herbs – and serve them over pasta instead of grated cheese. It sounds fancier than it is, and cooks up in the same time it takes to broil the fish: just a few minutes. If you’re Paleo, try swapping the gluten-free breadcrumbs for ground nuts!
The reason why bluefish wasn’t at the top of my “buy” list in last week’s sustainable seafood guide is because of its mercury content. Given our summer cravings, my mom and I were both bummed to learn that it’s on the higher side of the spectrum—not as bad as tuna and swordfish, but still one to watch out for if you’re pregnant. I also came across this interesting article in my research that the mercury issue in bluefish is getting better.
Luckily, the recommendation is to eat no more than a few servings a month, which shouldn’t be a problem for most people, and given my dad’s perceived preferences, not one for us either. So that said, I would encourage you as part of this month’s #summerseafoodchallenge to give bluefish a try at least once! It’s incredibly delicious, and one of the most affordable options around. Plus, the oily dark meat means it’s very high in omega-3 fatty acids. And you get even more of those bad boys with the addition of anchovies! These little guys are healthy sustainable seafood gold. For more on why, check out my guide here.
Are there any types of fish you’ve been wanting to try but don’t have a go-to recipe for? I’m officially taking requests. And after my coho salmon-fest in Oregon, I’ll definitely be ready to experiment with some other options once back East in a few weeks!
Baked Bluefish with Anchovy Kale, Crispy Potatoes, and Garlic-Thyme Pangritata
for the potato-kale salad
- 1 pound fingerling potatoes halved
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- 1 bunch kale preferably Lacinato/Tuscan, ribs removed and finely chopped
- One 2-ounce tin anchovies finely chopped
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/3 cup gluten-free breadcrumbs
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves optional
for the bluefish (three ingredients, promise!)
- 1 1/2 pounds bluefish fillets
- 1 tablespoon mayo
- 1 tablespoon mustard
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, toss the potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Arrange cut-side down and roast in the oven until crispy and tender, 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, toss the kale with the anchovies, lemon juice and zest, 1 tablespoon olive oil (see note), and 1/4 teaspoon salt until very well-coated. Set aside.
In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sauté the breadcrumbs, garlic and thyme leaves (if using) over medium-high heat until crispy and very fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Remove the potatoes from the oven and preheat the broiler.
Rinse the bluefish and pat dry with a paper towel. Arrange in a large cast iron skillet, or alternatively, on the roasting pan you used for the potatoes. In a small mixing bowl, combine the mayonnaise and Dijon. Slather the fish with the mustard mixture until it's coated with a thin layer.
Transfer to the oven and broil for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mustard mixture has begun to brown in spots and the fish is cooked through.
Right before you're ready to serve, toss the potatoes with the kale mixture. Serve the bluefish alongside the potato-kale salad and top with the toasted garlicky breadcrumbs (pangritata).
Instead of adding olive oil to the salad, you can use the oil from your tin of anchovies for even more flavor! Make sure to wait until right before you serve to toss the potatoes with the kale and top with the pangritata as you want both of those elements to stay crispy.