I confess, I’ve eaten Tog Fish Stew for six days straight after fishing with Johnny Hoy last week (bit.ly/MVT_TogsHoy). I’ve shared conversations and bowls of soup with multiple friends, and they’ve all loved the stew too.
As I was talking fishing and cooking with a girlfriend over lunch, I realized I needed to plan more fish recipes and get-togethers. Like many fishermen, I have fresh-caught fish vacuum-sealed in my freezer.
My next thought was: Call Gavin.
Gavin Smith is an enthusiastic, competitive fisherman, and a private chef. Gavin, who finished 13th in the Triple Crown at this year’s Derby, out of thousands of fishermen, is the highly popular Food Minded Fellow.
While I often see Gavin fishing, a few years ago I had the pleasure of working with Gavin on a dinner and movie night for NAMI. As the Food Minded Fellow, Gavin will cook in your home or location of choice, creating a culinary experience beyond dinner out at a restaurant.
Gavin focuses on using locally sourced food as much as possible. He got me addicted to MVM shiitake mushrooms after offering me a forkful to try while he was preparing the meal for NAMI during Mental Health Awareness Month. I loved the shiitakes so much I now have five shiitake logs in my backyard.
“I buy lobsters from the lobstermen. I purchase my fish at the markets, and they can tell me which fisherman brought it in. I try to steer people to locally sourced foods,” said Gavin.
“The sense of place is super-important with food. The feeling and smells of the environment,” said Gavin. “I like to take food and make it as local and seasonal as possible. The Earth tells you what to eat when, by what is in season.”
While Gavin is passionate about eating and preparing delicious meals, he is equally passionate about fishing. “Fishing is one of the most valuable things I can do with my time. Every time out I strengthen friendships or meet new people, or learn something new,” Gavin said. “Night fishing for bass is my favorite. You could sleep, but why, when you can fish? I can go for seven nights in a row and release every fish. I haven’t kept a bass in years.”
Asking Gavin what his favorite fish is to cook was like asking a parent who their favorite child is. Gavin pretty much likes all fish, for all different reasons.
“I love fluke. I think it’s underrated. It’s super-versatile, mild, and will take on any flavor when you’re cooking it,” said Gavin. “And dayboat sea scallops, right off the boat on Wednesdays and Saturdays, are very special. It’s great the M.V. Fishermen’s Preservation Trust [bit.ly/MVFPT_Scallops] got a boat going out to George’s Bank again.”
“Bonito is delicious, but it’s such a short window. I only keep fish when I have time to cook it. The Derby’s hard to keep fish. I’m fishing aggressively, and still working,” said Gavin, who won the Grand Leader Shore Bonito at the 2021 Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.
When I pushed for the easiest fish to catch and cook, Gavin replied instantly, “Black sea bass. They are super-approachable to cook, and there’s a lot of them in our waters. You can catch them from a boat, or even from the shore. I take my kayak out, strap a Yeti cooler on, and head out to the nearest place with structure.
“Sea bass love structure — rocks, buoys, cans. [Once you bait your hook,] you need to get your jig down past the pogies [also called scup]. You can get into them pretty quickly,” said Gavin.
I asked Gavin to share a recipe with us that we could use for any sea bass we have in the freezer, or a similar fish we could buy today. I still have plenty of parsley in my garden, two bass filets in my freezer, and I always have Island Bee Co. honey in the cupboard. With the chill and wind today, I could use a taste of summer.
“Black sea bass is an amazing local resource that is mild and absolutely delicious,” said Gavin. “The method by which these filets are cooked can be applied to most fish filets that are eaten with the skin on; feel free to try it with another fish.”
Visit Gavin’s website for cooking tips, more recipes, and a podcast where he talks with Islanders about the food they are producing: foodmindedfellow.com.
With the holiday season fast approaching, you might want to invite Gavin into your home to create a special dinner. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Black Sea Bass with Fresh Summer Parsley Sauce
One sea bass yields two filets. Reserve all but the innards for fish stock.
2 sea bass filets
1 Tbsp. neutral oil (enough to coat the pan evenly — too much will rob heat from your fish)
salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch parsley (leaves only; reserve stems for stock)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. local honey
1 lemon (zest and juice)
1 lime (zest and juice)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. champagne vinegar (optional)
salt to taste
For the fish:
Heat a large, cast iron or heavy steel pan on the stove over medium-high heat. While the pan is heating, turn your filets skin-side up on a cutting board, and lightly score the skin in one direction, using swift, gentle strokes, three or four times. This will help prevent the skin from shrinking and the fish from cupping in the pan. Lightly season the skin with salt and pepper.
When the pan and oil are hot, gently add filets to the hot pan; small filets will go quite quickly, so don’t walk away from this process. Use a fish spatula to gently press down on the filet to prevent cupping for the first few seconds.
After a few short minutes, as the skin begins to crisp, it will be much easier to release the filet from the pan. Use your fish spatula to check on the edges: Once it is nicely browned, the fish can either be flipped to its flesh side and finished on the stove, or the whole pan can go into a 375° oven until the flesh is white, no longer pink. This should take no longer than five minutes, as the fish will be mostly cooked from the searing process. The fish can be served with either side up, though I prefer the crispy side up.
For the sauce (this can be done in advance):
Combine all ingredients (except the citrus zest) in a high-powered blender. Work your way up from the lowest to the highest setting, and blend until smooth.
Not all bunches of parsley are a standard size, so a bit more olive oil may be necessary to get things smooth. Carefully add a little at a time directly into the blender, while blending.
Adjust flavor for salt, acid, and sweetness in the blender. Transfer sauce to a bowl, and fold in the citrus zest. You should be left with a bright green sauce that compliments many dishes.
Now all that’s left is topping your fish with this delicious sauce; enjoy!