I grew up fishing for bluefish every summer on the Long Island Sound and it’s among my fondest childhood memories. Man do they put up a fight! But it’s only recently that I’ve learned to appreciate them for their culinary potential. Bluefish have a high oil content which means they’re fantastic eating when prepared fresh but kind of lousy when frozen. This is probably one of the reasons they’ve never had a high commercial value and have remained mostly confined to recreational fish. They have meaty but tender flesh, rich and light at the same time. They also happen to make a robust fish stock and a luscious bluefish chowder.
Because bluefish don’t freeze well, you can only find them when they’re fresh and in season which is from about June to early Fall on the east coast. The best place to find them is at a fish market that specializes in locally caught fish. Generally speaking, supermarket fish departments are unlikely to carry bluefish. However, with the demand for more local and sustainable seafood, it is possible that some supermarket fish counters will stock them. I’ve noticed my local supermarket attempting to broaden its local seafood choices in recent years. That’s a VERY good thing.
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More than likely, you’ll purchase some bluefish fillets from your local fishmonger. But if they also have whole bluefish available, even better. A bluefish chowder made from a bluefish stock will really take your chowder to another level. It’s a total myth that oily fish don’t make good fish stocks! They make awesome broths, robust and full of flavor. Just make sure you never simmer it for longer than one hour. You can learn how to make fish broth here.
Ask your fishmonger to fillet a whole bluefish and give you the head and carcass for the stock. Of course, you can also prepare a whole bluefish yourself. It’s not hard at all. I picked up this beauty from Fearless Fish Market in Providence, Rhode Island….
Yes, they’re called the Fearless Fish Market. Cool name, don’t you think? 🙂 They’re aptly named because they’re truly doing some brave work by selling lesser-known species such as squid, black sea bass, scup, and butterfish. It’s SO important that we embrace a greater diversity of local seafood. We don’t need to eat imported seafood caught halfway around the world when we have a multitude of sustainable choices from our own shores. If you happen to live in or near Providence be sure to stop by and support them.
I filleted my bluefish like so…
Now if you’ve never filleted a fish, not to worry, it’s quite easy. Here’s a good video for how to fillet a bluefish…
Trust me, I know this is not for everybody. I’m sure some of you are rolling your eyes at the suggestion of filleting a whole fish in your kitchen. If you don’t want to make your own fish stock you can use just water, a light chicken broth, or a combination of water and clam broth. Bar Harbor clam juice is my highly recommended store-bought clam broth product.
My recipe strives for something more creative than standard fish chowders which rarely go beyond the typical chowder ingredients of onions, potatoes, and cream. Sweet cherry tomatoes and fresh basil pair really well with the luscious and rich flavors in bluefish chowder, especially because they’re in season in late summer when bluefish season is at its height. A little tarragon with its anise notes makes it all that more fantastic. By all means, you can use other types of tomatoes such as grape tomatoes or other herbs of your choosing. Enjoy!
This bluefish chowder celebrates the bounty of summer with the robust taste of bluefish paired with cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs.
Add the onions and celery and saute 5 to 7 minutes. If more fat is needed, add 1 TBSP unsalted butter. Add garlic in the last minute.
Add the fish stock and potatoes. Make sure there’s enough stock to barely cover all the vegetables. Add a little more stock or water, if needed. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat, cover the pot and simmer about 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
Turn off the heat and add the bluefish. Cover the pot and let it sit in the heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Push into the whole fillets or chunks with a kitchen utensil until they easily flake apart. Gently break apart the bluefish and mix into the chowder.
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.