Rock the stuff that fine meals are made of

On the Outdoors

November 09, 1995|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

Two hours earlier, the pair of stripers had been chasing baitfish across the 15-foot flats at the mouth of the Severn River, feeding heavily. But now the matched pair of 23-inchers lay on a countertop in the kitchen, surrounded by the trappings that mark a successful day of fishing.

Salt. White pepper. Flour. Lemon. Butter. An egg. Dry mustard. Paprika. A clove of garlic. Six baking potatoes. Three yellow squash. Mayonnaise and a pound of fresh lump backfin crabmeat.

Two hours earlier, the rockfish, in their own right efficient, ruthless predators, had been feeding on the large numbers of 2- to 4-inch menhaden making their way toward the open bay -- until each tried to ingest the white banjo-eye bucktails and chartreuse twister tails trolled 5 feet below the surface.

Now they lay scaled, cleaned and rinsed and about to nourish four predators higher in the food chain.

The easy way would have been to fillet the fish, salt and pepper the fillets, slip them under the broiler and baste with a mix of lemon juice and butter.

But you can do that in February with frozen slabs of flounder or orange roughy.

Rockfish of this size deserve to be stuffed with crabmeat and broiled four inches from the burner for 30 minutes to an hour, or until the meat is moist and steamy and flakes easily at the touch of a fork.

To fix stuffed rockfish, fold a teaspoon and a half of dry mustard, three quarters of a cup of mayonnaise and salt and white pepper to taste into a pound of fresh crabmeat (halve the ingredients for one fish), after the crab has been picked over to remove the last of the shell left by the commercial pickers. Set the crab meat mix aside.

Rinse and pat dry the body cavity. Season the cavity with salt and pepper and let stand while the broiler is turned on and brought up to temperature. The potatoes, holed in three or four places by a fork or a skewer, should be put in the oven at this point as well.

Cover the bottom of a suitable baking pan with a quarter of an inch of cooking oil, and place it under the broiler to heat the oil.

While the oil is heating, place the crab mix in the oven, six or more inches away from the broiler element or burner and cook for three or four minutes.

While the crabmeat warms, dampen one side of the fish with water or milk and coat with flour lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

Remove the crabmeat from the oven, fill the body cavity of the fish with the crabmeat, spread a thin layer of mayonnaise over the exposed layer of crab and sprinkle paprika on top of the mayonnaise.

Either loosely sew the body cavity closed or use skewers, but leave the crabmeat exposed, so that it will cook through.

Place the fish in the baking pan, flour side down. The flour will help keep the fish from sticking to the bottom of the pan and breaking apart once it is lifted out.

Place the pan in the oven, three or four inches from the broiler (closer for smaller fish, which will cook more quickly than larger fish).

l While the fish cooks, baste frequently with oil from the bottom of the pan to keep the fish from charring and breaking open.

While the fish is under the broiler, and in between bastings, slice the squash and steam them to desired crispness. Drain the water from the pot, add a tablespoon of butter, a -- or two each of salt and pepper and the garlic clove, finely minced. Cook over minimal heat until the garlic becomes translucent.

When the fish flakes away from the bones in deep chunks, and while it still shows moisture while doing so, it is done.

Pull the fish from the broiler and the spuds from the oven, serve the squash and enjoy.

Leave the lemon on the counter, uncut. Fresh rockfish is far better without it.

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