Scaled, gilled and gutted

Scaled, gilled and gutted

When I rode the Freedom two weekends ago to San Clemente Island, we caught a lot of blue perch.  I don’t normally catch perch, because when they are in the area, they are typically caught fishing mid-water column on smaller hooks and strips of squid.  When that scenario presents itself, I typically don’t bother, in favor of going after bigger game.  However, on that trip, they were eagerly biting whole live squid on the sliding sinker setup I was using to target calico bass.  They fought surprisingly hard and were a blast to catch.

I hadn’t eaten a perch since fishing back home in Puget Sound in Washington state.  I used to catch them off the pier at Redondo Beach (there’s one up there too) or off the shore when my family went clamming in the San Juan Islands (using a chunk of the big horse clams we didn’t eat, on a Carolina rig setup, on the rising tide).

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Pottery baker

I remembered them as good eating back home, so I decided to keep one.  I prepared it Sunday night and shared a picture on Instagram and facebook.  Several people were interested in what I did, so I’m sharing the details here.

I baked it, but inside a pottery baker, so the actual cooking process was more of a braising…super easy to do in this kind of vessel (just pop in the oven).  When you use this type of cooking vessel, you need to soak it first in water.  After soaking it, here’s how I prepared the fish.  This method yielded good results, and I’m looking forward to trying it out on other fish.  I think it will work well with a variety of white fleshed fish (whitefish, sheephead, seabass, halibut).  Let me know how it goes if you try it out.

 

Baked Perch

All the measurements are rough and are more based on the size of the vessel than any sort of hard fast rules.  Trust your instincts!  As you are pulling the rest of this together, preheat your oven at 350F.

1) Prepare the fish – I took it off the boat G&G (gut and gilled), but ask your deckhand if they can scale them too.  You’ll save yourself a lot of time (and mess).  After G&G and scaling, score the fish with some vertical cuts on each side.  Salt and pepper each side, making sure to get it into the cuts, and also in the cavity of the fish.

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Bottom layer

2) Prepare the baker – first I drizzled some olive oil on the bottom.  Then I layered in some lime sections from a couple limes.  Be sure to cut the peel off as leaving it on is going to add a bitter taste.  Next I cut some jalapeno rings from 3 peppers and put about half of it in the bottom of the baker.  Next I added 2 tbsp of ponzu, a tbsp of sesame oil, a tbsp of dried chili flakes and about a 1/4 cup of julienned ginger.

3) Add fish – next I layed the fish on top, put the rest of the jalapenos on top of it, and then put a layer of sliced tomato and lemon.  That top layer is mostly presentation, but also to keep more moisture in the fish and add moisture to the inner environment.

4) Bake – cover the cooker and bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

That’s it.  The bottom of the fish was much tastier than the top, but I really liked the presentation of opening the baker at serving time.  You open the top and release the steam and aroma, and the fish is cooked and intact.  When you serve it, you definitely want to spoon some of the sauce from the bottom of the pan on top of the fish.  You could also turn it mid-cook, if you don’t care as much about the presentation.  This one was a first try, so still a work in progress, but it should give you a good base to put your own creativity on top of it.  One other note…Eat the skin!  It adds a nice flavorful fattiness to the bite.  Enjoy!

 

 

 

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