Food writer and cooking instructor Christine Rudalevige is a mother of two who recently navigated a family move from agriculturally rich central Pennsylvania to coastal Maine. Eating locally now means more fish on the dinner table. In this biweekly column, Fish on Fridays, she explores family-friendly ways to enjoy sustainable seafood.
Today, Christine turns to Maine fishermen's wives for advice on cooking redfish, a.k.a. lobster bait.
Photo by Linda Xiao
I picked up a sage piece of culinary advice last weekend. I’d driven about three miles south -- it may be east, actually, as I am still trying to get my internal compass calibrated to the comings and goings of the jagged Maine coastline -- but anyway, it felt as if I was driving south down one of the many narrow pieces of land that jut out into the Casco Bay just south of where I live here in Brunswick, looking for lobster.
As the young woman in front of the lobster tank at Gurnet Trading Co. fished out the eight lobsters we’d be dining on later that day, I got into a conversation with Marie Cuffin, a seasoned cook at this particular lobster shack about the correct ratio of Maine peekytoe rock crab to filler in a northern crab cake.
“Well, you know what they say: If you want to know how to cook any kind of fish, ask a fisherman’s wife,” said Coffin as she pulled down a copy of the Maine Fishermen’s Wives Association Cookbook, circa 1998. I tacked the price of one of the books onto my lobster bill.
The index offers up listings for all the sustainable fishes I’ve been looking to get to know better over the last six months: bluefish, hake, mackerel, mussels, scallops, and even one for this week’s featured seafaring protein: redfish.
Redfish -- also called ocean perch -- are slow-growing, deep-water fish that yield small, flaky white fillets for which there is not all that much demand (fishermen here only pulled in 22% of their federally allowable catch of redfish in 2010). In fact, more often than not, these fish are used as lobster bait. What does get processed for human consumption is mostly shipped to the Midwest where there is a slightly bigger market for redfish, which reached its peak of popularity in the 1940s and '50s when the military fed a lot of it to the troops.
I’d first heard about redfish from a chef who had taken part in the Gulf Of Maine Research Institute’s Out of of the Blue sustainable seafood marketing program. In all, from June through November, 28 restaurants and institutional dining facilities in southern Maine and northern New Hampshire featured in rotation lesser-known or underappreciated species like redfish and pollock that were harvested from the Gulf of Maine to help raise awareness about them.
The redfish was prepared in the simple meunière style at Portland’s Petite Jacqueline. 555’s Steve Corry amused Portland diners with his "one fish, two fish, redfish, blue fish dish," a combination of dill-smoked New England bluefish, redfish mousseline, a crispy red skin cracker, shaved celery salad, and just-charred lemon.
The Serrano-Wrapped Redfish served at the Sea Glass restaurant at the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, Maine (photo courtesy of the Inn by the Sea)
At Sea Glass, housed at the Inn By the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, chef Mitchell Kaldrovich served serrano-wrapped roasted redfish with lobster and seafood salpicon, roasted oyster mushrooms, and salsa verde (pictured above). Chef Sam Hayward at Fore Street in Portland changed it up, roasting it whole in the wood-burning oven one evening, pan-searing filets the next, slicing it raw and serving it chilled as an appetizer the next.
I missed all of these dishes when they were in rotation at the restaurants, so I indeed needed to turn to the fishermen’s wives. It being the holiday season, the color scheme of the redfish with green grapes recipe on page 23 caught my eye. I’ve modified it a bit, cutting out both the roux and the heavy cream to lighten the dish. The still-crisp pop of the barely sautéed grapes is a festive twist on a basic dish of whitefish cooked in wine, shallots, and butter.
I’ll certainly be asking the fishermen’s wives for more ideas in the new year.
Redfish with Sautéed Green Grapes
This recipe has been adapted from one published in the Maine Fishermen's Wives Association Seafood Cookbook, Volume I (Olathe, KS Cookbook Publishers; 1998)
1 pound redfish fillets
Salt and pepper
3 Tablespoons butter, divided
1 cup of seedless green grapes
2 Tablespoons minced shallots
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup fish stock (basic fish stock recipe here)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Like this post? See Christine's previous topic: The Feast of the Seven (Sustainable) Fishes.
Christine Rudalevige is a food writer, culinary instructor at Stonewall Kitchen, and mother of two who always fits in three square meals a day -- which occasionally means making up for a skipped breakfast with an ample late-night refrigerator raid.