Three or four summers ago I was standing in water up to my knees on a sandbar known as Horseshoe Shoal in the middle of Barnstable Harbor, that long shark-shaped body of water that swims between the shores of Sandy Neck to the north and the town of Barnstable to the south on Cape Cod. As I watched, a flock of seabirds raced down the channel that passes between the sandbar and Sandy Neck. The birds swooped and cried, strafing a line across the water with their beaks as precise as a squadron of P-51 Mustangs. Then I saw it, a deep slate discoloration below the channel surface, an undulating gray movement that fragmented into hundreds of individual fish as it flashed by me. I wasn’t the only one to take notice. Small boats stopped in the channel, people rising to stand, hands shading eyes. “Blues!” a man cried, waving and pointing. It was August and the bluefish were running. For anglers and eaters on Cape Cod, only striped bass equal the pleasures of bluefish. Stripers taste more delicate, but bluefish fight harder. This week’s dish: Bluefish with Dukkah, Tomatoes and Garlic Yogurt.
Bluefish, contrary to popular impression, is not a “fishy” fish–not like, say, mackeral or fresh sardines–but it is rich, and in combination with its meaty texture I can understand why some people think of it as fishy. The flavor of so much white fleshed fish is delicate to the point of neurasthenic ghostliness; in the absence of directed attention it fades away, or vanishes into the olfactory ether. Not bluefish. A mouthful of bluefish refuses to be ignored. Bluefish is enhanced by agrodolce, loves hot sauce, but is also just perfect with a few herbs, some oil, salt and pepper. In fact, bluefish responds a lot like beef–good with, good without, willing to stand on its own or play with others. Which is why we’ve combined it with another seasonal highlight, tomatoes. And dukkah. The recipe is two-step with the oven: first you roast the fish with the dukkah, then you brush a bit of oil over the partially cooked fish and add the tomatoes before returning everything to the oven to finish. The garlic yogurt provides a tart, spicy foil to the fish’s richness.
For the uninitiated, dukkah is an Egyptian toasted seed and nut mixture built around a core of coriander and sesame seeds. It makes an excellent coating for cooked meats or seafood, tastes great sprinkled on salads, or when added to steel-cut oats with leftover roasted vegetables and a poached egg for a killer breakfast. In its traditional context it’s consumed by dipping a piece of pita bread into olive oil, then into the dukkah. If you’re the kind of person who likes preserved lemons, you’re going to love dukkah* and you can find out how to make it in a previous post here. If you’re not that kind of person, or don’t have time to be that person, then I suggest that you prepare an equal amount of chopped toasted almonds mixed a half teaspoon of toasted and crushed fennel seeds in place of the dukkah. Don’t ask me if you can use sole in place of bluefish. You can’t. We’re talking about the running of the blues. Enjoy. Ken
*Make the dukkah. You can’t imagine how, like preserved lemons, it will carve a niche into your cooking and eating life so profound you’ll wonder how you lived without it.
Bluefish with Dukkah, Tomatoes and Garlic Yogurt
- 8 ounces Greek yogurt
- 1 small garlic clove
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pint small tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
- 1 tablespoon chiffonaded mint leaves (see photos–thinly sliced), save a few top sprigs for garnish
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil4 5-ounce pieces bluefish fillets
- <¼ cup dukkah, plus additional dukkah for garnish (or chopped toasted almonds with a 1/2 teaspoon of crushed toasted fennel seeds)
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Preheat a broiler.
- Put the yogurt into a small bowl. Using a fine microplane, grate the garlic into the yogurt and then stir it in. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate, ideally for several hours or even the day before.
- Cut the tomatoes in half and toss in a bowl with the chopped herbs and a splash of oil. Season with salt and pepper.
- Score the skin side of each piece of bluefish with 3 slashes to make a shallow cut into the flesh. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Brush both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle dukkah over the flesh side of the fish and press into the fish. Flip the pieces and spoon a little dukkah into the slashes. Don’t leave a lot of stray dukkah sitting exposed on the skin–it can burn under the broiler.
- Set the fish, skin side up in an oiled gratin dish.
- Set the pan 6 inches below the flame of the broiler. Cook until the skin begins to crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and distribute the tomatoes around the fish. Brush the skin with more oil if it seems dry. Return the dish to the oven and broil until the meat is cooked to medium and the tomatoes start to char, about 6 minutes.
- Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar, garnish with herb sprigs and serve the yogurt and remaining dukkah on the side.
When I first started serving bluefish at Rialto, I was told it would never sell. “It’s too oily, too fishy.” Bluefish was a last resort–you only ate it if you couldn’t afford anything else. In Massachusetts cod was king, thank you very much. Where cod is white, flaky and mild, bluefish is dark, rich, and meaty. Those same characteristics are what make bluefish so much more fun for chefs–it’s tasty. I was stubborn, I made my staff talk about bluefish with our customers, and order by order the requests for bluefish began to climb. Eventually a July rolled around when bluefish even out-sold steak.
If you’ve been following us for awhile you know that a day without dukkah just doesn’t feel right to me. Behind garlic and fresh green herbs, dukkah is the most frequent seasoning I use at home. I put it on everything. Bluefish welcomes the rich and complex flavor of dukkah. Puglians introduced me to the technique of using red and green tomatoes together in order to balance sweetness with acidity. Together, along with a bit of tart yogurt, they prevent the fish from becoming too rich.
In my first restaurant job we used an old fashioned monster broiling grill. An overhead flame heated the grill, which we would pull out on rollers (think of a morgue drawer). We’d set a steak on the grill, muscle the thing back beneath the flame and wait while it cooked. We’d have to keep pulling the grill out to turn the steaks—great for upper body strength. These days most restaurants use salamanders, industrial-strength broilers. In Italy and France it’s quite common to cook fish cooked under salamanders in restaurants but in recent years I’ve hardly seen it all in the states. I’m not sure why. Do we think it’s cheating because it’s so easy? I love using the broiler at home, particularly if you use the same pan for cooking and serving. There’s so much less to clean up.
Thank you. Ken
Thank you! That looks delicious :)
It’s pretty tasty. Ken
I know what I’m making for supper tonight! YUM!! Thank you!
From: The Garum Factory <email@example.com> Reply-To: The Garum Factory <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Friday, August 29, 2014 6:30 AM To: Charlotte Davis <email@example.com> Subject: [New post] Bluefish with Dukkah, Tomatoes and Garlic Yogurt
Jody and Ken posted: ” Three or four summers ago I was standing in water up to my knees on a sandbar known as Horseshoe Shoal in the middle of Barnstable Harbor, that long shark-shaped body of water that swims between the shores of Sandy Neck to the north and the town of Barn”
Hi, Charlotte. How nice to hear from you. I think you guys will like this – and you know where to get everything. :-) Ken
We can’t wait to try this recipe, but here’s a special thanks to Ken (I think it’s Ken!) for today’s writing: from the “shark-shaped body of water” to “neurasthenic ghostliness,” it was an extra layer of deliciousness and spice over the top of the dish itself. Salud!
Haha! Thank you. It’s Ken. I had to stop myself or the post would have been peopled with “piscine wraiths” too. Ken
so beautiful to look at, second only to eating or making it?!
Thank you. Photographing certain foods is certainly a treat. Bluefish begs to be photographed, as do tomatoes; there’s so much to explore in both of them, before and after cooking. And the reward is getting to eat them afterward. Ken
P.S. Your photos are great.
Kind of you to say so, Ken, I can only dream to be a wizard like you one day ;-)
Beautiful as always. This recipe really speaks to me. I love bluefish and I liked reading about how it became popular in the restaurant. The two kinds of tomatoes are just stunning and I have never had dukkah, which is ridiculous because I think one of my favorite flavors in the world is whole coriander seeds. One more to try! Thank you :)
You’re definitely a dukkah person (we recognize each other). If you go back to our earlier post you’ll also get a great recipe for caramelized cauliflower that will get you off on the right foot. And after, you’ll a supply of dukkah to play with. Ken
Ha! Glad you see it in me. I’ll make it this week! And see if the monger carries blue. :)
I don’t think I’ve ever eaten bluefish but now I’m longing to try. What fabulous photographs – I’m sitting here drooling over my keyboard in a very unseemly fashion. Love the idea of mixing up red and green tomatoes for the sweet/tart contrast too. And dukkah. Sorry, have to go and find a tissue now …
Conor said the same thing–not ever had bluefish. Supposedly they live in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one served in Italy or France. I suspect they’re more of an eastern Med fish. Let me know if you find them. With some fiddling you could adapt this recipe to Spanish mackerel, but I really hope you find bluefish. I’ll leave you to tissues now. :-) Ken
P.S. Thought of you this past week – found a great source for pork chops from heritage breed pigs for us to play with in coming weeks.
I did actually look them up and I’ve never seen them in the Med, although I’m a bit of a dunce about fish so I probably wouldn’t know one if it smacked me in the face.
The pork sounds wonderful – looking forward to seeing what you do with it. xxx
It looks delicious and the pictures are absolutely beautiful!! Have a lovely weekend both of you :)
Thank you. Your onion soup is still on my to-cook list. Ken
The only local market that usually carries blues has been… Market Basket! Now that the $$$$ machinations are settled, here’s hoping they restock this wonderful and tasty fish. Great and timely recipe…. or I’m not the Dukkah Earl.
Ha! It would make sense that MB would carry bluefish–it’s cheap–or used to be, and is still relatively so. I used to go to the one in Somerville for frozen PEELED fava beans, which were also ridiculously cheap. Good luck with the recipe. Ken
Never had bluefish. I like to mix it up. Here in Ireland, the cod is king, despite huge overfishing. However, stocks are recovering in the North Atlantic. I like to try as many varieties as freshness allows (hate frozen). This is really beautiful looking and mouthwatering. I love how you have gone big on flavour with the more ‘fishy’ fish.
Best to you both,
After finishing college I ate a lot of cod. At the time, its price was pretty much the same as ground beef. Now it’s gotten much more expensive, and to be honest I feel a bit guilty eating it. The 2012 NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries assessment of the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank fishing grounds showed Atlantic cod recovering much more slowly than anticipated and 2013 catch levels in the Maine was cut by almost 80% to help improve the situation. That said, I do like cod, although I much prefer it salted. Guess I’m the kind of cook and eater who likes big flashy flavors. Ken
I have never had bluefish!!! I mean, obviously not in Oklahoma, but wherever we’ve travelled! It sounds like I would definitely love it – like a white version of salmon, perhaps? Love the way you describe it, like beef. Such beautiful photos, as always. I must make dukkah. It’s been on my list forever.
Hi, Mimi–You could do the same thing with another thick fillet, like salmon or striped bass and it would work (I’d go for the striper). The flavor bluefish is more pronounced–and just different– than salmon, but I think you’d still like it. Dukkah, well, ’nuff said. Ken
This is such beautiful writing. Neurasthenic ghostliness is such an amazingly apt way to describe some white fish. I devoured this post. Sophie
I’m glad you appreciated it, Sophie. Thank you. Ken
Looks lovely. I’ve never come across Bluefish – can you think of something similar here in the UK – maybe grey mullet or is it more swordfish in consistency? Dukkah is fab although I can’t say I use it much. Maybe I should follow suit and use it my on fish going forward. Am thinking jars of homemade dukkah could make rather good christmas gifts ;o)
Try sprinkling it on soft-boiled eggs with a splash of fish sauce and Sriracha, over omelets or as a final fillip of something nice on seafood risotto. An I think it would a great Xmas present. Regarding bluefish, I think the closest thing would be something like Spanish mackerel. We’ve used it with swordfish, salmon (baked, not broiled) and sprinkled atop grilled tuna. I’m unfamiliar with gray mullet, unfortunately, so I can’t advise. Ken
This looks so incredible and I just love your photography! AWESOME blog!
Thank you, Loshiro. I’m glad you found us. We try to keep things interesting. Ken
I’ve never had this fish but this combination sounds amazing. And look at those beautiful green tomatoes. Oh my. Just want to reach into the screen.
Something else to do with green tomatoes before they disappear. Bluefish is great! Thanks. Ken
Wow, yum! I’ve never thought of trying white fish with dukkah, and I’ve never tried bluefish at all (hard to when you’re almost 6hrs away from the coastline). I know you said not to ask about replacing bluefish with sole, but based on my location I think I’m simply going to have to try it with another more locally available fish :) Thank you for this beautiful recipe, and you’re photos are incredible!
Sorry. Don’t know how I missed this. Of course, you work with what you can get. You might want to consider trying the recipe with salmon, if possible. You want as meaty and alternative to bluefish as possible. Good luck, and thanks for the kind words about the recipe and photos. Ken
Thanks Ken. I love salmon and it’s readily available here, so I’ll be sure to try it with this recipe. thanks again :)