Autumn Underwater

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It’s the time of year where a chill can be felt in the air – where brilliant foliage erupts and you pull out your favorite sweater to keep warm. While enjoying a walk along a quiet beach on a clear, crisp day and looking out over the water, do you ever wonder what is lurking just beyond your view? Life for fish in the Northern Atlantic ocean is changing with the season just as it does for us. Some fish will be leaving to migrate, while others are moving closer to or farther from the shore as the temperature drops.
Here are are a few of the fish species that are swimming in our waters as you read this, what they are up to, and their culinary uses.

Blackfish

Blackfish

One fish sure to show its face here in October is the blackfish (a.k.a. tautog). Though blackfish live in New England waters year – round, they move between shallow and deeper water. During May and June, blackfish are drawn to depths of under twenty feet to spawn. In autumn, however, the blackfish move into deeper water and spend the winter offshore.

Blackfish tend to hang around near large rocks, ship wrecks, reefs, and mounds of rocky bottom. Typically, a blackfish only leaves a submerged structure if it is harvested or if  the temperature becomes unfavorable. As Jimmy Fee puts it in his article “Tautog Fishing Tips for the Fall” for On the Water, “Odds are …that if you’re dropping a fresh green crab to a piece of structure in the month of October, there’s a tog down there waiting to give you a great battle and some tasty fillets (5)”

A dish featuring baked blackfish.

In the kitchen blackfish are known for their pleasant flavor, low fat content, and high levels of magnesisum . Their flesh tastes something like lobster, hence its nickname”poor man’s lobster”. The flavor of blackfish is also judged to be mild (12) and it can be cooked by poaching, steaming, baking, or broiling (8).

Bluefish

As a member of a family that has long been in Connecticut, I was raised with my mother’s stories about packing a picnic lunch and heading out in an old boat to fish for bluefish. It sounded like a very good time, but if you want to catch bluefish in Connecticut this year you’ll need to do it relatively soon. Bluefish are soon going to migrate south along the Atlantic coast as temperatures fall. The range of migration for this fish can be as far north as Maine and as far south as Florida. Bluefish are in New England from summer to mid – fall(7), can grow to weigh as much as 31 pounds, and can live a 14 year lifespan (2).

Bluefish being pan fried.

Bluefish is typically sold fresh or smoked (7). The texture of it is coarse but not dry, and the taste has a richness that intensifies with the size of the fish (2). Fresh bluefish is best cooked within three days of being caught, or else a compound in the flesh can give it an overly gamy flavor. Bluefish cooked too long after catching is also known to be greasy (16). The  fish can be prepared in a wide variety of ways that include grilling, broiling, or baking (16). Interestingly, the skin of a bluefish is edible as well as the flesh (2).

 

Winter or Summer Flounder – What’s the Difference?

Summer Flounder

Winter Flounder

 

Flounder is a very popular New England fish in autumn seafood recipes – but both winter and summer flounder can be found at Atlantic Seafood. What do they have in common and what is different about the two?

A juvenile flounder. Note the eyes on either side of the head and the upright swimming posture.

As flounder, both a winter and  summer flounder begin life as fish with one eye on either side of the head. This changes, though, as the fish begins to mature. One eye makes the journey to the same side of the head as the other.  This leaves the flounder lying on its side staring up through the water. Winter and summer flounder can be distinguished from each other by their mouths. In summer flounder the mouth is proportionately larger and can extend as far back as below the eyes or further (15). In winter flounder, the mouth does not reach to below the eyes (14). Summer flounder, or fluke as they are sometimes called, can also change color to match the surrounding ocean floor and are consequently known as chameleons of the sea (15). Winter flounder also do this, but in general are darker than summer flounder(19).

Another difference between winter and summer flounder is in the side of the head facing upward into the water. A winter flounder has both eyes on its upper side when it is pointing right – and is thus known as a right – handed flounder (14). By contrast a summer flounder’s eyes are on its upper side when it is pointing toward the left. This leads to the summer flounder being called left – handed.

Winter and summer flounder are also found at different depths in a given season. Winter flounder travel to more shallow water, inshore, during the colder months of the year (14). Summer flounder, on the other hand, are found inshore during the warmer months. As fall sets in, summer flounder are getting ready to move into deeper waters (15) while winter flounder will soon be taking their place nearer the shore. Winter flounder can be found from Georgia north to southern Labrador (14) while the range of summer flounder reaches from Florida to the southern Gulf of Maine (15).

Winter flounder can be used in a plethora of seafood recipes due to its mild flavor. It can be steamed, fried, baked, broiled, or even microwaved! In a pinch, winter flounder can often be used as a substitute in a dish calling for a different type of fish. Its flesh is white when cooked(14).

Like winter flounder, the cooked meat of summer flounder is white and flaky – commonly described as mild in flavor. Also as with the winter flounder, summer flounder has many potential uses. The flesh of summer flounder can be poached, steamed, baked, sautéed, broiled, microwaved, or fried. It can also, when from a larger fish, be grilled in the form of steaks (15).

 

Atlantic Cod

Atlantic Cod

In the Massachusetts State House, since 1784, has hung a pine carving called the “Sacred Cod”. This age – old work of art is meant to symbolize prosperity. It makes sense that Massachusetts would denote prosperity with a cod, seeing as the fish is deeply interwoven with its history and was once an important source of local income. At the time of Europeans’ arrival in New England, cod was an extremely common fish – so much so that Cape Cod was named after it. The colonial era charter for Gloucester, Massachusetts was given in order to procure profits from cod fishing. During the second half of the twentieth century, however, the harvesting of too much cod led the current US stocks of the fish to fall below their average for the past 40 years. Cod fishing is still permitted today, but within legal limits that prevent the over exploitation of the fish (10).

Atlantic Cod can be found from the waters off North Carolina to those off Greenland – but also exist on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The fish can get as heavy as 55 – 77 pounds and as long as 51 inches. Though Atlantic Cod are present off New England all year, the majority are caught from late fall into early spring(6). At this time the fish are up to thirty miles from land as opposed to being in shallower waters as they were in the summer. Hence, fall cod fishing is typically done by boat. Cod are found on the inshore ledges and humps of ocean bottom. They are attracted to areas littered with pebbles, rocks, or shell fragments, and to shipwrecks as well as other structures(1).

steaming cod

Atlantic Cod fillets are known for very large flakes. Their flavor is delicate, and their fillets are pink to white and semitransparent. Any spots that are brown or clearly dried are things to avoid. Cod can be steamed, broiled, baked, sautéed, or fried (10).

Haddock

Haddock

The haddock is purplish gray on top, with sides that are silver and a white underside. It has a dark line known as the lateral line running along its sides, and also has a distinctive mark above the pectoral fin known as “the Devil’s thumbprint” or “St. Peter’s mark”. Haddock can be up to forty four inches long and 37 pounds, and exist from the Strait at Belle Isle, Canada south to Cape May, New Jersey (9). Like some of the fish already mentioned, haddock is known as a ground fish – that is, a fish found at the bottom of the water. It is attracted to smooth, solid sand, gravel, and clay at depths of 130 – 500 feet (though juveniles tend to be closer to shore). The fish spawn in the
spring, in shallower water – but now, as the water cools, they will once again move farther out (3).

The flesh of haddock is a white that brightens with cooking. It is tender but firm, and sweet but not extremely so. Its flakes tend to be smaller than those of cod (9), which it is known to taste like. This is the fish that is normally used in England’s famous “fish and chips”. Haddock can be sold fresh or smoked, in steaks or in fillets. As with bluefish, it is important to buy haddock fresh (17).

 

There are a few different options for cooking haddock. One of these is to bake the fish whole. It can also be barbecued, roasted, or battered and fried (9). Haddock is a healthy food, offering generous portions of selenium, low fat protein, and magnesium (3).

 

Recipe: “Sue’s Fish and Scallop Chowder”

This is a great recipe to help you to warm up on a chilly night or to be a conversation piece at your next holiday dinner. It combines cod with bay scallops – shellfish also harvested off New England (18).

Needed Ingredients

2 cups milk
8 oz. half &half or heavy cream
2 lbs. of fish (monkfish or cusk can be substituted for cod)
1 onion, large
6 cubed potatoes
At least 1 stick of butter
¾ lbs. bay scallops                                           
Salt (to taste)
Black Pepper (to taste)
White Pepper (to taste)

Begin by sautéing  the onions in the butter, in a large pot. Next, add the cubed potatoes to this along with enough water to cover the potatoes. Do not use an excessive amount of water, as what remains of it will eventually be part of the broth. When the potatoes are nearly done cooking, pour the scallops and the fish over the mixture. Heat until all components are cooked.
As you are making the potato / scallop / onion/ fish mixture described above, combine the seasonings, milk, butter, and cream in a different sizable pot. Warm them.
When the ingredients in the first pot are cooked, allow for slight cooling and then combine them with the dairy mixture in the second pot (the mixture in this second pot must still be warm).

Simmer the combined ingredients. If desired, use additional seasonings.
Serve with oyster crackers.

NOTE: Amounts of potatoes, milk, and fish in this recipe can be adjusted to taste (1).

 

Works Cited

1. Christy, Mike
Fall Cod Fishing in New England
New England Sportsman Network, 2017
http://www.nesportsman.com/articles/article79.shtml

2. Bluefish (Pomatmous saltatrix)
http://www.fishwatch.gov/profiles/bluefish

3. Author unavailable
Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus)
http://www.fishwatch.gov/profiles/haddock

4. Author unavailable
Summer Flounder (Paralichtus dentatus)
http://www.fishwatch.gov/profiles/summer-flounder

5. Fee, Jimmy
Tautog Fishing Tips for the Fall
On The Water
http://www.onthewater.com/tautog-fishing-tips-for-the-fall/

6. Mayo, Ralph, and O’Brien, Loretta
Atlantic Cod
https://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/sos/spsyn/pg/cod

7. Author unavailable
Atlantic Bluefish
https://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/sustainable/species/bluefish/

9. Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Haddock
http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dmf/recreational-fishing/haddock.html

10. Author unavailable
Atlantic Cod (Gadus murhua)
http://www.fishwatch.gov/profiles/atlantic-cod

11. Author unavailable
Atlantic Cod
http://www.fishchoice.com/buying-guide/atlantic-cod

12. Author unavailable
Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata)
http://www.fishwatch.gov/profiles/black-sea-bass

13. Author unavailable
Cooking Light
Our Best Flounder Recipes
http://www.cookinglight.com/food/recipe-finder/flounder-recipes#flounder-recipes_2

14. “Captain Dave”
Winter Flounder
http://www.cptdave.com/winter-flounder.html

15. “Captain Dave”
Summer Flounder
http://www.cptdave.com/summer-flounder.html

16. Clark, Melissa
Don’t Fear the Bluefish
The New York Times
https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/10/dining/bluefish-recipe-cooking-tips.html

17. Author unavailable
How to Cook Haddock
http://www.greatbritishchefs.com/how-to-cook/how-to-cook-haddock

18. Author unavailable
Bay Scallop (Argopecten irradians)
www.edc.uri.edu/restoration/html/gallery/invert/bay.htm

19. Author unavailable
Winter Flounder (Pleuronectes americanus)
www.edc.uri.edu/restoration/html/gallery/fish/winter.htm

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