Ode to Blackfish

Ode to Blackfish 1 Ronald HalweilA 1907 article from the Automobile and Sporting News section of The New York Times printed the following anonymous poem about the tautog or blackfish:

Wherever kelp and seaweed cling
To ramparts formed of rugged rocks,
The tautog finds a dwelling place,
Down deep in waters at their base.

The article went on to sing the praises of this challenging angler’s adversary. The wily and powerful creature (the larger specimens are dubbed “bulldogs”) lives among rocks and shipwrecks, and, when hooked, generally dives for such shelter. The result (whether or not it’s intended by the fish is unclear) is often that the line is severed on the jagged ocean bottom or that the line snaps from the fish’s stubbornness.

But the fish is also special from a cook’s point of view. Like sea robin and wrasse—central ingredients in bouillabaisse—the blackfish dines primarily on lobster, clams, oysters, mussels and other shellfish, giving blackfish stew a particularly nuanced flavor.

Pioneering North Fork chef John Ross, now executive chef at the Olde Vine Golf Course in Riverhead, sings the fish’s praises in his recent book, The Food and Wine of the North Fork: Historical Anecdotes and Recipes:

“The blackfish is a chef ’s kind of fish that has a distinctive North Fork personality. Sometimes it is confused with the elegant and pricey black sea bass more common in South Fork restaurants, but it bears no relation. The blackfish, or tautog, is a blue-collar fish that has a firm texture, mild taste, and modest price (usually). It is caught by fishermen from Nova Scotia to South Carolina, but has been a staple of North Fork cuisine for years. It is most plentiful in the spring and fall.

“Along with monkfish, blackfish is excellent for stews and chowders. Just cut it into two-inch chunks and brown it in oil like you would with beef stew. It is also delicious when pan seared and finished in the oven. Because of its firm texture it can handle many seasonings and marinades. At Ross’s North Fork Restaurant, it was most popular when coated with aioli sauce and shredded potatoes and roasted in the oven. The rich, garlicky sauce and robust potatoes were perfect complements.”

by John Ross, The Food and Wine of the North Fork: Historical Anecdotes and Recipes, 2005

2 T. olive oil
1 c. each of thinly sliced onions, fennel, leeks
2 lb. blackfish
2 c. white wine
A bay leaf
6 parsley stems and chopped parsley for garnish
1 c. each of pearl onions, baby carrots, parsnips
1 c. sautéed mushrooms
1 c. aioli from minced garlic, mayonnaise, lemon juice 2 egg yolks

1. Heat olive oil in sauté pan. Add 1 cup each of thinly sliced onions, fennel, and leeks. Cover and cook at low heat for 5 minutes.

2. Add blackfish cut into 2” chunks. Add white wine, bay leaf and 6 parsley stems. Simmer until fish is just cooked. Set fish aside.

3. Reduce broth and strain if desired. Add 1 cup of pearl onions, baby carrots, and parsnips. Simmer until just tender. Add sautéed mushrooms.

4. Make aioli sauce by combining minced garlic with mayonnaise and lemon juice. Blend 2 egg yolks with 1⁄2 cup aioli sauce and stir into broth.

5. Bring back to a simmer (do not boil) and add cooked fish. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with remaining aioli sauce on side.

by John Ross, The Food and Wine of the North Fork: Historical Anecdotes and Recipes, 2005

2 lb. blackfish
1/4 c. miso
1/4 c. soy sauce
1/2 c. mirin
1 T. sugar
1 c. minced scallion
1 T. grated ginger
1 qt. fresh chicken stock
1/2 c. each of carrots and turnips
4 oz. soba noodles
olive oil

1. Cut blackfish into 2” chunks.

2. Combine miso with soy sauce, mirin, sugar, minced scallion and grated ginger. Pour marinade over fish and let rest for 1 hour.

3. Heat chicken stock and strain marinade into it.

4. Dry fish with paper towel and pan sear with a little olive oil until just cooked. Remove and set aside.

5. Julienne carrots, turnips and scallion. Add to sauté pan with a little oil and cook briefly.

6. Cook soba noodles in boiling water for about 3 minutes and drain.

7. Place noodles in pasta bowl and put fish on top. Garnish with julienned vegetables and pour miso broth over all. Garnish with pickled ginger.