Here’s a timely recipe from Dave “Pops” Masch:
Great Mates: Bluefish and Tomatoes!!
September and October are great months in the Northeast, with many crystal clear days, warm but with a slight cool snap in the air, a sign of things to come. The austerity of winter may be looming, but the cornucopia of harvest is upon us, from both the land and the sea. Sweet corn is at its sweetest, tomatoes are ripe and bursting with flavor, the fishing is at its best, and you can dig clams without freezing your tail. From this cornucopia come some of the meals I eagerly anticipate every year. For me there is a mutual affinity between fish, especially fried snapper blues and ripe tomatoes.
In late August, when the “snap” in the air first occurs, the “snapper blues” (young of the year bluefish, now 6 to 9 inches long) arrive in the harbors and inlets, feeding voraciously in anticipation of winter. You can sometimes catch them on almost every cast using a small spoon, fly, or attractor-and-fly rig.
I have been enjoying, in fact reveling in, pan-fried snappers with raw or sautéed tomatoes several times a week for over a month now, and so should you before it is too late, which it will be in a couple of weeks.
Snappers are a “snap” to clean. You merely take them in hand and make a diagonal cut behind the head and gill covers, cutting through the backbone, at which point you pull the head down, removing it from the body along with the entrails, and “Bob’s your uncle!” You have a perfect little delicacy to pan fry, ready to be coated with seasoned flour and tossed in the pan to achieve immortality.
Seasoned Flour for 8 Snappers
½ cup of all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
¼ tsp. cayenne (optional, necessary for me)
Put this mixture, or one of your own devising (I often use half flour and half cornmeal or cornflower) into a plastic bag, toss in four fish and shake the bag until they are coated. Remove and cook in hot oil over medium heat until nicely brown and crisp on both sides and keep warm in a 175-degree oven as you fry the next batch. I usually use peanut oil, canola oil also works fine, and butter is delicious but you must watch it carefully to keep it from burning.
I often cut a couple of medium-sized tomatoes in half, dip the cut edges in the seasoned flour left over from coating the fish, and sauté them in the same pan with the fish, either simultaneously or after the fish are done and keeping warm in the oven. When the breading on the tomatoes is nicely browned, I turn them over for a short time to cook through.
Serve this combination with a glass of orange juice, a piece of toast and a cup of coffee, and you will be set to take on the day that unfortunately probably won’t get any better than breakfast. But who knows, you might get lucky.