Fine catch in winter

The Baltimore Sun

When the water is cold, the fish that swim in it taste better. That is the theory that fishmongers like Billy Isaac Martin, proprietor of Martin Seafood in Jessup, told me. "The cellular structure of fish is denser, more tender in cold water," he said. Therefore, he said, the winter is a good time to buy rockfish.

That might be a fish story, but I bought it. Rockfish, also known as striped bass, seem to me to have better flavor when the temperature drops.

In the winter, local watermen do retrieve the fish from the Chesapeake Bay, provided the weather and state rules permit it. Rockfish have rebounded from prior shortages, but there is a quota on the catch. Maryland officials monitor the catch and periodically close the commercial gill net fishery for wild striped bass for a week or two, then reopen it. Farm-raised rockfish are available year-round.

Rockfish are high in protein and vitamin B-12, but there are health concerns about the levels of mercury and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in large wild fish. The Environmental Defense Fund Web site recommends eating only farm-raised striped bass. The Maryland Department of Environment Web site says rockfish caught in Maryland waters are safe to eat if consumption is limited to once every two weeks for men, and about once a month for women and children.

rockfish tips

* Fish should have clear eyes, red gills and virtually no odor. The lateral line on a farm-raised striped bass is broken, while the line on the side of a wild rockfish is continuous. Wild fish should have a plastic tag in their mouths, identifying their origin.

* How much to buy: Fillets or steaks: 1/3 pound per person. Dressed and cleaned fish: 1/2 pound per person. Whole fish: 3/4 pound per person.

* How to cook: Broil, bake or fry. The general rule is to allow 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Fish is done when flesh is opaque and a skewer can easily move through flesh.

Sources: Consumer Guide, Maryland Department of Agriculture's Seafood Marketing Program; "Jane Brody's Good Seafood Book"

Rob Kasper

rockfish broiled the adriatic way

(serves 4)

one 3-pound striped bass with head on

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for basting

2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus more for basting

6 tablespoons fine, dry, unflavored bread crumbs

Have the whole fish cleaned and scaled. Wash it in cold water and dry thoroughly on paper towels.

Salt fish on both sides, put it on a platter and add the olive oil and lemon juice. Turn fish 2 or 3 times, coating it well. Add the bread crumbs, turning fish to coat both sides. Marinate for 1 to 2 hours in refrigerator, then bring to room temperature.

Heat oven broiler to maximum at least 15 minutes before cooking.

Put fish in an oven-proof dish and place 4 or 5 inches away from the source of the heat. Broil on both sides until done. (Cooking times vary greatly, but a 3-pound striped bass should be done in about 20 to 25 minutes. The flesh should come away easily from the bone and show no traces of raw, pink color.)

Baste the fish occasionally with lemon juice and olive oil while it broils. Serve piping hot.

From "The Classic Italian Cookbook," by Marcella Hazan

Per serving: : 508 calories, 69 grams protein, 20 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 8 grams carbohydrate, trace fiber, 243 milligrams cholesterol, 1,488 milligrams sodium

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