Stuffed Rockfish

Final Striped Bass

Final Striped Bass (Photo credit: Dr.DeNo)

“Whereas the people of Maryland as long time and appreciative residents of the productive Chesapeake Bay area know of it firsthand the recreational and gastronomic delights of this wonderful land, and

Whereas, Not the least among good reasons for living in Maryland is the abundant and unexcelled delicacy of the Chesapeake Bay striped bass of rockfish, and

Whereas, In the judgment of the members of the general assembly of Maryland, it is a simple act of justice and of equality that this fine old Maryland fish should be honored by being designated as the official fish of the state of Maryland….”

-1965 Law (Chapter 513, Acts of 1965; Code State Government Article, sec. 13-304) designating the rockfish as the official fish of the state of Maryland

The rockfish or striped bass is considered to be the king of game fish in the Chesapeake region.  It is also Maryland’s state fish and can weigh as much as fifty pound.  Due to overfishing the “Rock”, as many fisherman call it, was pushed almost to the brink of extinction.  Several years during the late seventies and eighties, the rockfish was off limits and catching one could lead to huge fines.  It was until Maryland’s first real attempt and first success story in environmental activism that the rockfish swam back to life.  Rockfish became one of the first fish ever successfully farmed in the Chesapeake.  There is a clear distinctive mark of the side of the fish that shows whether a rockfish is wild or farm raised. If the center stripe on the fish is broken then the fish is farm raised, if it is not, then it is wild.  Obviously, the wild fish has a much more pronounced flavor due to the verity of food that the rockfish lives on, but Marylanders still praise the efforts of the ecological community for bringing this culinary masterpiece back from the brink of extinction.  It also gives hope to the efforts of the blue crab and oyster industries, which see this success as a way of preserving their own livelihoods.

Known Nicknames for the Rock Fish:

Marone saxatilis – originally classified as Roccus saxatilis, the classification of was changed in 1965.

Rockfish

Rock

Stripers

Striped Bass

Between 70-90% of all the striped bass in the Atlantic use the Chesapeake Bay for spawning.  They can live on average anywhere from 10 – 30 years in the wild.  The largest rockfish ever recorded was caught at Bloody Point and weighed 67.5 pounds.

The rockfish is the premier sport and commercial fish in the Chesapeake region.  Like many resources linked to the region overfishing and pollution has dwindled the population to dangerously low levels.  The state of Maryland was forced to impose a moratorium on rockfish between the years of 1985 – 1989.  Commercial fisheries have supplied the rockfish for most of the region, lessening the demands on the wild population.  Thanks to these restrictions the wild population of the rockfish has returned to sustainable levels.  There is a distinctive difference between farm raised striped bass and wild rockfish.  The third stripe on the body of the fish’s skin is broken signifying that it is farm raised.

Hybrid striped bass

Hybrid striped bass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fishing for striped bass is one of the most expensive fish to hunt for sport.  There are several methods of fishing for the rockfish with varying levels of difficulty.

Light tackle fishing: The most successful lures to use for this method are bucktails, twister tails and gotcha plugs.

Trolling: The most popular lures used are called ‘stechers.’  The most popular starches are 25 -30, the number represents the depth of the lure used.

Mojo Rig: Very heavy cannon ball sinkers and giant lead head all rigged to a 3 way swivel.

Live Bait: Eel is a favorite used by anglers looking for a trophy striper.

One major problem facing the Chesapeake Bay region is what is known as the “dead zone”.   Recently there have been floating zones extending throughout the bay region up to one-third of the size of the bay.  These dead zones are caused by nutrient pollution which feed the algae in the bay, which bloom and decompose into a black glop which sucks the oxygen out of the deeper regions of the bay.  This upsets the food chain which affects every aspect of the harvest of the bay.

The nutrient pollution is caused by runoff from the agriculture industry and grows proportionately to the development of rain and heavy snow melt.

Below are the crib notes for a dish I did when I was at the Cosmos Club.  I did not stuff the fish on this occasion, but you certainly could.  Sauce Tutul is a burre blanc style sauce named after one of my line cooks who invented it.  It is an excellent addition to this dish.  I baked the custard in ramekins, but it could also be baked in muffin cups and unmolded for a first-rate presentation.  Sear the fennel and then place it into a shallow covered pan with the remaining ingredients and put it into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  You want the fennel to be tender, but not so tender that it falls apart.  Leave a little of the root end attached to hold it all together.

Pan Seared Rockfish

Orange Braised Fennel

Beet & Orange Custard

Candied Walnuts

Sauce Tutul

5 Oz. Rockfish (seared)

 

Vegetable:

Fennel (Cut into Wedges)

Orange Juice

Orange Zest

Pernod

Salt & Pepper

 

Custard:

Beets (Roasted & Sliced)

Orange Juice

Heavy Cream

Eggs (1 egg per cup liquid)

Salt & Pepper

Honey

Tarragon

 

Candied Walnuts

 

Sauce:

Celery

Shallots

Butter

Heavy Cream

Bay Leaf

Salt & Pepper

Orange Juice

Lemon Juice

White Wine

The Evolution:

Baked Stuffed Rockfish[1]

1979

 

1, 6 – 8 Pound Rockfish

½ Lemon

Salt and Pepper to Taste

1 Lb. Crabmeat

1 Tbsp. (Heaping) Mayonnaise

1 Egg

1 Slice Slightly Moist Bread

1 Tsp. Mustard

1 Tsp. Worcestershire Sauce

Corn Flake Crumbs

Butter

 

                Rub rockfish inside and out with lemon.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Place in a greased baking pan.  Combine next six ingredients.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Place loosely in fish cavity and over top.  Sprinkle generously with corn flake crumbs.  Dot with butter.  Cover loosely with aluminum foil.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Uncover; let brown.  Serve on platter garnished with parsley and lemon slices.

There are not a lot of recipes for this dish before the latter half of the twentieth century.  The dish was made and quite common, but it was often a dish that was simply made by the cook without any particular recipe.  Rockfish was also considered to be a local dish only for a long time and didn’t gain popularity in mainstream American cooking until around this time.  It was however, known as one of the greatest prizes for fishermen, bith amateur and professional for it quality and the challenge of catching them.

Rockfish Stuffed with Crabmeat[2]

1981

 

1 – 2 ½ Pound Rockfish

¾ Pound Crabmeat, Special

4 Strips Bacon

 

                Scale and gut fish.  Remove head and tail.  Wash fish in cold water.  Where entrails were, cut straight into fish and down towards tail.  Stop one inch short of tail.  Fill this pocket with crabmeat which has been picked for extraneous shell.  Wrap slices of bacon, bondage fashion, across pocket to secure stuffing.  Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

 

This recipe is for stuffing the entire fish and is very basic in its design.  It is simply crabmeat stuffed into the belly of the fish.  Whole rockfish can range wildly in size and a wild rockfish can be upwards of 50 pounds.  For this dish I would suggest using a farm raised rockfish, you can tell it is farm raised by the broken stripe on the skin.  The third stripe will be broken along the body of the fish, this is an indication that it is farm raised and not wild, which has no breaks in the stripes.

 

Stuffed Rockfish[3]

1983

 

8 Ounces Rockfish Filets                                                              

1 Tablespoon Mustard – Dry

3 Ounces Crabmeat                                                                       

1 Egg

1 ½ Ounces Swiss Cheese (Grated)                                         

2 Ounces White Wine

1 ½ Ounces Cheddar Cheese (Grated)                                   

2 Ounces Butter

1 Ounce Mayonnaise                                                                    

2 Ounces Mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon Old Bay Seafood Seasoning                           

2 Egg Whites

 

                Combine crabmeat, cheese, mayonnaise, egg, old bay, dry mustard, and mix well.  Place white wine and butter in a saucepan, top with fish, skin down, place topping on fillet.  Whip together 2 ounces of mayonnaise and egg whites.  Pour over stuffed fish.  Bake at 350 degrees 25 to 35 minutes, until topping is brown and has risen. 

 

Yield: 2 Servings

The Chambers

Chef Greg Wheatley

Easton, MD.

 

This is a unique approach to making the dish, but surprisingly effective.   It is more of the traditional dish you will find served today in many restaurants.  It is basically a crab cake stuffed in a rockfish.  This dish actually coats the entire fish and adds a coating to the fish which is really great.  You could also skin the fish for this dish and serve it tableside.

 Striped Bass (Rockfish) Stuffed with Crabmeat[4]

1989

 

“Call It Delmarvalous”

 

1 (3 to 5Lb.) Striped Bass                                                             

1 C. Flaked Crabmeat

Salt and Pepper                                                                                               

1 Tbsp. Chopped Parsley

2 Tbsp. Chopped Onion                                                                               

1 C. Milk

¾ C. Chopped Celery                                                                    

1 Large Onion, Sliced

½ C. Butter                                                                                         

Parsley

2 C. Soft Bread Crumbs                                                                 

Lemon

 

                Wash the bass and sprinkle in inside and out with salt and pepper.  Saute chopped onion and celery in ¼ cup butter until lightly browned.  Mix together the sautéed vegetables, bread crumbs, crab meat, chopped parsley, salt and pepper.  Stuff fish and secure with skewers, or sew it together.  Place fish in a shallow baking dish and put milk and sliced onion in the pan.  Pour ¼ cup melted butter over fish.  Bake uncovered, in a moderate oven at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.  Garnish top of fish with thin slices of lemon dipped in chopped parsley.  Serves 4 to 6.

                                                 

This is the recipe I would use for a larger rockfish which would serve more people.  A classic preparation which would work great on a grill as well as baking it in the oven.

 

Rockfish with Crab[5]

2004

 

6 Rockfish Filets                                                                              

½ Pound Thin Sliced Smithfield Ham

1 Pound Crabmeat

 

¨       Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

¨       Place the rockfish in a greased baking dish.

¨       Top each piece with a slice of the ham and crab.  Top with Bearnaise Sauce.

¨       Bake 20 – 25 minutes, until just bubbling. 

 

                In this dish, the bacon is replaced by another great local ingredient, the Smithfield ham.

Rockfish and Crab Bake[6]

2004

 

2 Pounds Rockfish Filets                                                                              

½ Pounds Mushrooms

2 Pounds Crabmeat                                                                                       

Chive Cream Sauce

 

¨       Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

¨       Place the rockfish in a buttered baking dish.  Top with crab, mushrooms and chive cream sauce.

¨       Bake ½ hour or until bubbling or just browned.

 

Chive Cream Sauce

 

1 Stick Butter                                                                                    

4 Chives, Snipped

½ Cup Flour                                                                                       

½ Cup Dry White Wine

2 Cups Half and Half

 

¨       Melt butter in a saucepan.  Add flour and stir in half and half until thickened.  Add chives and wine. 

 

This is like the basic recipe above, but with the addition of a cream sauce, similar to a burre blanc and the addition of mushrooms.  It creates an almost casserole type dish by including all the ingredients in one dish.

Any recipe of crab cake can be used as a filling for this dish, feel free to experiment, although you do want to make sure that the internal temperature of the dish is over 140.  As with any stuffing, the crab cake inside will take awhile to cook, so even if the fish looks done on the outside, the stuffing may not be.

The preparation I use most often is to butterfly the filet of rockfish and then fill it with the stuffing a fold the top back over the filling, this allows me to serve and cook individual portions and treat them accordingly, but cooking the whole fish for larger parties is certainly a lot easier than doing each one individually.  Keep in mind that with any fish, there may be pin bones, especially when cooking whole fish.  These are located along the backbone of the fish, you should warn your guests of the possibility if you are cooking a whole fish.


[1] A Taste of Maryland: From the Allegheny Mountains to the Sands of the Eastern Shore by The American cancer society, Maryland division, Inc: 1979

[2] Mrs. Kitching’s Smith Island Cookbook by Frances Kitching & Susan Stiles Dowell: Tidewater Publishers 1981

[3] The Chesapeake Collection: A Treasury of Recipes and Memorabilia from the Maryland’s Eastern Shore by Women’s Club of Denton Inc.:  Wimmer Brothers books 1983

[4] Peninsula Pacemaker Cookbook: A Treasury of Recipes from Cookbooks Showcased in Delmarva’s Little Recipe Book during the past 20 years Compiled and edited by Suzanne Sheffield: Peninsula Pacemaker Magazine 1989

[5] Chesapeake’s Bounty 2: Cooking with Regional Favorites by Katie Moose: Conduit Press 2004

[6] Chesapeake’s Bounty 2: Cooking with Regional Favorites by Katie Moose: Conduit Press 2004

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About midatlanticcooking

Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region for over 20 years. Painter, writer and traveler.
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