Martha’s Vineyard chefs/fishermen give tips for cooking fresh fish

A freshly caught striped bass can be turned into a delicious dinner, just ask any fisherman. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Last Sunday the 67th annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby kicked off. Fisherman from all over will angle for striped bass, bluefish, bonito, and false albacore for a variety of prizes (hopefully a new boat or truck), awards, trophies, and of course, bragging rights.

According to the “Derby History” page on the website,, the Derby was founded in 1946 by a group of businessmen who wanted to promote the Vineyard fall shoulder season.

In its current form, the Derby is all about fishing fun and education. The derby has donated more than $64,000 in scholarships since 1987 and it provides free fish to the elderly through a filet program. Fisherman can donate any amount of their catch which is then distributed to the Islands’ councils on aging where seniors receive fresh striped bass, bluefish, and occasionally bonito.

Because the commercial season is over you won’t find locally caught striped bass in the fish markets or restaurants, so the only way to get it on the dinner plate is to catch it, and because of the Derby I suspect that striped bass and bluefish will be appearing on many an Island dinner plate, so I asked a chef, a fisherman, a health coach, and a fish market owner, “What do you do with all that fish?”

Betsy Larsen of Larsen’s Fish Market in Menemsha has a favorite recipe that works on both bluefish and striped bass. She likes to take two parts mayonnaise (substitute sour cream if mayo makes you woozy) and one part mustard and lather it on the fish, top it with chopped parsley and bake it in a very hot oven (400 degrees) for 12 to 14 minutes and then finish it under the broiler for a minute or two.

Scott Larsen, Betsy’s nephew who has been working at the market for years, has a clever idea for the small bluefish that you might be “too embarrassed to weigh in.” Take the whole fish (gutted), stuff whole garlic cloves in the belly, place sliced lemons on top of the fish, wrap it tight in tin foil, and close it in the grill.

Captain Buddy Vanderhoop of Tomahawk Charters has more than 40 years experience fishing these waters, and he has guided numerous fishermen to tournament prizes. Needless to say he knows fish — how to catch them and how to cook them. His wife, Lisa Vanderhoop, revealed some favorites. “Buddy likes to take Pam’s Pesto [the green and red] and mix that with Panko bread crumbs until combined and spread that on the fish before grilling or baking.”

Ms. Vanderhoop calls the classic mayonnaise, dill, and lemon marinade a favorite, and though she and the Captain like making their own sauces, she sings the praises of Braswell’s tangy lemon caper sauce and sweet bourbon swordfish glaze (they use it on striped bass and bluefish). You can find Braswell’s select sauces at Cronig’s, Stop & Shop, and other markets on the Island.

Chef Dan Sauer of 7a Foods has been using the same recipe to make smoked bluefish paté for more than 12 years. Mr. Sauer was once the head chef at the Outermost Inn in Aquinnah and it was there that Inn owner Hugh Taylor shared his paté recipe.

“I like it because it has so few ingredients,” says Mr. Sauer. “Once you start adding lemons and capers you don’t taste the bluefish anymore.” Mr. Sauer sells smoked bluefish paté occasionally in the prepared foods case at 7a and soon he is going to offer it as an alternative to the smoked salmon on a bagel with tomatoes and greens at breakfast.

Sarah Waldman of West Tisbury writes a whole food blog,, which is full of great ideas and great photos. Here is her favorite striped bass recipe. “I like it because the fish is baked and that’s less intimidating than pan searing or grilling. It’s totally delicious too.” Ms. Waldman served it to her family over roasted potatoes to soak up the extra juices.

Tomato Roasted Striped Bass with Shrimp & Mussels

Serves 3


4 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
2 ounces pancetta, bacon, or other pork product
1 Tbs. diced chopped garlic
2 cups fresh tomatoes, pulsed in blender or food processor into a chunky consistency
1/2 tsp. saffron threads
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 lb. striped bass fillet, skin removed
1/2 lb. large shrimp, shelled and deveined
12 mussels, cleaned and de-bearded
2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the oil in a medium sauté pan and sauté the onion and pancetta over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the tomatoes, saffron, salt, pepper, white wine, and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, lay the fish in a 10-by-14-inch baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the shrimp and mussels to the dish. Pour the sauce over the seafood and bake uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes, until the fish and shrimp are cooked through and the mussels are open. Sprinkle with parsley, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.