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Chesapeake Chef: Spike Gjerde’s Cast Iron Rockfish

On the lookout for a new approach to cooking the Bay’s favorite fish?
We were too, so we called up our friends at Butter Pat Industries (see our July 2018 review of their Bay-made cast iron pans, but short version: we’re big fans) to find out what they had on the stove. It turned out they’ve been collaborating with James Beard Award-winning chef Spike Gjerde, of Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen, and they sent us this mouth-watering recipe that will do your rockfish proud.

Photos: Eric Vance/ Butterpat Industries

Ingredients

  • Skin-on fillet of Chesapeake striped bass

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  • Salt (J. Q. Dickinson Salt-Works—jqdsalt.com)

  • Fish-pepper flakes* (woodberrypantry.com)

  • Sunflower or Canola oil

  • 1 medium sweet potato, diced

  • 1 cup cooked field peas (crowder, black-eyed, or lady cream southern peas)

  • 2 cups corn

  • 2 tbsp. butter

  • Generous pinch of minced parsley, thyme, or other herbs

Fish Pepper?

The fish pepper came to the Chesapeake Bay from the Caribbean, and was a staple of oyster- and crab-houses throughout the late 1800s, particularly among African-American communities. This medium-hot pepper has a heat scale rating of 30,000, which falls between the serrano and cayenne. Spike Gjerde has worked with local growers to bring the pepper back to Chesapeake Bay tables, and it’s the essential ingredient in Woodberry Kitchen’s delightful Snake Oil sauce, available online—woodberrypantry.com.

The Process

Preheat a cast iron skillet to 500F in the oven.

With rockfish skin-side up on a cutting board, use the back of a chef’s knife to squeegee any moisture out of the skin, then blot completely dry with a paper towel.

Season the skin side with salt and the flesh side with salt and fish pepper flakes. Then, cut into portions and set aside while you prepare the succotash.

Remove the skillet from the oven and carefully add a swirl of oil, and then add the diced sweet potatoes. Let them cook for a minute or two, then add the field peas, corn and herbs. Season with salt and fish-pepper flakes and return to the oven.

When the potatoes are just tender, stir in butter and spoon onto a serving platter.

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Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and reheat, then add about ¼-inch of oil and very carefully place the fish, skin-side down, in the oil.

Return to the 500-degree oven for three minutes.
The skin should be brown and crisp. Turn and cook an additional three to five minutes until just cooked through.

Place fish on the succotash on the platter and serve immediately with a dry Elk Run Cold Friday Vineyard Riesling from Mount Airy, Md.

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