While “farm to table” has become one of the country’s more popular culinary trends, Maryland’s Somerset County takes the concept offshore by introducing “bay to table.” The fish you catch today can be on your dinner plate tonight.
You don’t need to be a master angler to enjoy a freshly caught Chesapeake Bay dinner. You don’t need to own a boat or even a fishing rod. In Crisfield, Maryland’s southernmost city, all the elements are present to enjoy one of the region’s gastronomic treasures.
A good way to begin is by booking a half-day cruise on a “head boat,” a large, primarily open boat capable of carrying dozens of anglers. The Barbara Ann III, captained by Joe Asanovich, leaves Somers Cove Marina and prowls the reaches of Pocomoke and Tangier Sound and beyond.
Removed from the pollution and crowds of more populated waters, the southern portions of the bay are rich with fish and other aquatic life. A good captain knows where the fish are and will take passengers to prime locations.
On board, most head boats can supply appropriate tackle and bait. Many anglers come aboard wheeling coolers, picnic lunches, and gear boxes, and the atmosphere is usually very social. A diverse crowd shares space on the rail, all focused on the fishing. Families and friends fish together, and kids can enjoy learning the sport from the pros.
For David Tottes, of Newark, Del., the head boat offers an opportunity to take his two daughters and 6-year old granddaughter, Danielle, out for an enjoyable cruise. Almost immediately, Danielle started reeling in perch, Norfolk spot, and even sea trout. All of her catch went into the family’s cooler, to become part of a planned fish fry.
“I’ll deep fry the fish for seven minutes,” explained the elder Tottes. “I use hot fat and have my own secret seasoning mix.”
The Barbara Ann’s mate, J.T. Coleman, worked hard to ensure that everyone’s rods had bait and that their catches came off the hooks smoothly. A good mate is key to helping novice anglers find success.
Returning to the dock, many anglers choose to turn their catches over to Mike Mayes and his crew of fish cleaners. Mayes scrapes the scales from each fish, then deftly removes the head and viscera. His customers receive cleaned fish, ready for the grill, stove, or oven.
“It takes some practice to do this,” said Mayes. “I’ve been at it for 23 years.”
Preparing the catch
Cooking your catch can be as easy as David Tottes’ deep frying; however, chef Kathy Berezoski, of the Waterman’s Inn Restaurant, demonstrated a more complex preparation. Using a very sharp, thin-bladed knife, she filleted each fish, removing slabs of white meat from the bones.
“I want to get the most meat off without bones,” she said. “I may also remove the skin because many people do not like eating that.”
She dredged the fillets in flour and fried them in butter and lemon juice in a very hot pan, using a dash of salt and pepper, and presenting them with chopped parsley, capers, and a homemade tartar sauce.
Berezoski also mentioned that cooking the fish first can make it easier to remove the bones. She applied a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and baked the whole fish in a 350 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. The flavor was different than the fried fillets; perhaps “fishier” and less flakey in texture, but certainly delicious.
Cruising on a head boat is an ideal first step to enjoying a “bay to table” feast. Crisfield offers several head boats and charter boats that take out anglers. Many other Chesapeake Bay ports have similar fleets. Before you go, be sure that you know what the boat provides in terms of bait, tackle, ice, and refreshments.
This month’s recipe is adapted from Maryland’s seafood website, seafood.maryland.gov. Use the mix for coating fillets that you fry or bake. Proportions can easily cover a pound of fillets.
Cornmeal Dredge Mix
1/2 pound cornmeal flour
1/2 pound flour
1 tablespoon Old Bay or JO Seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
Dip fillets in an egg wash, then dredge in the mix, coating both sides of each fillet. Panfry in butter or olive oil, with a squirt of lemon juice or white wine. Finish the cooked fillets with chopped parsley and capers.