Cooking up the local catch on Martha’s Vineyard

Slice of Life's cod dish is served roasted with sun dried tomatoes, zucchini, roasted garlic, smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and truffle oil over mashed potatoes.
File photo by Susan Safford

Slice of Life's cod dish is served roasted with sun dried tomatoes, zucchini, roasted garlic, smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and truffle oil over mashed potatoes.

As cravings switch from crisp salads to roasted vegetables, brothy soups, hearty stews, and just more protein in general, here are some fish that you may or may not already be eating, to keep in mind on your next trip to the market.

Bay scallops

Vineyarders know bay scallops, and Vineyarders love bay scallops. When that glorious time of year comes around, and fishing licenses are doled out across the Island, these small, sweet mollusks are heralded on menus from Alchemy to Zephrus. I can hear an echo of myself from a previous article about French fries when I say “everyone loves them,” but really, unless you shun seafood all together, just about everyone I know enjoys a bay scallop. And everyone, fisherman and chefs alike, have an opinion on how they should be cooked.

Mercifully, for the tentative home cook, the advice tends to be the same: butter and a hot pan. Maybe with some pasta, or garlic, or greenery, but the biggest crime one can commit against a bay scallop [aside from obtaining them illegally, I suppose]would be to drown out their deliciousness in a rich sauce, or to cover up their perfection with too many other ingredients, or, worst of all, to overcook them. Shuckers have the luxury of practicing a “one for you, one for me” approach, eating them raw right off the shell, but if you prefer to cook your seafood, enzymatically (scallop ceviche!) or with heat, take care not to overdo it. Because they are so small, bay scallops overcook easily, ruining their delicate texture and moisture and turning them into leathery nuggets. ‘Tis the season that you can find local bay scallops at any of the fish markets for around $18.99 per pound.

Monkfish

They are not a pretty fish, in fact that are quite ugly, but monkfish have a unique texture, not unlike lobster, (they have been dubbed the “poor man’s lobster”) that can be decadent without being expensive.

The main edible part of the fish is the tail, and unlike bay scallops, its firm texture can stand up to bold sauces and marinades and will hold its own on the grill. Monkfish have a high water content so it is recommended to sprinkle a layer of salt on the filet about an hour before cooking to extract some of the liquid. Nose-to-tail eating has become popular (bone marrow, pig’s head, bull testicles) though you don’t hear much about gill-to-tail fin eating. That is until Bon Appétit magazine published its list of the “10 Biggest Food Trends of Fall 2011,” and included, in lieu of foie gras, terrine of monkfish liver. Admittedly, I have not seen this delicacy on any local menus but you can purchase monkfish tails at the Edgartown Meat and Fish Market for $12.99 per pound, and who knows? Maybe they’ll sell you the whole fish and you can whip the liver at home.

Yellowtail flounder

On a recent visit to Edgartown Seafood I was informed that the yellowtail flounder was the freshest and most local fish in the case. Which got me to wondering what exactly it is.

Flounder is a flat, bottom-dwelling fish. Its flaky texture won’t take well to the grill and most would suggest not roasting it either. It’s perfect for a quick pan-fry and every other online recipe suggests stuffing it with crabmeat. Flounder is good “starter fish” as its mild taste is not overly fishy and it is often praised for being easy to work with, taking well to a simple coat of olive oil, wine, and lemon. Yellowtail flounder is available at all the fish markets at approximately $12.99 per pound.

Cod

It’s the namesake of the Cape we live off of, and has been said to have mattered more to human history than any other fish, according to Mark Kurlansky in his book, “Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World.” Cod is a New England mainstay, comprising many a fish and chips and fried fish sandwich served alongside French fries and tartar sauce.

Wrapped in prosciutto, cod has become fashionable in restaurants that might otherwise scoff at the relatively ordinary fish. State Road Restaurant currently serves it pan-roasted with braising greens, pea shoots, and roasted tomato vinaigrette, $34. Pan-roasted is the way to go for the home cook as well, unless you own a fry-o-later in which case, what isn’t good deep-fried?

Being a cold-water loving, New England native, you’ll find cod at all the fish markets for about $12 per pound. Gil-to-tail fin eaters, take note: cod cheeks, tender morsels of solid white flesh, are gaining credibility and popularity as a New England delicacy. Look for them on menus or ask your fishmonger if they have any fish heads lying around.

Hake

A knowledgeable fishmonger at The Net Result told me that because it’s slightly firmer than its popular cousin, the cod, hake makes for an excellent chowder, being less likely to disintegrate in a hot broth. Aside from a hearty chowder, hake can be poached, fried, broiled, baked, wrapped in a tin foil pouch and set in the oven — in other words, with hake you’ve got a versatile fish. It’s very popular in Spain and there is a bounty of online recipes with a Spanish flair. Look for a Galician-inspired recipe from Spain’s seafood capital. Hake sells around the Island for an affordable $6.50 per pound.

Next time you are at the fish market, take a look at the prepared foods. For a taste of the past, do as the forefathers did and enjoy your fish smoked. Smoking fish was originally done for preservation reasons, but refrigeration didn’t make it any less delicious. Island fish markets have smoked bluefish, salmon, cod, trout, mussels, and more.