So many bluefish recipes. So little time. Literally! Bluefish are only in season briefly, migrating to our northeastern shores during the summer months. They are a favorite of recreational fishermen for their voracious fight. But alas, they are highly misunderstood and underappreciated for their culinary potential. In this post, I’m going to share five different recipes for how to cook bluefish — baked bluefish, broiled bluefish, grilled bluefish, pan-fried bluefish, and a sublime summer bluefish chowder.
None of these are overly difficult. In fact, I’ve purposefully made them as simple as possible to encourage more people to try bluefish.
This post is also part of a 6-month collaborative program called the Massachusetts Seafood AmBASSadors and is sponsored by the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) and the Woods Hole Sea Grant Education Research Center. Funding is provided by the proud commercial fishermen of Massachusetts from permit fees at no additional cost to the fishermen via DMF’s Seafood Marketing Grant program. It’s also in conjunction with Eating with the Ecosystem, a New England-based non-profit working to expand awareness of and access to local New England seafood.
I’m proud to have been chosen to be part of this program! My role is to showcase the many fantastic local Massachusetts seafood species in easy-to-cook recipes. As consumers, we are eating way too much seafood from overseas and we need to shift the balance back to our national fisheries, which, contrary to popular belief, are highly regulated and wonderfully sustainable. The global seafood trade hurts our local fishing economies, contributes to overfishing, and incurs a heavy carbon footprint. We have healthy and abundant seafood right on our shores, much of it undervalued and underappreciated. There’s no better example than bluefish! In fact, it’s a great alternative to Atlantic salmon.
First of all, if you like the taste of salmon, you should also like the taste of bluefish because they have very similar qualities. But, to put it quite simply, bluefish is a much more sustainable choice. Bluefish is the epitome of a fish that’s part of a diverse, interconnected, local, seasonal, and therefore, healthy seafood system. Atlantic salmon is pretty much the opposite. It’s essentially fish factory farming, a commodity of the global seafood trade. Atlantic salmon is always farmed, it’s NOT local and it’s not seasonal.
Bluefish, like salmon, is a full-flavored, oily fish, high in omega-3s. It has a reputation for being overly fishy, but, if treated properly, via bleeding and icing, it retains a fresh, full flavor. Many recreational fishermen don’t treat it right after catching it, leaving it exposed out of the water for long periods. Commercial fishermen are better equipped to keep bluefish fresh. They bleed bluefish and immediately put them on ice to preserve their delicate oil-rich flesh.
Properly prepared, bluefish can be just as delicious as salmon! The high-fat content of bluefish also means it’s a little more forgiving to cook as it doesn’t dry out and turn tough as easily as lean whitefish like cod and haddock.
Most local New England fish markets will have bluefish during June, July, August, and sometimes into September. Ask for it if you don’t see it. Because the demand for bluefish is low, its price is relatively cheap compared to other fish species. In fact, it’s often the most affordably priced fish on display, cheaper even than Atlantic salmon.
If you’re in my neck of the woods in the Northampton-Easthampton-Southampton region of western Massachusetts, there are three locations where I’ve found bluefish in the past.
Bluefish have a sleek, bullet-shaped body with shades of silver, white and blue.
The flesh is a grayish color. Many people think it looks unappetizing because they’re used to white-colored fish fillets but this is its normal color.
It also has a dark bloodline running through the middle of the fillets. It’s a very dense, oil-rich piece. Many people cut it out, which is fine to do. Personally, I like the ultra-rich flavor and leave it in.
Let’s get to the bluefish recipes! I’m going to start with what I think is the best bluefish recipe.
This recipe for a pan-fried bluefish is like a cross between blackened bluefish and grilled bluefish. I use a blackening spice mixture in my recipe to coat the outside of the fish but I don’t blacken it. Blackening requires ultra-high heat and can really smoke up your kitchen. I find pan-frying with blackening spices a less intense but equally delicious preparation. It will still crisp the outside nicely.
I love Frontier Co-op’s Organic Blackened Seafood Seasoning which is kind of like Old Bay. It’s a great spice combination for seafood regardless if you use it as a blackening spice or not.
Simply brush some olive oil on both sides of the bluefish fillet and then coat it in the blackening spices. Heat some olive oil over high heat in a cast iron pan on your stovetop. Add the filet, skin side down, and fry it for 5 minutes, without moving it. Flip and cook another 2-3 minutes, or until the bluefish is cooked through. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get any better than this pan-fried bluefish recipe.
Once removed from the pan, top the fillets with some butter and serve with some lime or lemon wedges. Serve it with a side of this jalapeno cole slaw. Absolute heaven!
Pan-fried with blackening spices and topped with butter and citrus, this bluefish recipe is a great way to bring out the rich, full flavor of bluefish!
Rinse bluefish fillets and pat dry with a paper towel
Lightly coat the fillets with about 1 TBSP of olive oil
Sprinkle the fillets liberally with the blackening spices, coating both sides
Heat the remaining olive oil over high heat in a cast iron pan
When the pan is good and hot, add the fillets skin side down and fry for about 4-5 minutes, until browned. Be careful as the hot oil may splatter when adding the fillets. Do not move the fillets around the pan.
Flip and fry the other side, about 2-3 minutes, or until well-browned.
To test for doneness, stick a fork through the fillet. It should pass through easily without resistance.
Remove the fillets from the pan and add a pat of butter on top.
Season with lime or lemon juice and fresh herbs of your choice.
Pan-fried bluefish may be my personal favorite, but grilled bluefish is a close second. Grilling creates that wonderful smokey flavor that most people love and crave. It’s also perhaps the best way to capture the pure, distinct flavor of bluefish. A simple seasoning of salt, pepper, lemon, and olive oil is all that’s needed.
To grill bluefish, make sure your grill is really hot and the grates are well oiled. I’ve made the mistake of putting fish on a grill before it’s hot enough. This both makes the fillet stick to the grill and it doesn’t char the outside very well. And that’s the whole point of a grilled bluefish or any grilled fish!
Brush both sides of your bluefish fillets with a little olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. Grill the flesh side down first for about five minutes. This will create a really nice sear. Most recipes start with the skin-side down but I’ve found that this method helps hold the fillets together better. Flip and grill the skin-side down for another few minutes, until the fillets flake easily and are cooked through.
Remove from the grill and season with additional lemon juice, salt, and pepper, to taste. Top with a pat or two of butter and/or fresh herbs like dill, chives, or parsley.
Grilling bluefish is one of the best ways to appreciate its rich, full flavor. All you need is a little salt, pepper, and citrus. The smokey flavor from the grill takes care of the rest.
Pre-heat the grill to high
Rub both sides of the fillets in olive oil
Season both sides with lemon juice and salt and pepper
Brush the grill with a little olive oil to prevent sticking
Once the grill is good and hot, add the fillets, flesh side down, cover and turn the heat down slightly. Cover and grill for about 4-5 minutes.
Flip and grill the skin side for about 2-3 more minutes. To test for doneness, stick a fork through the fillet. It should pass through easily without resistance.
Remove fillets from the grill.
Add optional seasonings, to taste.
Broiled bluefish and baked bluefish are the two simplest bluefish recipes. I like broiled bluefish a little better than baked bluefish because broiling browns the sauce on the top of the fish, giving it a slightly more pronounced flavor.
The only difference in these bluefish recipes, besides the cooking technique, is that the broiled bluefish includes a layer of mayonnaise on top that’s mixed with lemon juice, dill, salt, and pepper. Sounds weird but I promise it works beautifully.
Topped with a lemon-dill-mayonnaise, this broiled bluefish recipe is a great way to enhance the rich, succulent flavor of fresh bluefish.
Preheat the broiler.
In a small bowl mix together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, garlic, dill, salt, and pepper. Scoop about a small amount and set aside for serving.
Spread the olive oil on a baking pan or sheet and place the bluefish fillets on it, skin side down.
Coat the top of the fillets with the mayonnaise mixture.
Broil 4 to 6 inches from the heat for about 10 minutes. The mayonnaise should blister and brown slightly.
To test for doneness, stick a fork into the thickest part of the fillet. When it passes through easily, without resistance, the fish is cooked through.
Remove from the heat and serve with the reserved mayonnaise.
Season with additional dill, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, if desired.
For the baked bluefish, a simple lemon and butter sauce, the most classic baked fish sauce, never fails. I also include dill, which is my favorite herb in this recipe. Substitute any herbs you want.
A simple lemon butter sauce never fails in this baked bluefish recipe.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Melt the butter in a small sauce pan and mix in the lemon juice.
Add a small amount to the bottom of a baking pan and spread it around.
Add the bluefish fillets to the pan, skin side down.
Spread the rest of the lemon-butter sauce on top of the fillets.
Put it in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes. The sauce will start to sizzle after about 10 minutes. Spoon this sauce over the fillets one or two times in the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.
To test for doneness, stick a fork in the fillets at the thickest part. When it goes through without resistance, immediately remove the fillets from the oven.
Top each fillet with freshly chopped dill.
Season with salt, freshly ground pepper, and additional lemon juice, to taste.
Bluefish makes a sublime fish chowder! For the recipe, check out my Bluefish Chowder with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, and Tarragon. It’s also included in my book, New England Soups from the Sea, which includes 18 total chowder recipes. If you love chowder, you will not be disappointed!
Bluefish can be used in other types of seafood soups and stews too. In particular, it makes a great choice in seafood stews because typically, the fish choices are interchangeable in stews. Traditionally, seafood stews are rustic dishes made with whatever fish and/or shellfish fishermen catch. Any of these recipes are great examples of where bluefish can be included:
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.