During Lent, abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory among Catholics. This is good news for the fish mongers, and lucky for us New Jersey has six major commercial fishing ports: Atlantic City, Barnegat Light, Belford, Cape May, Point Pleasant and Port Norris.
In 2006, Cape May was the third largest commercial fishing port on the East Coast in terms of volume, bringing in 89 million pounds worth $46.3 million.
Since I happen to live in one of our major commercial fishing ports, it was a quick trip to my local fish store for the catch of the day and an unexpected tour of the operation. Chef/Owner Richard Brecka of Shore Fresh in Point Pleasant Beach is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Although to look at him, you might think that he spends his hours on one of the day boats moored behind his store.
Rubber boots and gloves are the uniform of choice when your walk-in refrigerator opens out to the Fishermen’s Dock Cooperative, one of two active fishing cooperatives in New Jersey.
You don’t get any fresher fish than this, folks.
On Chef Brecka’s suggestion, my fish of choice was the black sea bass caught only six hours earlier. Sharing the chilly refrigerated room were freshly caught whiting, mackerel, bluefish, porgies, fluke and many boxes of yellowtail flounder, which were headed to the airport.
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, New Jersey is one of the leading suppliers of surf clams, Atlantic mackerel and ocean quahogs to both the nation and the world.
Chef Brecka explained as he held each fish up for my camera, that we Americans are very wasteful when it comes to fish. In other countries, the eyes, liver, cheeks, tails and skin are all considered delicious delicacies. Here in the U.S., according to a 2006 survey, our top two marine species consumed were shrimp and canned tuna.
Now, that’s just embarrassing.
It’s time to dive in, learn more about the native fish caught every day off of our shore and get more adventuresome with how we cook fish at home. No, I didn’t cook up the eyeballs and invite the neighbors, but I tried a new fish that turned out to be delicious and it cooked up in about eight minutes. Now that’s fast food.
Black Sea Bass alla’ Puttanesca
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
3 Anchovy Fillets in oil
4 Cloves Garlic, chopped
2 (15 ounce) cans Tomatoes, diced or mix of cherry and diced.
1 tsp. Dried Oregano
¼ tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
1 tsp. Salt
½ tsp. Pepper
¼ Cup Red Wine
2 Black Sea Bass Filets
1 Tbs. Capers
1 Cup Cauliflower Florets (roasted)* optional
½ Cup Chopped Parsley
½ lb. Pasta of choice
Fresh Parmesan for grating over top
Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water (2 1/2 Tbsp salt for 6 quarts water) until barely al dente.
While pasta boils, sauté garlic, anchovies, red-pepper flakes and oregano in olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until anchovies melt, about 2 minutes.
Add tomatoes, salt and pepper and red wine to pan and gently stir for 2 minutes. Add fish fillets skin side up and nestle into sauce. Cover and cook four minutes. Flip fish over gently and cook for another 4 minutes and remove promptly and carefully.
Add capers, olives and sauce. Simmer, turning pasta with tongs, another 2 minutes or until pasta is done to your liking. Plate pasta then place fish on top and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with sprinkled Parmesan.
* I had roasted Cauliflower on hand so I added it to the dish. I think it adds a nice contrast of colors and some added veggies which is always a good thing.
Deborah Smith is the executive editor of Jersey Bites, a collaborative website of food writers in New Jersey. They write about restaurants, recipes, food news, food products, events, hunger relief programs and anything else that tickles their taste buds.