Tuesday, April 16, 2013

F.I.S.H? Fish is Simple, Huh?

Outside the Ocracoke Fish House, run by the Ocracoke Working Watermen Association

     Have. No. Fear.  Do not get the shakes when confronted with a fish eye staring back at you.  Don't be intimidated by the rattle of fresh clam shells, or claws knocking against a basket of crabs, or live soft shells with bubbles coming from their mouths.  I don't wanna hear no one exclaiming, "Lawd have mercy, I don't know nuthin' about cooking no fish!"
     Cooking seafood can be as simple as following the rule of KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Like the recipe below, fish filets that are simply seared over high heat on top of the stove, then placed in a pre-heated oven to finish cooking.  Sounds easy, huh?    

      It's my mission to get you to eat local seafood, and, to cook it yourself.  In the OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK and on this blog, you'll find tips for buying and storing, how to wash and prep, and how to cook seafood in a variety of ways.
     Let's start with the dish pictured below, a simple pan-roasted filet of rockfish, also known as stripers or striped bass.  Or Mr. Pajama Pants to a lot of fishermen.  

Striped bass, pan-roasted with onions and herbs over couscous

     When we stopped at one my favorite seafood mongers, B & J Seafood on HWY 70 East, New Bern, on the way to Atlantic Beach recently, Ray showed us some lovely, large stripers that had been caught right out the door, near the bridge in the Neuse River, where they come to spawn each spring.  They were huge, about the size of the ones below that were caught out near the Oregon Inlet on Hatteras Island a couple of years ago.

Stripers caught on charter boats out of Oregon Inlet, Hatteras , NC
     Old-timers would probably cook those big boys whole, wrapped in bacon, smothered in onions with potatoes on the side.
     Instead, I had Ray filet the fish for us, and remove the back bone.  In another mood with lots of time on my hands, I would have done that job at home, saving the head and backbone for fish stock, and using the trimmings to make a fish stew.  Another yum.  But I was looking for easy, for it was my weekend at the beach.  Scroll down for the recipe for pan-roasted fish filets, which I swear to you on a stack of fish bones, is so easy.  Simple.  And yummy!

Near the Hatteras Harbor, an old fish house stands empty

     In the old days, fishermen would have brought their catch to fish houses like these, where they were paid for their catch.  Then the fish house would broker deals with restaurants and supply companies.  These fish houses hardly exist anymore.  There's just one out of maybe a dozen left on Ocracoke Island, run by the Ocracoke Working Watermen Association, that raised enough money to keep it from going under a couple of years ago.
An old fish house on the back side of Wanchese on Roanoke Island

   You can still buy local seafood at markets on the Outer Banks and further south on NC's beach roads, and at fish markets in larger towns like Raleigh or Winston-Salem.
    It pays to get to know your "fish monger," so that you can trust that he'll guide you to the freshest options he has on ice.  And, that he will tell you where that fish was swimming when it was caught.
    Buy local.  The fishermen who have invested in keeping up their boats, buying fuel, and giving up hours and hours on the water depend on you.

Striped bass, pan-roasted with onions and herbs over couscous
*****Here's that RECIPE *****

            Thick and firm-fleshed fish, such as grouper, mahi mahi or rockfish (or salmon, definitely not a local fish!), do best with this quick and easy preparation. 
            Choose a salsa, pesto or herbed butter (see recipe below) to add further flavor to the fish.  If I’m in a hurry, a store-bought red pepper pesto adds just the right touch, both in flavor and in presentation. 

4 6-ounce fish fillets, skinned
freshly ground pepper
juice from one-half lemon
Options:  tomato or fresh fruit salsa, prepared pesto or herbed butter; half onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Salt and pepper the fish.  Sprinkle with lemon juice. If using a salsa, pesto or herbed butter, you may spread a thin coating on each fillet.
  3. In an ovenproof large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.
  4. Place the fish in the oil, skinned side down.  Sear the fish for one minute, then transfer the pan to the oven. (Add thinly sliced onions at this point, if desired.)
  5. Roast fish for 6 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness and desired doneness.  (Check with a fork to see if fish flakes or is no longer pink.)
  6. Remove fish to plates, and if desired, top with optional salsa, pesto or butter.

YIELD:  4 servings


4 tablespoons butter, softened
¼ teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme, or dill, chives or parsley or combination

  1. In a small bowl, mash the butter with the salt and pepper.  Add the herb(s) and combine well. 
  2. May be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.