Illustration by Kristy Heilenday
It’s time to get acquainted with our state’s official saltwater fish. You may know the striped bass as rockfish or striper, but this flaky and versatile sea-dweller is dinner by any other name — just ask the colonists.
Some of our country’s first settlers rejoiced in this mild, oily and delicate fish as early as the mid-17th century, with Plymouth Colony establishing a school funded by the community’s striped bass fishery. One of the earliest records of this creature can be found in Capt. John Smith’s 1608 records. Smith entered the Chesapeake Bay and remarked that these fish were so plentiful, a man could walk atop the water by using them as a path. In the 1970s and ’80s, the striped bass was overfished in the Chesapeake, but restrictions such as catch limits and seasonality have helped the numbers not only recover, but flourish.
What to Buy
If you’re hitting Virginia’s coast, especially the Chesapeake Bay, be sure to check the latest regulations on mrc.virginia.gov. Most anglers in the area find hook-and-line works best, but nets also do the trick. If you’re more of a landlubber, look for rockfish both fresh and frozen — though it’s more often available fresh — in your local grocer’s seafood department. The ideal fillet will be moist, firm and slightly springy, whereas the perfect whole fish will have bright, unclouded eyes, and shiny scales fixedly attached to the skin.
How to Prepare
Bake that bass, roast that rockfish, fry that fillet; skin on or off, the striped bass is meaty enough to stand up to a grill, but delicate enough to flake into slivers in a sauté. If you’re buying it whole or skin-on, be sure to scrub down those scales and gills before you begin cooking, whatever your method of choice.
Grilled Striped Bass with Summer Salsa
By Hannah Pollack of Greenleaf’s Pool Room
2 pounds of striped bass, filleted
1 lemon, juiced
2 limes, juiced
3 tablespoons of garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons of shallots, chopped
¼ teaspoon of pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
¼ cup of olive oil
2 small heirloom tomatoes, diced
3 peaches, diced
2 ears of grilled corn, with kernels removed from the cob
¼ cup of chives, chopped additional salt and pepper, to taste
In a bowl, combine the lemon juice, garlic, shallots, pepper, salt, olive oil and half of the lime juice. Place the rockfish fillets in a shallow dish and cover them with this marinade, letting them sit for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. In a separate bowl, combine the tomatoes, peaches, corn, chives and the remaining lime juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then set aside.
Heat your grill to 400 degrees and coat its grate with cooking spray. Remove the rockfish from the marinade and grill for 4 minutes on each side. Remove from heat, plate, serve with salsa and enjoy.