Fresh Picked: All About Bluefish, the Unsung Hero of the Sea

Bluefish may get a bad rap, but local chefs are turning the fish into cakes, gyros, and plated entrees this summer.

“Bluefish has a bad rap, man.” That’s what Ten Tables Cambridge chef David Punch says as he preps an entrée of the freshly caught fish. Area Four chef Jeff Pond, meanwhile, points out: “It’s not ‘fishy,’ it’s oily.” Bluefish, it seems, requires a lot of defending, and local chefs who know the truth about its merits are doing their damnedest to prove what an enjoyable fish bluefish can be. Herewith, find three dishes that are sure to change your mind about bluefish: a skillet-cooked entrée at Ten Tables Cambridge, an unconventional gyro at Cambridge’s Area Four, and smoked bluefish cakes from Somerville’s beloved Highland Kitchen.

Above, Area Four chef Jeff Pond prepares a bluefish gyro. All photos by Bernie Leed.

Let’s get this out of the way first: It’s pronounced “year-o,” rhymes with “hero.” Really, you don’t want to mince words when discussing the lunchtime-only smoked bluefish gyro at Area Four. It’s the least you could do given the elaborate preparation necessary for a “sandwich” you’ll likely scarf down in mere minutes. “The idea was using a local ingredient in some interesting, casual way to fit the atmosphere,” chef Jeff Pond says.

When the fish arrives (the fish in this photo came from Skippy, off the coast of the Cape) it is filleted, de-boned, and brined for eight hours in a mix soy sauce, brown sugar, lemon zest, dill, and bay solution. It is then dried until the next day, when it is smoked for two hours. The result is fish that is tender, just a little bit chewy, and of course smoky. Paired with bright, creamy tzatziki, salty green olives, and the bite of an onion, it makes for one hell of a flavorful meal.

Mark Romano, chef/owner of Highland Kitchen, serves his smoked bluefish cakes year round—you try feeling the wrath he felt when they once left the menu—but the fish is currently coming in locally. One bite of these spicy, zesty, and slightly sweet cakes, though, and you’ll realize it matters not where this fish is from but rather how Romano treats it. Smoked in a stovetop smoker and spiced with a blend of cumin and dried chili, the bluefish’s oily flavor begins to take on more complex properties. The cakes are served alongside a zesty mango mustard hot sauce that provides “a good counterpoint for the bluefish,” per Romano. And for a final bit of tropical kick, Romano insists upon washing an order down with Ting Jamaican grapefruit soda.

Ten Tables Cambridge chef David Punch introduces himself as lead dishwasher/owner-partner at the restaurant. And though his delivery makes it hard to tell when he’s joking, his bluefish entrée is genuinely serious business. “Italy meets Rhode Island” is the way Punch describes the combination of cast-iron charred fish and spicy red sauce. The result is a gorgeous and dense piece of fish that’s hardly oily when caught as fresh and cooked as thoroughly as this one. Punch constantly checks the internal temperature of the fish with a cake tester—he wants it cooked all the way through—as a pot of saucy, spicy Romano beans heats up nearby. “We wanted something that was spicy and bright that would cut through the flavors of the bluefish,” Punch explains. A topping of salsa verde also helps out. Punch goes on to say that this is his favorite fish, and his favorite dish at Ten Tables. But at that point, bluefish no longer needs defending.

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