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Product Spotlight: Bluefish

This East Coast species doesn't travel well, so buy locally in season and sell it fresh

Bluefish fillets are great for grilling as a seasonal
    fresh-fish special on the menu. - Photo courtesy of Virginia Marine Products
By Linda Skinner
June 01, 2006

Bluefish ( Pomatomus saltatrix ) is not a species you'll find on the menu regularly, especially away from the Atlantic Coast. When it does appear as a fresh-fish special, it usually means summer has arrived on the eastern seaboard - or a distant chef has paid to have it flown in and will serve it that same day.

The oily-fleshed bluefish contains strong digestive enzymes and deteriorates quickly if it's not iced immediately after harvesting. Nor does it freeze well, so the fish is seldom seen far from where it's landed. Your best bet is to buy locally in season from a reputable dealer and handle the fish with care to maintain quality; people who dislike the flavor of bluefish probably haven't had a truly fresh one.

Blues, also known as "snappers" or "choppers," are voracious feeders and fierce fighters, making them a popular recreational target. In fact, most landings are by sport fishermen, with commercial landings largely bycatch.

Bluefish travel up and down the East Coast from Maine to Florida, following schools of oil-rich menhaden, a favored food. This diet of "pogies" gives blues their pronounced flavor.

Commercial landings for 2004 were 3,692 metric tons, with North Carolina producing nearly half the total at 1,707 metric tons. New York was a distant second at 665 metric tons, followed by New Jersey at 485, Rhode Island at 268 and Virginia at 218 metric tons. Catches thin out the further north or south you go from the Mid-Atlantic.

The average mar­­­ket siz e of bluefish is 3 to 5 pounds, but they can weigh up to 30 pounds. The fish are so ld fresh 
as skin-on fillets or whole and dressed.

Bluefish fillets can sometimes be found in supermarket seafood cases and specialty seafood stores in season, but they're more often found grilled or broiled on restaurants' summer menus. At Oliver's Cape Cod in Yarmouthport, Mass., broiled or grilled bluefish is featured as a seasonal Fresh Fish of the Day. McCormick & Schmick's Baltimore location features Cape May (New Jersey) bluefish on its fresh list for $16.50.

Restaurateurs who appreciate blues' rich flavor and short shelf life put it to good use in smoked preparations. For example, the Bluefin Seafood Bistro in Tuscon, Ariz., offers an appetizer of smoked bluefish with curry mustard, red-onion jam and croutons for $8. Boston-based Legal Sea Foods' bluefish pâté, made with cream cheese and cognac, can also be purchased through the chain's online retail outlet (www.shoplegalseafoods.com ) at $5.99 for a 4-ounce container.


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