May gardens, once diligently pruned, managed and defined, are now September gardens: thick, vine heavy affairs where tanned cucumber and zucchini leaves have overtaken peppers and lettuce. Tautog, stripers, bluefish and a late shot of fluke are in close,signalling a change in our waters. While pretty orange California poppies shade wilting sweet and Italian basil and cherry tomatoes continue to fall from sagging green fingers faster than ours can pick and pass them to neighbors, there exists great treasure because this month, sea and shore are ripe for feasting and freezing.
A bounty from Fall shores and fields awaits
Not to be confused with some shoreline cancel culture, outdoorsmen and women understand that local and global seafood supplies have limits. Large and pretty fecund females stripers are being returned to the sea, thanks to a new slot limit. With great encouragement from highliners like Greg Vespe and BJ Silvia, female tautog get hooks released and pictures taken instead of an almost perfunctory toss to an Igloo. Those two have been waving the flag of a special fishery and honestly, it’s paying off. Bluefish, once so thick in summer waters that we easily took several times more than we needed, just because, have a new bag limit. In the midst of all that conservation, there remains room to keep a fish for the plate and time for a walk through the garden.
Most favored herbs to enhance fishy recipes are easily grown on small decks and winter window sills. Garlic after Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day, thrives in small spaces and it’s wonderful to watch green stalks push through inches of white snow. If you want to start a patch, email me and we’ll set you up with some of ours, which is seven years strong now. The more motivated will dry herbs for two more seasons of use but that’s a special skill, especially when there is still fishing to be done.
Striped bass is best served fresh or thawed within a month or two. Loved for their fight, striper is not necessarily the tastiest fish but man, with some thyme and oregano, a hit of olive oil and some garden garlic, few fish are better grilled. Bluefish should be quickly bled and quickly served. Fish and family, as they say, can grow old after three days. Nature does not allow them to stop wagging their tails, hence a myriad of blood vessels feeding that evolutionary movement, creating an often oily taste. Old timers added green pepper, onion, tomato, mayonnaise and butter, in that order, to wash that away but bluefish are magical and offer us great flavors we should not hide. Place a few fillets, skins down, on aluminum foil (tin foil for my older readers), add a plug of Italian dressing, pack in a fistful of garden offerings with sea salt and rosemary from the deck planter and leave enough room on top for steam to build inside the shiny package. Perfection. As you enjoy, have a read of John Hersey’s “Blues.”
No rushing Fall but a cool water feasts are in store
Tautog and black sea bass freeze well. Save them for December stews or holiday cioppino, always skin on ‘til the last minute. If you go clamming this fall, steam some with a can of Whalers East Coast IPA and Old Bay Seasoning, chill meats and broth together then freeze in yogurt containers with a layer of plastic wrap on top for February suppers toasted with wine and stories. You’ll store a lot of memories in a yogurt container.
Chef Lucia Moulton, renowned as the Gourmet Goddess, raves about our fortunate access to fresh, local fish, shellfish and lobsters. A late season favorite is her Grilled Lobster Tails and Littlenecks with Parsley Garlic Butter.
Yield: serves 1-2 Time: 20 minutes
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1 1⁄2 tsp. crushed red chili flakes
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 live lobster (about 1 to 1 1/2 lb.)
12lLittlenecks, scrubbed clean
1⁄4 cup olive oil
Combine butter, parsley, chili flakes, garlic, lemon zest, salt, and pepper in a bowl; set aside. Using a cleaver, split lobster in half lengthwise through its head and tail. Scoop out and discard the yellow-green tomalley and break off claws. Transfer lobster halves, shell side down, to a baking sheet; crack claws and place them on the baking sheet. Drizzle halves and claws with oil, and season with salt and pepper.
Heat a charcoal grill or set a gas grill to high; bank coals or turn off burner on one side. Place lobster halves, flesh side down, and claws on hottest part of grill; cook until slightly charred, two to three minutes. Flip lobster over and using a spoon, spread lobster with the garlic-parsley butter; continue grilling until lobster meat is tender, three to five minutes more. Add whole clams in shell to grill. Steam for five to six minutes.
Remove both tails and clams to a large platter and drizzle with warm butter.Chef Lucia recommends Bluff Hill Cove Oyster Farm shellfish as they thrive in clean Narragansett tidal waters under ample sunlight for the best possible flavors.
Finally this month, wash your vegetables, not your fish. Block Island fisherman Spencer Smith kept plenty of fish in his freezer decades before Ziploc bags and all went to ice naturally so freeze your fish without washing them. There’s time to clean fillets as grills warm. Before we consider hanging up rods and hoes, we can toast conservation aimed at abundance with a feast from land and sea. And a little more garlic.