All photos/art by Keller and Keller
For cooks and anglers alike, one of the joys of living in New England is the bounty of fish that inhabit our oceans. But it’s the summer months that bring the most excitement — that’s when the migratory species arrive, our outdoor grills are fired up, and our gardens are burgeoning with produce that begs to share the table.
Lured by warming waters, schools of striped bass and bluefish and shoals of summer flounder begin to show up, reaching their peak around August. When fall’s chill sets in, they’re off, not to return for another year, which is why they’re so prized for catching and eating.
Of all the warm-weather visitors, the summer flounder (also called fluke) is one of the most delicate-tasting. Part of the flatfish family (which includes sole), summer flounder swim on their sides and spend most of their time lying in wait for prey near the ocean floor.
Like other flatfish, summer flounder have two narrow fillets running along both sides of their backbone, thus yielding four pearly-white portions with a tender flake and mild sweetness. The average adult weighs 2 to 5 pounds and measures 17 to 25 inches long. Because of their size, combined with how they wrestle on the hook, summer flounder make a satisfying catch.
Even more dogged is the striped bass (also known as rockfish). Many fishermen consider it a trophy game fish because it fights so hard on the line and can weigh up to 100 pounds. Striped bass are named for the seven or eight horizontal stripes that run along their sides from gill to tail.
Their pinkish-white flesh has a rich, meaty sweetness and pleasing moistness owing to moderate fat content. Like cod, however, their once-abundant stocks have been diminished by overfishing and pollution; this has resulted in strict quotas (check the latest regulations from your state fish and game department).
In contrast, there’s a seemingly endless supply of bluefish. Bluefish hunt near the ocean’s surface; during a feeding frenzy, they churn the water, which makes them easy to spot. Because they tend to strike at anything that moves and fight aggressively once hooked, they make an extremely rewarding catch — and a tasty one, too! When extremely fresh, bluefish does taste fishy. Like swordfish and tuna, bluefish has a rich, beefy flavor due to the abundance of natural oils, which are healthy and keep the flesh tender and juicy.
For cooking, summer flounder deserves the lightest touch. Steaming, pan-sautéing, or broiling help keep the dainty flesh intact, while gentle seasonings preserve its fresh, clean flavor. Striped bass has a firmer texture suitable for grilling and braising, and its rich, sweet meat pairs well with piquant ingredients like tomato and garlic. Because bluefish is so unctuous, it’s particularly well suited to the grill. The sizzle and char add a pleasing smokiness to the succulent meat, which tastes fabulous with robust sauces like our garlicky herb mayonnaise.