Scup is an underrated eating fish

Whole scup with tomatillo sauce. — Gavin Smith

This week I didn’t get out fishing much. With only one day to wet a line, and the ambition to cook my catch, my friend and I set our sights on bluefish. We did quite a bit of moving around, but never got into the blues. We did, however, manage to catch a couple of beautiful scup. 

Cooking fish whole is a lot less work than fileting, especially when working with smaller bony fish like scup. Scup collar and cheeks are delicious, but are very small and are a lot of work to cook separately for a little payoff. Cooking the scup whole allows for you to enjoy these treats without taking the time to cook them separately. Scup is an abundant resource on the Island, and in my opinion is vastly underrated. They are sweet, and light with a very mild flavor.

Grilled Whole Scup with Tomatillo Sauce

Fish Ingredients:
1 whole scup (guts removed)
2 tsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
2 inch piece of ginger sliced thin
1 lemon sliced into thin rounds
1 bunch Chives
Neutral oil (for brushing grill grate)

Tomatillo Sauce:
8-10 tomatillos
1 large red onion sliced into thin rounds
1 bunch cilantro
2 tbsp olive oil (plus a little to brush onions)
2 tsp sherry vinegar
2 tsp honey

 For the Tomatillo Sauce:
-Heat your grill to a medium high setting
-Brush onions with olive oil and a pinch of salt
-Place onions and tomatillos directly on the grill
-Cook tomatillos until the color darkens, and the juice inside begins to bubble
-Cook onions until they are visibly charred and begin to soften
-Combine all of your ingredients in a large blender (I prefer a Vitamix or other high powered blender)
-Blend until smooth, taste for sweetness and salt (if you would like a little more sweetness add honey)

For the Scup:
-Turn your grill down slightly to a medium heat
-Stuff the body cavity with ginger chives and lemon
-Coat the outside of the fish thoroughly with olive oil and salt
-Brush the grill grate with neutral oil (This helps keep the skin from sticking)
-Place the whole fish onto well oiled grill surface
-Cook for 5-10 minutes per side depending on the size of your scup
-Use a thin fish spatula to turn the fish ( a thick spatula will damage the skin, and flesh)
-Place your whole fish on a plate or platter, and cover with tomatillo sauce.

Scup have quite a few bones, and are often thought of as “too much work,” but I assure you it’s worth the effort to eat around the bones. I have adopted the technique of pulling the flesh away from the fish in the direction of the bones making them easier to spot.

According to Stephen at Dick’s Bait and Tackle, there are still small striped bass in large numbers around the Island. With a little bit larger bass showing near Gay Head and Squibbnocket. Bluefish are still showing well on Chappy, and a little more sporadically on State Beach, and in Vineyard Haven Harbor. I have heard whispers of Bonito showing up early, and Stephen confirmed this saying one had been caught on Chappy, with a few more being caught from boats out of Menemsha.

“That’s the way it used to be years ago, 30-40 years ago, we used to catch them, end of June early July,” he said.


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 is a regular contributor to the Fishing Report.