Archive for February, 2014

Cornmeal Crusted – Beer Battered Dogfish

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014


Dogfish, Squalus acanthias, are Marine Stewardship Council Certified, meaning the fishery meets the three overarching principles that the Marine Stewardship Council requires for it to be declared a healthy fishery.  These are the “general” qualifications according to the MSC website:

Principle 1: Sustainable fish stocks
The fishing activity must be at a level which is sustainable for the fish population. Any certified fishery must operate so that fishing can continue indefinitely and is not overexploiting the resources. 

Principle 2: Minimizing environmental impact
Fishing operations should be managed to maintain the structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem on which the fishery depends.

Principle 3: Effective management
The fishery must meet all local, national and international laws and must have a management system in place to respond to changing circumstances and maintain sustainability.

Dogfish are sharks, which means, among other things, they are cartilaginous, only a spine of cartilage runs down their center, no bones.  Because they have no ribcage, out of water a dogfish would collapse beneath its own weight.  Dogfish are bottom-dwellers, and the longest lived in the shark family; some dogfish live to be centenarians.

Dogfish are delicious, firm flesh, abalone-white, mild to sweet tasting.  There is almost no fish recipe to which dogfish doesn’t kindly adapt.  They come in long thin fillets, about two inches wide, and almost 15 inches long, or the whole fish looks like a long wide tube, a little wider than the cardboard inside a roll of paper towels.


The meat makes feathery centers to a cornmeal crusted fried fish.  It sisters-up with caramelized onions and silken red peppers in a fish fajita; its mild taste and pearly meat are a happy counter to any slowly braised vegetables, or tomato-ey puttanesca, or a spicy cilantro and cumin laced taco.  Dogfish, in fact, given its name, is like the cheerful yellow lab of fish, happy to go along with just about anything you do to it, and lookin’ good all the way.

Fisherman and cookbook author Hank Shaw agrees that dogfish make the best “fish and chips.”

The meat is white as snow, very lean, and firmer even than halibut. And, eaten cold the next day, tastes astonishingly like cold fried chicken.”  

Most of Europe and Asia, the major dogfish markets, think so, too; for years the traditional English fish and chips was always made with dogfish, which leads to it being the poster chid for the whacky results of targeting a species to either save it or fish for it.

Dogfish were considered a threatened species after a glut of over-fishing – all those English fish and chips –  from 1987 – 1996.  NOAA (National Oceanographic Aeronautics Association) applied catch limits to the species in 1997.  In 2010 NOAA declared the dogfish stocks rebuilt.  Harsh quota restrictions lifted.

According to Kris Kristensen of Zeus, Incorporated, the first dogfish processor in Gloucester, 10 million pounds of dogfish were landed in 2011 – 2012, 1.5 million in Gloucester alone.

“And we could have landed a lot more,” Kristensen said.  So the fishery was protected, but the Zeus processor acknowledges that now there are an alarmingly huge bulk of (dog) fish; they consume a huge amount of resources that cod and haddock would be using.”

Gluts, overfishing, quotas, rebounds.  These are the fish tales told when regulations target a species rather than consider the sea’s balanced eco-culture.  Dogfish had a great market in Europe, got overfished, got protected, and now it’s back, trying to be the new darling.  And it SHOULD be the new darling – there’s lots of it, and it tastes good.  Many say that dogfish are the key to the survival of the small boats in Gloucester.  But many also see the absurd yo-yo-ing that comes from focusing on a single species, rather than treating the oceans as a balance of ecology, and applying good fishing practices to its harvest.

Look hard at the recently passed 2014 Farm Bill; Squalus acanthias has a small but nonetheless significant mention; it speaks volumes – Fish is Food! – that a fish is even mentioned on the Farm Bill.  Here’s what that mention looks like:


(c) U.S. ATLANTIC SPINY DOGFISH STUDY.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall conduct an economic study on the existing market in the United States for U.S. Atlantic Spiny Dogfish.

No one knows what this really means for the dogfish; will we be seeing it in school lunches soon?  Kris Kristensen, processor of dogfish and other “under-utilized” species like whiting, monkfish and skate, just shrugs when asked what this Farm Bill mention might mean.  In his thick Danish accent, he leans back in his chair, stretches, and says, “who knows…”  There’s a vocal fisherman for you.

The greatest dogfish irony is that dogfish, this star of the fish and chip plate, this Farm Bill face of fishing promise, with its weighty local landings and Marine Stewardship Council badge, is almost impossible to find in retail markets.   Ask, even beg, your fishmonger for some, and if you find it, first make fish and chips.



About cooking it:  the only tip is to first soak the fish for 10 minutes in a bowl of salted water, about 1/4 cup of salt to 3 quarts of water.  Like all sharks, dogfish can have an ammonia scent if not handled properly, meaning gutted immediately, on the boat.  But Kristensen warns says not to soak the fish longer than ten minutes or else the meat will begin to break down.

Disclosure, those are frozen “chips” in my photos, but the dogfish is the real thing.


Cornmeal Crusted – Beer Battered Dogfish

serves 4

2 pounds dogfish fillets


2 cups all-purpose flour + 1 cup flour, divided

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

freshly ground pepper

beer – approximately 2 bottles of your choice – enough to make it the texture of “house paint”

1/4 cup cornmeal


  1. Salt the fish and set it aside at room temperature.  In a dutch oven or electric fryer, heat the oil to 360 degrees.  Preheat your oven to “warm.”  Prepare a cookie sheet with a wire rack on top, and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl mix the flour, seasonings, and beer together, stirring all the while.  Hank Shaw describes the texture you want as “the consistency of house paint, or melted ice cream.”  Let the batter rest for 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl mix together the last 1/2 cup of flour and the cornmeal.
  4. When the batter is ready and the oil hot, dredge the fish in the batter and let the excess drip off for a second or two.  Then roll the dredged fish into the dry flour-cornmeal mixture.
  5. Lay each piece gently into the hot oil.  Allow the end of the fish to fry for a second or so in the oil before you let the whole piece to drop into the oil  This helps prevent the fish from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Dislodge any pieces that stick to the bottom with a long fork.
  6. Fry in batches until golden brown, about 5-8 minutes.  Remove each to the rack on the cookie sheet, and keep the cookie sheet in the warm oven until all the fish is prepared.

Cookbook writing.

Sunday, February 16th, 2014

I’ve walked many wharves recently.  The blog posts have slowed, and I skip a column more than occasionally; for my family there are two dinner scripts:  “Here, darlings:  dinner tonight is two variations of Bacalau a Braz, Portuguese crispy fried potatoes with salt cod and creamy scrambled eggs.  For dessert we’re having three versions of Sconset Chocolate Cake.”

Or, this:  “I’ve been reading recipes all day; you expect me to cook something now????  Make a salad.”

Our refrigerator is either stocked with salt cod, kale, potatoes, cabbage, linguica, chorizo, did I mention salt cod?  – mesh bags bulging with fresh oysters, quahogs, steamers, and mussels, along with blueberries, cranberries, chocolate – and salt cod.

Or, else there is nothing but almond milk and apples.

The rolling wake of writing a cookbook lands thus upon my household.

But, we have all become salt cod converted.  Call it baccala, bacalhau, kala, or just salt cod.  Cut into pieces after that required soaking, rolled in rice flour and fried, salt cod becomes a golden, pillowy, crispy gift from the sea.    Those who say salt cod is an entirely different being from its fresh cousin are correct; salt cod is salt cod, a sweet chunk of firm white fish still wearing some ocean.  Fresh cod is more fragile, with a little less body.

In a small Provincetown cookbook dated 1941 the author, Harriet Adams, wrote this:

A booklet I have just read – a very modern booklet – says that to freshen salt fish you should lay it in a kettle of cold water, bring it almost to a boil, drain, refill with water, rebring almost to a boil.  All in all, performing the process four separate times.

The idea, I presume is to persuade your salt fish to imitate the flavor of a fresh one. Well, a fresh fish certainly has its virtue.  But, if we want a fresh fish, it isn’t too difficult to get one.  Remember, a salt fish has a virtue all its own.  If we don’t take steps, they will soon be topping it with Fudge Sauce.  

Let us not give our salt fish velveteen breeches, an Eton collar or an Oxford accent.  But, gentle ladies, let us not be too primitive.  A salt fish really needs freshening.  Some of its salt must really be removed.  And by the length of time that you soak or boil it you are able to control the amount that you remove… But whatever you do to it be sure that you keep the essence, the salt-fish-ness of the fish. Be sure you save the gamey and yet invigorating whiff of that old billy goat – the sea.  

I am having a great time writing this cookbook, which will cover delicious meals right off the boat, along coves, on beaches, in fish shacks, upon Inn porches from New Bedford to Newburyport.  I’ve tallied a full week of hours in local libraries, some of them museum pieces themselves.



If you haven’t been to the Provincetown Public Library, the schooner Rose Dorothea sails through the second floor.

And I’ve found the best place on the North Shore to buy salt cod.  Although I’m hoping my cookbook re-introduces what was once the ingredient that launched explorers around the world, don’t wait for me; the New England Meat Market in Peabody has a beautiful selection of salt cod; find a recipe – Finnish, Portuguese, Italian, or good old Yankee, and start soaking.


Coeur a la Creme

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014


Valentine’s Day when I was growing up was never about chocolates; we lived on a windy Cape Cod lane lined with cranberry bogs.  The chocolate choices in those days were two:  Schrafts cardboard hearts from the drug store and Russell Stover boxed chocolates ordained as gifts for hospital patients.

My mother made Coeur a la Creme, which even as a child I knew was far more decadent, far more sublime than the chocolates being peddled as Valentine’s fare.  I know now that there are as many Coeur a la Creme recipes are there are hearts to win, but it is basically a lightened, sweetened  cheese mixture – goat cheese, ricotta cheese, cream cheese – placed into a traditional Coeur a la Creme mold.


The mold alone is enough to charm anyone who spends time in a kitchen.  Heart-shaped, ceramic, the mold has holes that allow the “cheese” to drain, becoming a cool, sweet, pillowy dessert that cries “cloak me in raspberries, strew me with flowers.”  Chocolate can only wish to charm the eyes and lips as gloriously as Coeur a la Creme.



The molds are not hard to find; Amazon has plenty, but a simple kitchen colander substitutes perfectly, minus the Valentine’s-ness of having this ceramic heart on your kitchen counter for the week of February 14th.  My recipe is loosely adapted from Ina Garten’s.



Coeur a la Creme 


This should serve 6, but the other evening it served 4 beloved, coeur-charmed Valentines.





a coeur a la creme mold or a colander


6 ounces goat cheese

6 ounces creme fraiche

1 1/4 cups sifter confectioners’ sugar

2 1/2 cups cold heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean

Raspberry and Gran Marnier Sauce, recipe follows

fresh raspberries and blackberries to garnish



Place the goat cheese, creme fraiche, and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high speed for 2 minutes.  Scrape down the beater and bowl with a rubber spatula and change the beater for the whisk attachment.  With the mixer on low speed, add the heavy cream, vanilla, lemon zest and vanilla bean seeds and beat on high speed until the mixture is very thick, like whipped cream

Wet the cheesecloth, and ring out the excess moisture.  Line a coeur mold or colander with cheesecloth, allowing at least 6-8 inches to hang over the sides.  Set the mold on a plate or the colander in a bowl, allowing space below for the liquid to drain.  Pour the cream mixture into the cheesecloth, and fold the ends over the top.  Refrigerate over night.

To serve, discard the liquid.  Unmold the creme onto a serving plate.  Drizzle the Raspberry Gran Marnier Sauce around the creme.  Garnish with lots of berries.

Raspberry and Gran Marnier Sauce

1 half-pint fresh raspberries

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup seedless raspberry jam

2 tablespoons Gran Marnier


Place raspberries, sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, and simmer for 4 minutes.  Pour the cooked raspberries, the jam, and orange liqueur into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until smooth.  Chill.