Tuesday, April 26, 2016

So THAT'S what you do with porgy!

I got inspired by an Edible Boston article by Sarah Blackburn called Edible Basics: Red Fish, Blue Fish, Flat Fish, Whole Fish?, where she said:

"Generally, though, we’ll go home with the easy catch, species often derided as 'trash fish' since they’re less sexy than the prized striper and not as much fun to fight on the line as a blue. However, scup (also called porgy or sea bream), black sea bass, and even the unsightly—but delicious—sea robin and dogfish (a small, local shark) are all excellent eating once you know how to handle them."

Porgy.  I'd seen porgy in the Burlington HMart fish case for years--so numerous and so inexpensive.  And fresh.  And based on Sarah's article and other sources, I figured they were probably local and relatively sustainable. So, I went up to the HMart on a Saturday morning, armed with some preparation ideas from the article, and the knowledge that if I got there early enough, I could find a parking space and not have to stand in line for too long at the fish counter.  The 10:00 AM arrival proved to be just right, as I only had a few minute wait, but when I left the store 15 minutes later, there were ten people waiting.  If you like crowds and stress, go to HMart on Saturday afternoon. If you don't, stick to weekdays!

If you've never been there, the fish counter at the HMart is enormous.  A mix of the typical and expected, but an abundance of the unexpected.  There is always porgy.  The downside of the HMart is that you have to know what you want.  The folks behind the counter don't speak much English.  I've never seen them dispensing advice about how to prepare their fish, which is why I'd never tried the porgy, even though it sells for a ridiculous $1.99 per pound.

Armed with Sarah's article, and the accompanying recipe, I knew that I should get two small porgy to feed Susan and me.  If that was too much, we could always have leftovers.  And I knew to ask for it cleaned/gutted and scaled, with the fins removed.  The HMart has complimentary ice to help you get your fish home well chilled, and I even brought my little cooler to make sure.

Most of the recipes I found online echoed Sarah's suggested technique of making three or four slashes on each side of the fish to allow some flavored substance to penetrate.  Sarah's recipe suggested a melange of herbs--"full of every green herb in my garden", along with a long list of other ingredients.  I'm sure her version was spectacular, but in mid April, my herb garden isn't overflowing with much of anything, so I simplified the chunky "sauce" to parsley, lemon (juice and zest), capers, scallion, olive oil and garlic.  And used the leftover parsley stems, scallion greens, and a few lemon slices to lend their aroma to the cavity.

Together with some super-fresh dandelion greens found in the produce aisle (the other reason to go to HMart) served over polenta, this was a life-altering meal.  
  • Roasting the fish for 20 minutes yielded unctuous but not oily, flavorful, flaky fish that was delicious.   
  • Roasting the fish over a bed of thinly sliced onions is brilliant.  It keeps the fish from sticking to the roasting pan, and browns to the point of almost burning, a delicious complement to the fish and the sauce.
  • The fish itself cost $4.80 for about  2.5 pounds of fish (prior to cleaning).  That was plenty for the two of us.  Salmon for two of us would cost twenty dollars -- at least!  Why wouldn't I have this OFTEN?!
  • I can think of so many other ways to flavor this fish, and I hope to try them all soon:
    • Cilantro, lime, ginger
    • Tomato, basil, garlic salsa
    • Braised in a simple tomato sauce
    •  Marinated with miso
  • It's local and sustainable.  I'm going out on a limb here, because I do not know this for sure.  But if I were HMart selling super-fresh "trash fish" for $1.99 a pound, labeled wild caught, I don't imagine it would travel very far.
Although it would look impressive to serve a whole fish to your guest, removing the bone takes some practice, and you're better off letting guests oooh and aaah in the kitchen, the do the work of boning yourself.  The fish meat literally falls off the bone, but there's still some skill involved to be able to pull off whole chunks of fish (maybe even a whole side) without leaving much bone.  And if you de-bone the fish in the kitchen, you get to keep the fish carcass, and make some fish stock--bonus!!  As you can see in the photo, the bones are large, so they're easy to find.

Better to try this dish many times yourself and practice!  I know I will!

Roasted Porgy (Scup) with Parsley Sauce

Yield: Serves 2-4

Total Time: 45 min
Easy, tasty, and inexpensive.  Just be patient with the bones, and practice removing them until you're an expert.


  • 2 porgy (scup), or similar fish about 1.25 pounds each, cleaned, gutted and scaled with fins removed
  • 1/3 bunch of parsley, with leaves roughly chopped, and stems reserved for use in the cavity
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 1 TBS capers, rinsed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 scallions, minced, with the tougher green parts reserved for the cavity
  • 1/4 cup + 2 TBS good extra virgin  olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 thinly sliced lemon wedges
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Prepare the fish:  Rinse the porgy, inside and out and dry.  Make 3-4 slashes on each side of each porgy.   Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper, and rub into the slashes.  Set aside.
  2. Make the sauce:  In a small bowl, combine the chopped parsley leaves, lemon juice, lemon zest, capers, garlic, scallions, and 1/4 cup of the olive oil.  
  3. Preheat the oven:  450 degrees.
  4. Prepare to Roast:  Spread the onion slices on a ridged sheet pan, and add the 2 TBS of olive oil
  5. "Marinate" the fish:  Take one or two tablespoons of the sauce and insert it into the slashes on both sides of the fish.  Put the reserved parsley stems and scallion greens into the fish cavities and put the fish on top of the onions
  6. Roast:  For about 20 minutes, or until the flesh is flaky and opaque. Use a small sharp knife to probe gently.
  7. Remove the flesh from the bone:  Starting at the backbone end, gently lift the flesh from the top side of the fish and place on a serving platter, leaving the skeleton in place.  Sarah suggested two soup spoons.  A cake server would also work well.  Lift the skeleton away and put the remaining flesh on the platter.
  8. Serve:  Some of the flesh, roasted onions, and sauce to each diner.  Garnish with a lemon wedge.
  9. Make stock:  Be sure to make a fish stock with the leftover bones and onions.
Click here for printable recipe page.

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