A recipe for successful bluefish eating

Smoked Bluefish Pate with island hub pea shoots. — Gavin Smith

Spring was amazingly productive fishing from shore, but the water has warmed up, and it’s getting a little tougher out there. There are still plenty of fish in the sea, however, and with a little patience and persistence, there is some great fishing to be had.

Luke at Dick’s Bait & Tackle says the bonito are starting to arrive. They have been caught off Wasque, and off Nomans. Bluefish have been all over East Beach, and Middle Ground, with sporadic blues being caught on the north shore and in the Aquinnah area. The bass have been mostly sticking to deeper water, but if you do not have access to a boat, fishing at night from shore can still be productive, mostly weeding through schools of smaller bass and waiting for a larger fish to arrive.

Fishing for bluefish is a blast. Bluefish fight vigorously when you hook them up, and they are an abundant and often underused resource. For many years bluefish where considered by most to be practically inedible. My father-in-law, a lifelong fisherman from the Cape, spent most of his life catching bluefish for lobster bait. Though they make excellent bait, I love to eat bluefish. As a chef, I am often asked what to do with a fresh catch, so I would like to share with you a simple recipe to make your catch into a crowd-pleasing dish that is truly delicious.

First things first, when you catch a bluefish, make sure to bleed it immediately. When fish fight, or are put under stress, there is a buildup of lactic acid in the flesh, which can “cook” or “burn” the flesh if it is not metabolized. With big-game fish like tuna, some fishermen will let the fish rest on the side of the boat before it is killed, to allow the acid to be metabolized. The second reason to bleed and ice your fish as soon as possible is discoloration of the meat and, of course, the fishy taste that is often associated with bluefish. Bacteria are harbored in the gills and guts of any fish, so it is important to gut and rinse the fish before you filet it. With bluefish, I like to bleed, gut, rinse, and ice them before I get home. Bluefish fillets should not be red if they are handled correctly.

Smoking is a great way to introduce people to bluefish. There are many smoking methods for fish, but I would like to share with you one of the simplest methods to get you started. Begin with a 50/50 salt and sugar cure for five to six hours. Simply pack the fish in the cure and leave it covered in the refrigerator. This will draw a considerable amount of water out of the filets. Rinse the fish with cold water and pat it dry with a paper towel. Lightly salt the filet and let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour or two until a nice pellicle has formed (a thin film that allows the smoke to adhere to the fish). Drizzle a little maple syrup and your favorite spices on top of the filet, and smoke them on low heat (under 150°F) until the fish is dark and firm. The fish will be cooked in about an hour, but for the purposes of smoked bluefish, we want to take that a little further and allow the fish to really soak up that smoky flavor.

Smoked bluefish can be eaten on its own, but the prefered method these days seems to be bluefish pâte. While dining in New York, I had a smoked trout pâte that used cottage cheese as its main ingredient, and was blown away by how well it stood up to the flavor of the smoked fish. Here is a fun and easy recipe to make smoked bluefish pâte at home.

1 cup smoked bluefish (shredded)
¼ cup cottage cheese
2 Tbsp. sour cream
2 Tbsp. capers
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. horseradish
Lots of chopped chives, or garlic chives

Simply mix all of the ingredients together, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with crackers or freshly sliced cucumber. Feel free to experiment with proportions, and add ingredients like mustard seed or soy sauce, to make it your own.

Gavin Smith began fishing when he moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 2014. He is a self-admitted novice, but a truly avid one, eager to learn and share as much as he can. Gavin is a private chef and passionate foodie who appreciates the bounty that Vineyard waters provide, and likes nothing more than sharing his passion with his clients. He’ll be a regular contributor to the Fishing Report.