Striped bass migrate north from the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware River during the summer into Cape Cod Bay. I learned from my grandfather that catching a “schoolie,” which is a small bass, about 12 to 18 inches long, is one good reason a person might choose to live on the Cape. These are catch-and-release fish to be handled gently. But even if you don’t manage to catch one, chasing after schoolies is meditation itself.
In Massachusetts, striped bass is a protected fish, and the minimum legal size is 28 inches for recreational fishermen, with a limit of one fish per person per day. The commercial catch must be 34 inches, mouth to tail, with a 15-fish daily catch limit for each boat. This year, locally caught striped bass came to market after June 24, and the season will end when the overall commercial limit is met — this year roughly 890,000 pounds. We probably have just a couple of more weeks to enjoy the local catch.
The wild striper is a prized fish, not only for its fight but for its flavor. You can find smaller farmed-raised striped bass that aren’t subject to the quota, but to me they just don’t taste anything like their wild cousins.
If you are lucky enough to catch or come into a locally harvested striped bass, I advocate using every part of it that you possibly can. What I’m hoping to convince you of with the simple recipes here is that you don’t have to be a restaurant cook to do that.
When you have truly fresh-caught fish, it will keep for several days and even a whole work week if you store it correctly, packed in ice in the refrigerator. Keep the fish whole, carving off just what you need for any given meal.
To start, you’ll want to use the big perfect fillets for crudo and grilling. Then there are the cheeks for a quick sauté and the collar for roasting — with a whole fish, you’ll find meat in places you wouldn’t think possible. Finally, the carcass of a bass makes a high-quality fish stock to enrich a chowder or risotto.
Striped bass is on the mild side and similar to halibut. It pairs well with many different flavors, from the smoky char of the grill, where it is firm enough to hold together well, to the fruits and olive oil that dress a crudo.
Striped Bass Crudo
for 8 people
Dress the fish just before serving — the key to this dish is not to let the lemon “cook” the bass.
about 3 lbs. striped bass
good flaky sea salt
3/4 cup very nice extra virgin olive oil
Cut one thick fillet per person — about 6 ounces. Slice each fillet into six pieces, cutting across the grain. Lay the fillets flat on each plate and cover with plastic wrap, then gently pound the fish with a flat mallet. Chill fillets in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour. Remove fish from the fridge and uncover it. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fish, sprinkle with sea salt, and drizzle with the olive oil.
You can get more complex if you want. Some ideas: Try yuzu instead of lemon. Add a little chili oil and a few cilantro leaves. Chop some strawberry pico de gallo and spoon it over the fillets.
Grilled Striped Bass with Olive Tapenade
for 8 people
When grilling, I like to use regular old briquets to get my fire going, then add natural wood charcoal about 5 minutes before I am ready to cook. The wood adds a smoky flavor and it cooks hotter for a short time, which is what you want.
8 thick bass fillets, 6 or 7 ounces each
about 1/4 cup olive oil, enough to coat fish generously
sea salt and cracked black pepper
Cut fillets into nice even portions. Cover with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Grill over hot charcoal 4-5 minutes a side or until just cooked through.
1 cup black olives, pitted
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
a pinch of black pepper
Blend the olives with the oil and vinegar. I use a blender — the consistency should be more like a paste than a vinaigrette, though you can also chop the olives and mix this by hand. Spoon over grilled fish. I also like to serve this with a few fresh garden greens.
Green Lentil Salad
for 8 people
The grilled bass with tapenade is amazing served over a scoop of this lentil salad.
2 cups dried French green lentils
4 sprigs thyme
a few bay leaves
1 red onion, diced fine
2 carrots, peeled and diced fine
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, picked
zest of one lemon, grated
1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
Gently boil the lentils in water with the thyme, bay, and a tablespoon of sea salt. Drain them when they’re cooked through but still firm, remove the herbs, and set them aside in a bowl. Stir in the fine-diced onion and carrot, the parsley and zest, and the olive oil. Let sit at room temperature.
Striped Bass Fume
about a gallon
When you’ve carved out all the meat you can, the bass rack makes an excellent fish stock. Remove the guts and gills, chop the rack into pieces to fit in your stockpot and add water to cover. Throw in a rough chopped onion, a couple of carrots and stalks of celery, a few bay leaves, and some peppercorns. Bring to a low boil and simmer for just about 30 to 40 minutes. Strain and use for soups and risottos.
Editor’s note: This article was corrected on 8.9.19: the catch limit on recreational wild striped bass is one fish per angler per day, not two.