The other day, a friend noted that, although he likes bluefish, he won’t cook it inside the house. I told him that I know a way to prepare it indoors without stinking up the joint. “You’re on,” he said.
The smelliest and most regret-inducing way to prepare fish indoors is to pan-fry rich, oily fish. For a lot of people, it’s hard to get right, too – it sticks to the pan because people are afraid to use oil; it becomes overdone and chewy, with a tough, leathery exterior because people are afraid to undercook. Don’t pan-fry. You’ll smell it for days, and not in a good way. Grilling is always a good option, but it also can pose the problem of sticking. My solution? Roast the fish. If you roast fish, you won’t smell a thing. Not even with bluefish, or any of the stronger fish.
So of course, I went to Whole Foods looking for bluefish to prove my point, and they didn’t have it. According to the fish guy, people in the greater Annapolis area don’t buy it. Same goes for mackerel, another favorite fish with a similar rich, meaty flavor profile, and sardines, a rich, meaty, small fish perfectly suited to grilling over coals. So I bought mahi-mahi, a milder but somewhat firmer fish. Whole Foods had a whole mahi mahi, iced down, in the display, and it is a striking fish with golden skin, a prominent round forehead, and a sail-like dorsal fin. Fished off U.S. waters in the Atlantic, it’s also a sustainable choice.
I like to pair strong-flavored fish like bluefish, mackerel, and sardines with chimichurri sauce. In 1997, I traveled to Nicaragua with my family for the presidential inauguration. From an ideological standpoint I have to say the president was not my cup of tea, but the trip introduced me to chimichurri, which we ate during lunch with roasted Argentine beef. It may have been the most delicious beef dish I had ever tasted at the time.
Chimichurri, sharp from vinegar, savory with onions, and green with parsley and other herbs, is perfectly suited to cutting the fattiness of rich meats. That much has been clear to the generations of Latin Americans who have enjoyed it on well-marbled, grass-fed beef. It occurred to me after the trip, however, that chimichurri was an even better pairing with rich, oily fish. And you know, it really is. My husband – “not a fish guy” – loves even the stronger-tasting fish, if I serve them with chimichurri.
Roasted fish with chimichurri
Within reason, you can substitute other fish for the bluefish or mackerel, but I urge you to try this dish with one of these fish (or sardines, which are amazing with chimichurri). Don’t use a mild, delicate fish like trout, flounder, or sole – these can’t stand up to the strong flavors of the sauce. I’m not a huge fan of salmon either (except in its raw form), and I probably would steer clear of salmon as well.
And when you’re choosing fish, always choose carefully, with an eye toward preserving ocean life. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s excellent Seafood Watch program provides three easy ways to check whether your choice is environmentally friendly. They’ve got an online guide, a downloadable, printable pocket guide (sushi guides, nationwide guides, and regional guides are all available), and a super-useful mobile guide for iPhone users. The ocean needs our help – now more than ever.
2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves, washed and spun dry
3 tbsp dried Mexican oregano
1 small onion, minced finely
1/2 tsp salt, more to taste
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 c olive oil
Bluefish or spanish mackerel, or another firm, meaty fish
salt or soy sauce
Combine the oregano, onion, salt, pepper, cayenne. Whisk together the vinegar and oil and stir into the onion blend. Set aside.
Mince the parsley as finely as you can and add to the vinaigrette. Allow flavors to combine for at least half an hour before serving.
While chimichurri rests, heat oven to 400F. Fillet the fish if necessary, and place on a sheet pan – lining it with foil will facilitate cleanup. Rub a small quantity of soy sauce (just barely to season) into the flesh, or salt the fish, and drizzle with a small quantity of olive oil. Roast about 8 minutes for spanish mackerel or 16 for bluefish, depending on the thickness of the filet. Season with black pepper.
Spoon chimichurri over the fish.
Variant: clean sardines; make several small (1/8″) cuts in flesh on each side. Season with a little salt and grill on an oiled grate over coals. Serve with chimichurri.