SKINNING IS PRACTICALLY a necessity if you want to take the "blues" out of large bluefish. However skinning smaller blues is practically impossible for anyone who isn't adept with a cleaning knife.
The large blues of 10 pounds or more have left the Chesapeak for points farther up the coast, replaced by smaller ones of 1 1/2 to four pounds. It's generally considered that they taste best skinned, but separating these miniatures from their skin is difficult and messy.
But, 10 years ago Howard Countian George Fiackos alerted thi writer to an easy solution, which came to mind the other day when I was about to start cleaning some fish. Scaling blues is simple, and thanks to Fiackos that's what I did -- and in no time at all. After scaling, Fiackos leaves the skin on the fish and marinates them for delicious results.
"I guarantee those who marinate their blues before cooking wil never bad mouth them again," said Fiackos when he called that day. Then he told of the simple process he learned from his father who used it for most fish. I tried it promptly and was pleased with the results.
I could distinguish the difference; the results were as tasty as skinned blue. Incidentally, blues of up to about 1 1/2 pounds don't need any special treatment other than scaling and cleaning. They have not been around long enough to accumulate the dark red fat along the outer side of their flesh.
There's a simple formula with blues. The larger they are, th more oily or fatty the taste. It's referred to by many as "fishy."
Marinating is the key to the Fiackos method for producing filets steaks and dressed fish with skins intact. And by leaving the skin on, the blue is perfect for grilling on the outdoor cooker. A skinned filet often breaks up on the grid of a grill.
So here's what you do. Scale the fish first. To do so after it ha been cleaned makes scaling tougher. Scale, rinse, then remove the insides, head and tail. Rinse again thoroughly. Sprinkle each piece liberally with salt, then squeeze fresh lemon over it.
Layer them in a large non-metallic bowl. Cover with a lid, an refrigerate overnight if possible. If not, a couple hours is sufficient for a small blue, but overnight is best -- if you have the time. Of course, if you are about to dine on fish caught that day, less marinating time is needed. The fresher the fish, the less the fishy taste, though with blues you can't expect a large one to lack a fatty tasty even if popped into the pan almost straight from the hook.
One more thing about the Fiackos method. It is important tha the lemon juice be fresh or frozen -- none of that reconstituted stuff from a bottle or squeezable container.
Curiously, Fiackos advised against rinsing the flesh befor cooking. And, if the fish are to be frozen, he advised following the same procedure before wrapping and freezing. He said they would retain flavor and texture for up to nine months -- though I do not freeze blues. I have found that fatty fish simply do not freeze as well as the non-fatty varieties .
But, perhaps, it's a reasonable procedure for those who insist o freezing for another time.
Generally, blues of over 12 inches are not considered among th best for frying because of their fat content -- no fatty fish is -- but Fiackos claimed his procedure overcomes that. So, I tried it, and the results weren't bad. Nothing like fried rockfish or perch, mind you, but good.
I used filets from fish of about three pounds, and used Fiackos simple beer batter recipe. Or try the grilling recipe below, after following Fiackos' marinating instructions.
Fiackos Beer Batter
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
Enough beer to create a wet batter
Mix all ingredients together. After immersing the filets in th marinade, fry in two-inches of hot cooking oil until golden brown. You might want to lightly sprinkle the fish first with a black seafood seasoning.
Brush the fish with mayonnaise, or perhaps a spicy mustard, sprinkle lightly with a black seafood seasoning (a red one will overwhelm it), then pop on the grill and cook until one side is done, freshen the mustard or mayonnaise on the top side, then turn the fish and cook the freshly basted side. Enjoy.