My Bluefish catch ready to be filleted with ingredients nearby
One of my favorite things to do growing up in Brooklyn was to go fishing in Jamaica Bay. My parents, having grown up in a fishing village, saw it as a way to keep me busy and a way to bring home some food to last us for a week or two. My family did not believe in the “catch and release” concept, unless you count the numerous undersize Striped Bass we let go in the 80s. Yes, I ate the fish we caught and I still have all 10 toes and have grown used to my webbed feet.
The fish here was a lot different than Istra so my family had to adapt. There were no Sardines, Branzino, Cuttlefish or Scorpion fish. Instead we had Porgy, Blackfish, Flounder and Bluefish. Out of all of these fish Bluefish was the one my family gravitated towards. Its flesh reminded them of the oily sardines and mackerel they grew up on and reacted the same way to cooking. On top of that it was one hell of a fish to catch especially when in the 10-18 lb range. Now we only caught one every other time we went out from Canarsie Pier. But once we bought a 17 foot Bayliner we were trolling up and down Jamaica Bay and bagging them like no tomorrow and giving them out to our family every weekend.
It was always a rite of passage to catch the first one of each season, usually around mid May. In the past three years I have re-ignited that rite and caught one each year surf fishing. This year I figured I would beat the chase and get on a boat. So on May 1st, the one year anniversary of my quitting smoking after 23 years, I decided the celebrate by heading out of Sheepshead Bay. I was reliving the tradition my dad taught me feeling the sea wind in my hair as we headed out to Breezy Point. Ahead of us a swarm of seagulls right over a slew of Bunker with Bluefish underneath for sure. And just like when he first took me out there when I was 8 years old I caught my first Bluefish of the season. A nice 13 lb one hitting the same jig I used 30 years ago, thanks Dad for the fish.
All the ingredients getting ready for their trip to the Dutch oven
When Erin and I first started dating she told me about how she would love if we could cook something together one night. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too into the idea at first. I tend to be a kitchen Nazi and like things done my way or you aint eating, I’m slowly working on overcoming that. But being that I wanted to make her happy, and we were still in that impressionistic phase, I said “Sure, lets give it a try, what do you have in mind”, with my most reassuring voice. At that point she proceeds to pull out this small pink leather cookbook that her mom had put together for her when Erin moved to NYC and says “Let’s take a look in here!”
I was in awe when I opened it. It was a collection of recipes her mom had perfected and written by hand into the pink lined note book. First off I was impressed, the penmanship was out of control, not like my mom’s scribble (we’ll leave that for another time). Second, there were so many different recipes that sounded so good and you can tell they were tried and tested. As we were flipping through it one recipe popped out right away… Cioppino. I looked over at Erin and I just let her know “We are gonna rock through this recipe together tomorrow afternoon!” with the excitement of a fat kid in a candy store. Erin seemed just as excited telling me it was one of her favorite dishes, as it is mine. Just then I realized maybe this wasn’t gonna be so bad after all.
The dish originates in San Francisco, it’s beginnings attributed to Istrian & Venetian fisherman who worked the SF Bay and would “chip in” their random scraps of seafood they couldn’t sell at the end of their long days. They took these scraps and would make a spicy tomato based stew that was reminiscent of Istrian & Northern Italian seafood brodetto. Side Note: The most authentic Cioppino is served in SF at Istrian run Tadich Grill, yeah my people are all over this dish. This of course is a match made in heaven for me. Fresh fish, shell fish, spicy broth with just enough of a brine to remind you that this is what the ocean should taste like.