As noted in my recent post, They Went Turkey Hunting, my brother, his daughter and I caught some stripers last weekend in Maine. We killed two legal bass to eat. Striped bass are delicious if you’ve never savored them previously. The meat is white, mild, and if properly cooked, very moist. My brother filleted his bass that was barely under the legal maximum size limit for Maine; the fish taped 25-7/8”. Bass over 26” and less than 20” must be released alive at once. You can keep a striper over 40″ but not two fish. It is also illegal to keep stripers alive on a stringer or in a live-well to “high-grade” for a larger fish. I think this restrictive slot size and one-fish limit regulation should be adopted for striped bass along the entire east coast.
Partly to save my brother the work of filleting a second fish, I suggested to him that he could leave it whole, just to gut it and remove the head and tail. We did this outdoors on a linoleum-covered work table. It was convenient because we simply used the garden hose to rinse everything off. After preparing the whole fish thusly, we placed it on ice packs in the fridge. Another reason I suggested this to him was that when filleting fish, there is still a fair amount of meat left on the skeleton. After we looked at the estimated half-pound or so of meat left on the bones, and these fish had a spine as big as your index finger, I said, “You should throw that in a pot and cook it down. There’s a lot of meat on there. That’ll make a great stock for fish chowder.”
Larry agreed, so I went in the house and returned with a pot. Fifteen minutes later the kitchen smelled really good from the aroma of that bass simmering and cooking off. It yielded a couple quarts of broth along with the meat.
I planned to bake my striper for dinner on Tuesday evening at my daughter’s in Granby, Connecticut. I had never baked a striped bass before, but I wasn’t scared.
Larry and I discussed that stuffing it would help make it cook more uniformly, since the thinner rib cage meat would definitely dry out as the rest of the thicker body of the fish cooked to the proper degree of doneness. Here is the recipe I concocted and cooking instructions:
Stuffed Striped Bass
1-1/2 C – stuffing of bread or cracker crumbs, or a mixture of both
¼ to 1/3 C – finely chopped carrot, celery, and onion, mixed
Spices to suit: I used lemon pepper, paprika, salt, basil, parsley, rosemary, and marjoram – a pinch of each to taste.
2 T olive oil
Preheat oven to 375 F. Sauté carrot, celery, and onion in olive oil on medium heat for a minute. Add 1 or 2 tsp butter too, if desired. Add spices. Sauté a few minutes more until the vegetables become a little soft. Mix well with the crumb stuffing. I did not use an egg to bind it together but this might have been helpful. If an egg is used, beat it well prior to adding to stuffing mix.
My daughter Kim, mixed cracker crumbs and bread crumbs together. She made the bread crumbs from some kind of days-old artisan bread from Panera.
Place foil on large baking dish or sheet. Place striper on foil. Add stuffing. Cover with another sheet of foil, folding the edges to seal it. Put in oven. Bake 45- 50 minutes.
When placed on the table to serve, use a fork to remove the dorsal and anal fins. A table knife is effective to remove the top layer of skin. Run the tip of the knife lengthwise into the lateral line, touching the spine. Then use a fork and serving spatula to lift the segments of flesh from the bones onto your guest’s plates. A fork is most effective to remove the meat along the ribcage. Once the flesh has been served from the top side, grasp the exposed skeleton by the tail bone and lift, pulling gently. The entire skeleton should come off. The bottom half of the fish can be served as is; a spatula is helpful to lift the flesh from the skin. A few rib and other small bones may remain, so use caution.
We used a serving spoon to dish the stuffing. It was very tasty scattered over the top of the fish portions, and we also had fresh lemon wedges. Salt and pepper may be added to the fish as well, since there is no way to season the fish during cooking with the skin on.
This striper was served with baked red skin potatoes and steamed asparagus. It was moist, flaky, and wonderfully delicious. Quoting George Costanza from the Seinfeld episode where Jerry bought the $1000 leather jacket, it was, “Fabulous! And I say that with an unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality.”
I wish now that I would have thought to take a few photos. A picture of the baked bass and then plated with the sides, ready-to-serve, you all would have been drooling, I’m sure. That would have made great photos; this tasty repast on the bold color of Fiestaware dinner plates.
This method of serving a large fish is the same as when eating properly served, cooked whole trout in a restaurant. Trout should be served with the heads on. The only excuse not to is if they are too big for the pan. I grew up hearing that from my dad. As a kid I ate native brook trout that he, and when we were old enough, my brother and I too, used to catch. This recipe could easily be used with any large whole fish; trout, salmon, bass. Bon appetit!
PS: Forgot to mention!!! I put some striper on Gabriel’s plate; he’s the oldest of Kim’s boys at age three, and as I was busy serving the bass, Gabriel suddenly said, “More fish please!” He had eaten what I gave him and wanted more. So cute! He had three helpings. He loved it!