One Man’s Trash … Cooking with Less Popular Types of Fish

One positive aspect of the recent regulations on catch limits for popular fish like flounder and haddock is that seafood enthusiasts are becoming more creative with the types of fish they cook and eat. In March of this year, local Boston, Massachusetts, chefs held a Trash Fish Dinner, where they served up three lesser known (but still delicious) types of fish: redfish, pollack, and dogfish. The creativity of these chefs, and their willingness to explore less popular types of fish, illustrated that delicious dishes can come from all types of seafood, as long as they are served with a bit of ingenuity and inventiveness.

Here’s a breakdown of three well known “trash fish,” and some suggestions of how they may spice up your everyday seafood repertoire.


Photo credit: finchlake2000 / Foter / CC BY

A flakey and moist fish, redfish is sometimes known as ocean perch. Mild in flavor, many compare its taste to the red snapper fish. Redfish is a popular fish to cook blackened or pan friend. It has firm, white flesh, and tends to spoil more quickly than other types of fish. Redfish can be substituted for haddock or fish with similar qualities (which tends to be more popular). Try it in dishes like fish tacos, crispy and fried, or baked simply with light herbs and lemon. This is definitely worth trying out at least once!


Photo credit: Diving Ben / Foter / CC BY-NC

About three feet in size and a member of the shark family, dogfish is also known as Cape Shark. Most dogfish enthusiasts consider them best when eaten fresh; they do not freeze well. Dogfish must be gutted, bled, and chilled as soon as it is caught because, as a member of the shark family, its waste products are maintained within the body and excreted through the skin. A popular fish for fish and chips, dogfish is also excellent when smoked (due to its oily flesh) and also in soups, stir fry, or even as kebabs. Although the skinning and gutting of a dogfish is a bit labor intensive, it is a great, abundant alternative to popular types of fish for cooking.


Photo credit: haakonhansen / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

A part of the cod family, the pollack is a light and flakey fish in flavor and can therefore be substituted for haddock or cod in most recipes. Pollack can grow up to three and a half feet long, have whiskers like a catfish, and can be distinguished by their dark flesh that takes a greenish hue. Although traditionally for stews (and even foods like breaded fish filets and fish sticks), pollack can be versatile because of its mild taste, and is recommended poached, baked, or broiled.

Live Bait: Some Popular Favorites

Using live bait to catch your trophy fish in New England’s waters? Here a few favorites that are sure to entice: 

Eels are often referred to as “striper candy” because, well, stripers love eels. Eels are an incredibly effective bait for stripers. For convenient storage, place your live eels in a small cooler, preferably with some sort of cooling like a plastic ice pack, or a damp cloth. The cool water will make the eels more manageable when handling, and keep them alive longer. Many fishermen prefer to handle eels with a glove, a sock-glove, or even scraps of burlap, since they are very hard to keep a firm grip on them.

Mackerel is a versatile, spirited creature that will attract almost any type of fish. Known locally as “tinkers,” these little fish swim north during fishing season and travel in huge schools, which makes them a fun and plentiful catch for any larger fish. They are built for speed, but because they travel in such large numbers, can be caught fairly simply by using a Sabiki Rig. Many fishermen prefer to use them live, but Mackerel is a good bait when live, as a flapper, in strips, frozen, in chunks, you name it.

Sand worms are also a great option for live bait fishing. It is important to hook them through the mouth, as the lower parts of the sea worm are not as sturdy as the upper areas. Although just one will do the trick, putting more than one on a hook at a time creates an irresistible ripple in the water, sure to attract the fish. Some fishermen find that sand worms are not very cost effective, but the results when fishing with them almost always pay off in the end.

Clams may be a little extra work if you’d like to use live ones, but are an incredibly effective bait. A more polarizing live bait, some feel clams aren’t worth the trouble. They are a bit harder to keep on the hook, have a very strong smell, are somewhat difficult to handle, and tend to become less potent when water logged more than some other live bait options. However, fish love them! Some types of fish will even come more inland specifically to look for these tasty treats. So, if you’re hoping to mix up your everyday bait routine, try adding some clams in your repertoire. A circle hook may do the trick for keeping clams put.

The “Truths” of Fishing: Watching Lilacs, and Other Environmental Factors

There are a lot of “truths” fishermen believe in that they depend on time and time again to help find big fish. Methods, ideologies, and traditions that, when put in to practice, seem to work and become ingrained in the way we fish. If you ask hundreds of fishermen what their best practices are, you will get hundreds of different versions of what the best times, conditions, and instruments are. Striper fishing is especially laden with myths, with many believing the best fishing is before a storm or at night — but never after it’s rained or during a full moon at night. But can all these be true?

One very common rule has to do with lilacs. It’s been said that when lilacs bloom, you can expect stripers in your area. This undoubtedly has some bit of truth in it, as lilacs usually bloom around April or May, right around the time water is (usually) becoming warm enough for stripers. Stripers tend to be most abundant in waters 52 degrees or warmer, and their search for this temperature usually accounts for their moving or staying deeper below the surface. Flowers tend to bloom when the temperature at night no longer dips below 50 degrees … so these things add up. However, is this just coincidence, or are the two really linked together?

Environmental changes do undoubtedly play a big part in finding fish, especially at the beginning of the season when the water is just beginning to warm. However, there will always be some variables, some things that change from year to year, affecting how we fish. That spot at which you can always find stripers because of the way the wind shifts and the water moves through the rocks? It could have experienced major erosion over the winter from the rocks in the water moving around, sands shifting, you name it. Suddenly, the fish aren’t gathering where they used to. That one spot you always fished from, it may change. You may find that you are finding new methods, new beliefs about fishing on that beach. The truth changes a bit.

Ultimately, environment does affect fishing, but there certainly is a gray area when trying to figure out just how much it determines result. Establishing your own set of beliefs and practices around your fishing is what makes it fun and unique to your style as a fisherman. Ultimately, though, there is always room for change. Perhaps it’s not important that these methodologies be “true,” but just that they work for you.

What are some of your tried-and-true fishing “truths”?

The Old Standby: How to Make Fish and Chips

There is nothing quite like cooking a fish that you caught fresh from the ocean. Taking your catch from hook to table is a lot of fun, but also a lot of work! Which is why, when it comes time to cook that carefully caught fish, you want to make sure it’s done right. Although creating a healthy marinade or grilling your catch is always a good way to go, there is something to be said about that oh-so-delicious classic method of preparing fish: frying. Haddock is especially great for this, and if you’re using haddock, there are few recipes as famous as traditional fish and chips. Like any widely used recipe, there are many variations, but below you will find the building blocks for making a fish fry. From there, it’s up to you to find your own twist. Enjoy!


  • deep fryer
  • spatula
  • 2 large plates
  • kitchen paper (or newspaper if you are an F&C purist)
  • large mixing bowl


  • 4 haddock fillets
  • oil for frying
  • 6 ounces white flour, plus more for dredging
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 can of beer, cold
  • 3 russet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • seasoning to taste: salt, pepper, chili powder

How to Prep:

  • Lay kitchen paper on counter near fryer.
  • Set fryer to 350 degrees.
  • Prep the potatoes by cutting them into thick, long fries.
  • Pour a generous amount of flour onto one of the large plates.
  • Dredge (cover all over) the fillets in the flour, making sure to get all surface areas. Set aside.
  • In the mixing bowl, pour 6 oz flour, seasoning, and baking soda. Mix them together.
  • Slowly add in the beer and mix as you go, until combination of ingredients is liquid enough to cover the fillets. Make sure there are no lumps.
  • Add lemon to batter and stir again.
  • Pour batter mixture onto plate.
  • Drink leftover beer.

How to Cook:


  • Place potatoes into hot oil and allow to cook until golden brown.
  • Remove from oil and place on paper to drain.


  • Take 1 fillet and coat it with the batter on plate.
  • Immediately after doing so, put fillet in fryer (make sure the temperature is still at 350 degrees).
  • Once it begins to crisp, add other fillets.
  • Remove fillets individually as they crisp and become golden brown (about seven minutes).
  • Place finished fillets on paper to drain.

Serve with malt vinegar and a lemon wedge.

The Fisheries Disaster Relief and Research Investment Act: Trying to Help Massachusetts' Ailing Fishing Community

June 1st marked the full-on groundfishing season for Massachusetts, but this year, the day was met with little celebration. In previous years, this day marked the height of the season, when additional waters – previously restricted at the season’s opening – are made available.

However, this year their opening can do little to raise the hope (not to mention profits) of New England fishermen due to the recent slash in catch limits. The huge cut in allotted fish (77% for cod) was a devastating blow to the fishing industry in New England, especially in Gloucester.

Some attempts have been made to help lessen the damage done by these new, stringent regulations. In November 2011, Governor Deval Patrick requested aid for the state of Massachusetts and the fishing industry. Congressman John Tierney, too, has asked for disaster relief. He proposes The Fisheries Disaster Relief and Research Investment Act. The main goal as stated on the bill is “To provide exclusive funding to support fisheries and the communities that rely upon them, to clear unnecessary regulatory burdens and streamline Federal fisheries management, and for other purposes.” More specifically, what Tierney proposes (among other things) is that the money collected from tariffs of imported seafood be given to affected areas to help lessen the blow. This action, unfortunately for everyone involved, was met with little response.

The request in relief funds has caused tensions to run high in Gloucester, where people are growing concerned about how the money will be spent if it is granted at all. Some feel it should go to the city, in order to build the waterfront’s economy, while others feel it should go to the fishermen who have been directly affected by the cutbacks.

Professional fishermen have been trying to adapt: fishing for other types of fish besides the popular favorites, downsizing their fleets, selling their boats, and working with the limited resources they have left. Despite their creativity born out of necessity, there is no denying that the industry is badly hurt, which leaves many to wonder what will remain of the Massachusetts fishing community when the amount of fish has returned to what others deem an appropriate level.

How can you help? You can write to Massachusetts officials with your own stories of how this recent legislation has impacted you, or contact your local fishermen’s association to see how you can be of service. The fishing industry affects everyone in Massachusetts, whether directly or indirectly, so we all have a stake in helping our storied fleets stay afloat.

How to Prepare a Whole Haddock for Cooking

Haddock is a favorite catch among local deep sea fishermen, and it’s not hard to understand why. Haddock rarely goes into waters below thirty feet, making it an exciting catch, and it is also really delicious to eat. A very diverse fish, haddock and can be served a number of ways because of its white, mildly flavored flesh. However, in order to cook a delicious meal with haddock, you need to make sure you start with a really clean, appetizing cut of meat. That means knowing how to properly fillet your fish once you’ve caught it.

Below is a quick tutorial of how to get a good-looking cut every time, ensuring that your next haddock catch will be well worth the fight, and the time it takes to cook it.

You’ll need:

  • One whole haddock, freshly caught
  • Large, sharp, somewhat flexible knife
  • Flat surface

To filet the haddock:

  • Place the fish on one side. Starting at the head and working toward the tail, cut along the top of the fish, along the dorsal fins (there are three) in concentrated, sharp movements, staying on top of the bone. Note: the knife is simply parting the meat, not sawing into the bone.
  • Once you have gone from top to tail, cut along the head toward the belly of the fish to allow the meat to part from the rest of the body. You will be able to open up the side of the fish, exposing its rib cage.
  • Using the same sort of sharp, quick movement, cut along the filet directly above the rib cage. You now have a beautiful, boneless haddock filet!
  • Repeat on opposite side of fish.

To remove skin:

  • Place the filets skin down on a flat surface directly in front of you.
  • Use the sharp part of your blade to start separating the skin from the meat. Make a small incision right about the skin. Doing so will allow you to roll the de-skinned fillet away from you on top of itself.
  • Turn the knife parallel to yourself.
  • Turn the blade over, so that the blunt part is now the part making contact with the fish.
  • Hold down the skin, and begin to drag the knife along the fillet, using the flat table as guide.
  • This gets easier with practice, and finding the right position for your hand and body makes all the difference when smoothly removing the skin.
  • Once you have traveled the length of the fillet with your knife, you will have a perfectly deskinned and deboned fillet ready for cooking.

Sinkers 101

Sinkers are absolutely essential for successful saltwater fishing. They help to stabilize your line, determine depth, and ultimately, help you land your target fish. Originally, most were made of lead, and created from molds in various weights, shapes, and sizes. However, because lead can be a toxic material, other metals are starting to replace it, such as brass and steel. Although the sinkers below are some of the most basic, they do not need to be used in simple ways. Here are a few sinkers every fisherman should not be without.

Split Shot Sinker: Hassle free, just clamp and go. Split shots help to bring the bait just a bit further underwater and also offer extra stability. In theory, they can be placed anywhere on your line, and where you place it will yield very different results. Clamping a split shot on your line sometimes weakens it, so be aware when hunting for larger fish, and (as always) keep an eye on it. 

Egg Sinker: Round in shape, these traditional sinkers are attached above the swivel, with the line going through it. When a fish bites, it then pulls the line through the bait, making the weight undetectable to the fish. Using live bait with egg sinkers is recommended, since you can let the fish eat some of the bait before landing him.

Trolling Sinker: Long and thin, with swivels on either end that help prevent the line from twisting. What size you use depends on how fast you are trolling, and what exactly you are hunting for. Like most bait/tackle/sinker combinations, it takes patience, practice, and even a little math to find the best combo. A good rule of thumb when starting out is to get a range of trolling sinkers from 1 to 4 ounces and test varying length of line and speeds.

Bank Sinkers: Meant to stay on the bottom, but not get stuck there. A basic bank sinker is round or oval in shape, but some have special add-ons that act as an anchor on the ocean floor. Bank sinkers are best for sandy areas because in more rocky areas (or areas with extremely strong currents) its rounded shape prevents it from staying put. The eye of a bank sinker adds to the weight on your line, which sometimes means wear and tear. A sinker slide can help reduce this risk and help your bank sinker perform better longer.

The Jaws that Bite: How to Unhook a Toothy Fish

Although fishing can be relaxing and fun, it can also be dangerous! Especially when reeling in more toothy types of fish, like the bluefish. Bluefish have a large range in size, starting at about seven inches, and can get up to forty pounds (although it is rare to catch one above twenty). Although some consider bluefish a bait fish for others like shark and tuna, bluefish can be excellent eating, too, especially the ones smaller in size.

However, if you are reeling in a smaller blue, do not be fooled by its less-than-intimidating length. Even the tiniest bluefish can do damage to your fingers, and with their ability to see well both in and out of the water, they can prove a tough adversary when it comes time to catch and release. (Or keep, depending on how your day has been going.) Bluefish have one row of uniform chompers, and every one is razor-sharp. So, regardless of if you are on boat or wading in water, keep your fingers intact and brush up on some basics of removing hooks when landing an especially aggressive fish.

Let the leader be your guide! A leader has many functions, mainly to help protect your line, your plugs and lures, and also to ensure your fish stays on the line. It can also help keep you safe. Use your leader as a point of contact when reaching down for the fish. Slide your hand down the leader and grab the fish at the back of the head, heading for the gill plate. Be careful: If your leader is too thin, it could slice your hand, too!

Once you’ve got the fish by the head, firmly place your fingers in the gill plate. By holding the fish like this, not only are you forcing it to relax, but you are handling it in a way that allows for safe re-entry into the water. If you are on a boat, you can pin the fish down with your knee. If you are in water, have your pliers handy and tuck that rod under your elbow.

Use pliers to safely remove the hook from the fish. Grab the shank of the hook with the pliers and gently rotate the hook out. No-barb hooks will ensure easier removal.

By following these simple steps you’ll make sure both you and the fish stay safe to fight another day.

The Mouth: Fishing for Striper on the Mouth of the Merrimac

Arguably one of Massachusetts’ favorite species to fish for, Stripers (Striped Bass) are plentiful, versatile, and delicious. Usually stripers are best for eating between 18 inches (the legal minimum) and 36 inches — beyond that they’ve been known to get a bit too coarse. Somewhere between cod and swordfish in terms of flakiness and texture, most people find stripers to be rich and mineral in flavor. They are extremely versatile to cook with, and taste amazing when grilled. More than their excellent taste and plentiful numbers, stripers are great to fish for because they can be found in almost any environment you want to set up in, be it deep out in the ocean, or closer in, like in your local river.

Although being out on a boat is a thrill, there is something to be said for the simplicity of river fishing. It gives you a home court advantage over bigger inland fish like the striper, and the mouth of the Merrimac River is a great place to fish this time of year. Think of the mouth like a funnel: When the tide comes in, so do the fish, cramming into the river’s smaller water looking for a snack. When tides go back out, so too do the fish, following the crowd. For the in-the-know fishermen, this change in tide can help score some big fish. Sure, there are little schoolies in the river as well, looking for their share of herring and eel, but among the smaller fish there are bound to be some plump grown-ups looking for lunch too.

A tip for finding the best spot on the mouth: take the day and scout it out. If you head out when it’s low tide, you can learn a little about the environment of the river, while the water is low. Canvas the river for deep pockets on the water’s floor, where the water noticeably drops off. Once high tide approaches, these spots are great for dropping bait into because the fish assume, due to the increased depth there, that there is also increased food and protection. (Clearly they do not know what you know.) So, if you scout where the deep pockets are during low tide, chances are, when high tide approaches, you will be able to land even the most cautious of the river’s big stripers.

Don’t feel like taking the boat out all day? Try a little river fishing. You may be surprised at the results!

Grilling the Perfect Summer Swordfish: Recipe and How To

Grilling outside is one of the joys of warm weather, and very few fish work better on the grill than swordfish. A great alternative to the standard burgers and dogs, swordfish is excellent for outdoor cooking because of its easy prep and cooking procedure. In fact, if you are comfortable grilling steaks on the grill, you probably already know the basics of cooking up a mean swordfish. Like beef, swordfish is generally cut in a steak, usually about one inch think. And if the swordfish is of good quality, it will require little more than a simple marinade to produce a really delicious dinner. It is also similar to steak in texture, offering up a heartier, more “meaty” taste than other fish that tend to flake. So why not try something a little different? Below is a simple, delicious, and healthy way to prepare and cook swordfish for your next backyard party.

You Will Need*:

Swordfish steaks

A mixing bowl

Pastry brush

Large bowl or Ziploc bag

1 clove of minced garlic (1 tablespoon if pre-minced)

Grill and grilling equipment

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Pinch of zested lemon (“Zested” is more or less shaved lemon peel, which you can do by using a peeler and lightly running it over the skin of a lemon so that it produces small, thin shavings.)

1 sprinkle fresh oregano (or similar herb)

Salt and pepper to taste

*Repeat recipe to thoroughly cover all your steaks

How to Prepare:

In your mixing bowl, combine all of your ingredients. Then, using your pastry brush, coat each steak with the mixture, placing it in a large bowl or Ziploc bag when you are done. Once all the steaks are covered, put in the refrigerator for three to four hours. (Do not keep them in longer than four hours.) Once they are marinated, you are ready to grill!

How to Cook:

Your marinade should provide enough coating for the steaks to prevent them from sticking to the grill. However, if you have any extra marinade, apply the excess mixture to your fish before placing on a grill with medium to medium-high heat. Think of swordfish like a rare beef steak: cook only for a few minutes on each side, allowing the very middle to stay somewhat rare. Swordfish goes well with most anything, but this marinade is especially good with orzo or a Greek salad. Enjoy!