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The Bluefish, Ocean Challenge

The ubiquitous east coast bluefish is a monster, a predator, a giant piranha. Growing to twenty pounds and foraging in huge packs, bluefish with friendly-fire bite marks are often caught by saltwater fishermen.

Bait fish are so terrorized by bluefish that they will throw themselves up on a beach to escape them.

Bluefish are tough, and aggressive. They bite lures and bait readily, usually bringing a smile at the tug and then a grimace to the face of the fisherman. Pulling a hook on a bluefish that you intend to release unharmed is a bit of a delicate maneuver, because bluefish will just as readily bite off your nearest finger as they will stare at you with their devilish yellow eyes.

While they do put up a fun fight, bluefish are notoriously fishy tasting and difficult to make into a meal that will satisfy most fish eaters.

Having eaten bluefish since I was a kid, I have seen them baked, fried, broiled, and pickled in a variety of recipes that have to one degree or another addressed that fishy taste.

Last week I returned home from a successful fishing outing with about fifty pounds of bluefish filets (and 30 pounds of whiter meat from another more desirable game fish).

Having so much material to work with, I was able to experiment widely.

Some of the bluefish filets were baked, some broiled, some were smoked.

For baking, any way with any ingredients, I learned that bathing the filet in lemon juice for at least 45 minutes before baking got rid of 95% of the fishy smell and taste. A good cup of lemon juice poured over a filet, which is then laid face down in the juice to marinate. Some Rosemary and salt, and then after 45 minutes or longer, it’s ready to bake with butter or sauce. The lemon juice can be used with it.

Speaking of sauce, I made a sauce of spicy brown mustard and worcestshire sauce mixed together. About two ounces of each. Then pour it over the filet and broil at 500 for fifteen minutes or until it’s turning dark brown.

It was delicious.

For smoking, I found that again, brining with not just salt and sugar, as usual for fish, but also with lemon juice added, for at least 24 hours, got rid of 95% of the fishy taste.

Probably the best post-brining addition was adding lots of Old Bay over the more or less pickled fish; it also added a lot of flavor.

I’ve done a bunch of batches of smoked bluefish and I think I’ve finally discovered how to get the best tasting result, consistently. Never before did I have so much meat to experiment with and I can’t imagine too many other people willing to spend the amount of time trying to overcome the bluefish challenge.

By the way, I did remove the brown meat from the lateral line in one batch, and it made a small but noticeable improvement.

So there you have it, new recipes and processing procedures for bluefish from Central Pennsylvania. Probably the last time that bluefish were eaten so heartily along the banks of the Susquehanna River would have been three hundred years ago, when up-river striped bass migrations would have brought the Susquehannocks and other local Indian tribes into direct contact with saltwater fish and trade for smoked fish from the northern Chesapeake Bay. I am pleased to continue in that tradition.

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