Delights From The Deep

Do you think the wonders of the Shore end at bodysurfing distance from the beach? Of course not. Another world entirely begins there—the cornucopian world of Jersey seafood. Here is a foretaste of the riches that Jersey fishermen, plying coastal waters, bring to our docks on a daily basis.

BLUE CRAB
(Callinectes sapidus)
WHERE CAUGHT: From saltwater to the almost-freshwater of back bays and estuaries, from low tide to waters 120 feet deep. Little Egg Harbor and the Maurice River estuary are popular spots for crabbers.
PEAK SEASON: Late May through September.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Steam in Old Bay seasoning and beer and serve with drawn butter; fry meat with breadcrumbs and seasonings after steaming to make crab cakes; boil and add to salads.

FISH FACTS: Joe Rizzo, an independent commercial crabber in Barnegat Bay, in business since 1980, says never mind the associations with Maryland—“We have the best crabs around.”

BLUEFISH
(Pomatomus saltatrix)
WHERE CAUGHT: Young bluefish develop near the surface in continental-shelf waters and eventually move to estuarine and near-shore locations. They prefer sandy bottoms but also live in mud, silt, clay bottoms and vegetated areas.
PEAK SEASON: May through December.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Grill with a citrus marinade; broil skin-side down with butter, salt, pepper and lemon; bake coated in mayonnaise, chives, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
FISH FACTS: Unless the fish are smoked, a lot of cooks pass them by: “It doesn’t have the best of names, because it’s darker and a little more robust than tilefish or flounder,” says Ernie Panacek, general manager of Viking Village, a commercial fishery in Barnegat Light. “But it’s got excellent fish flavor. You just have to like fish.”

CAPE MAY SALT OYSTER
(Crassostrea virginica)
WHERE CAUGHT: Farmed by Cape May-based Atlantic Cape Fisheries exclusively.
PEAK SEASON: Year-round.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Shuck and eat raw, fry or make oysters Rockefeller.
FISH FACTS: Since 1997, New Jersey’s oyster-producing profile has been on the rise because of this appealingly named creature. In 2009 it was awarded the Slow Foods Presidia, an honor extended to products that promote biodiversity.


FLUKE

(Paralichthys dentatus) a.k.a.: summer flounder
WHERE CAUGHT: Near-shore coastal waters and bays, including Sandy Hook, Raritan Bay, Delaware Bay, Princess Bay and Barnegat Bay. Also caught offshore in winter.
PEAK SEASON: Summer, but commercial fishermen catch it May through October.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Pan-fry or broil.
FISH FACTS: If you say fluke, according to Jim Hutchinson, managing director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance in New Gretna, it’s a safe bet you’re from North Jersey. “Everybody in the south calls it summer flounder,” he says. By either name, these flatfish are responsible for getting more of the state’s 496,000 saltwater anglers casting their lines than any other fish: “It’s safe to say they’re the most popular recreational target,” says Hutchinson. “There are more directed party boats and charter boats going out for summer flounder than anything else.”

HARD CLAMS
(mercenaria mercenaria) a.k.a.: Countnecks, littlenecks, cherrystones, topnecks
WHERE CAUGHT: Commercially, hard clams are grown from “seeds” in two-acre plots leased from the state from Sandy Hook to Cape May. Recreational clammers can find the bivalves in the surf at Long Beach Island, or a couple of inches below the surface in mucky saltwater in bays or inlets. Popular spots include the sandbars in and around the islands on the Little Egg Harbor side of LBI.
PEAK SEASON: Year-round.
WAYS TO PREPARE: On the half-shell, raw or steamed, or try clams casino.
FISH FACTS: New Jersey clammers sell their catch to a certified dealer for purification, not directly to markets and restaurants. Recreational clammers need a license. Before you wade in there’s a high tide of state regulations to wade through about where you can and cannot clam.

ATLANTIC HERRING
(Clupea harengus) a.k.a.: Sardine
WHERE CAUGHT: In the coastal and continental-shelf waters of the Atlantic.
PEAK SEASON: Year-round.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Bake with olive oil, salt and lemon juice; sauté; broil; or use in sauces or ceviche.
FISH FACTS: Herring—commonly canned and sold as sardines—are a great source of omega-3s, vitamin B12 and iron. But the bulk of New Jersey herring is sent overseas. Lund’s, a commercial fishery in Cape May, counts Egypt and West Africa among its best customers for the little fish.


MACKEREL

(Scomber scombrus)
WHERE CAUGHT: Along the continental shelf, usually near the water’s surface. Anglers fish for them from boats or shoreline sites such as piers, jetties, bridges and beaches.
PEAK SEASON: March through April.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Mackerel is a rich, oily fish, so many cooks choose to marinate it in citrus to lighten the flavor. Grill it, covered, or pan-fry it in olive oil; always cook skin-side down.
FISH FACTS: Mackerel is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and is an excellent source of selenium, niacin and vitamins B6 and B12. But Americans don’t have much use for it. “It’s actually a lovely fish to eat, but it’s an acquired taste,” says Wayne Reichle, vice president of Lund’s Fisheries in Cape May.

MONKFISH
(Lophius americanus) a.k.a.: Goosefish, anglerfish, poor man’s lobster
WHERE CAUGHT: Monkfish are bottom-dwellers usually found 6 to 25 miles offshore.
PEAK SEASON: Fall through late winter.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Grill, roast or broil with pepper, lemon juice, Tabasco and a bay leaf; for extra tenderness, braise it.
FISH FACTS: “Overseas they want them for the livers,” says Ernie Panacek, general manager of Viking Village, a commercial seafood producer in Barnegat Light. The livers are typically more than 6 inches long and weigh over a pound. They’re considered a delicacy in Japan and South Korea.


PORGY

(Stenotomus chrysops) a.k.a.: Scup
WHERE CAUGHT: Offshore in winter and in coastal waters in summer; plentiful around piers, rocks, offshore ledges, jetties and mussel beds.
PEAK SEASON: August through October.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Porgy have lean white flesh but many bones, which is why they’re often served whole. Pan-fry or sauté; alternatively, roast after rubbing with a paste of garlic, fresh rosemary, olive oil and breadcrumbs.
FISH FACTS: Porgy is a low-sodium, low-fat source of protein, and it packs a nutritional punch: it’s high in niacin, phosphorus, vitamins B6, B12 and selenium.

SEA SCALLOP
(Placopecten megallanicus)
WHERE CAUGHT: Far out at sea, using dredges.
PEAK SEASON: Year-round.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Sear in a crust of herbs; bake with garlic, shallots, butter and bread crumbs; grill and toss with lime and cilantro.
FISH FACTS: Scallops have bounced back after being overfished in the ’90s. Now they’re New Jersey’s most valuable seafood crop.

SKATE
(Leucoraja ocellata) a.k.a.: Winter skate
WHERE CAUGHT: Primarily offshore, using longlines, gillnets and trawls.
PEAK SEASON: May through June and November through March commercially.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Dredge in panko breadcrumbs and fry, or sauté and then braise in a lemon-rosemary vinaigrette. Or poach with browned butter, as Le Bernardin once did.
FISH FACTS: Skate is related to the ray, and its flat diamond shape yields two edible wings. At fish markets, the wings are sold skinned and cleaned, on the cartilage. Cooking the skate wings on or off the cartilage is optional—some say leaving it on adds flavor. But removing the cartilage once the skate is cooked can be tricky: the wings, filleted, are so delicate they often fall apart.


SQUID

Longfin (Loligo pealeii), Shortfin (Illex illecebrosus)
WHERE CAUGHT: Inshore; in continental- shelf waters spring through early fall.
PEAK SEASON: Summer through fall for shortfin, November through April for longfin.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Batter with flour, parsley, salt and pepper and deep fry in vegetable oil for calamari, or add rings to clams, shrimp, scallops and pasta for frutti di mare.
FISH FACTS: The longfin variety is familiar to calamari fans stateside, and the larger shortfin variety (by far the bigger haul in New Jersey) is often fried by cooks in Asia and other parts of the world. Compared to Jersey longfin, the West Coast longfin is smaller and shrinks significantly in cooking. Local restaurateurs know this and go for the more robust New Jersey rings.

STRIPED BASS
(Morone saxatilis)
WHERE CAUGHT: Young striped bass lurk in estuaries for two to four years, then migrate to the Atlantic.
PEAK SEASON: March through December.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Roast with tomatoes and saffron or fennel; grill whole with lemon and mint; sauté.
FISH FACTS: In New Jersey, regulations prohibit commercial fishermen from catching striped bass. For sport fishermen, a maximum of two fish is allowed per day, and each of the anadromous creatures—they live in the ocean but return to freshwater to spawn—must be longer than 28 inches.

TILEFISH
(lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps)
WHERE CAUGHT: Along the outer continental shelf and upper continental slope of the entire East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
PEAK SEASON: Year-round for commercial fisheries, April and May for recreational fishermen.
WAYS TO PREPARE: Grill with lemon and pepper; sauté and serve with vegetables; steam like lobster and dip in drawn butter.
FISH FACTS: Golden tilefish—the kind caught by Jersey fisheries—is prized for its texture and flavor, which is often likened to lobster or crab.

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SIDEBAR:

BEYOND OUR WATERS
A thumbnail guide to fish, popular on Jersey menus, that don’t come from Jersey waters.

BLACK SEA BASS
PEAK SEASON: Spring through fall.
WHERE CAUGHT: Off New Jersey and other East Coast states, from Maine to Northeast Florda.

BRANZINO
PEAK SEASON: Year-round.
WHERE CAUGHT: Farmed in Europe and Egypt, caught wild in eastern Atlantic (Norway to Senegal), the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

CHILEAN SEA BASS
PEAK SEASON: Year-round, heaviest landings November through March.
WHERE CAUGHT: Most in U.S. market from off Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

COD
PEAK SEASON: Fall through spring.
WHERE CAUGHT: Mainly off New England.

LOBSTER
PEAK SEASON: March through December.
WHERE CAUGHT: Off New England and Canada.

SALMON
PEAK SEASON: Year-round.
WHERE CAUGHT: Farmed off Maine, Atlantic Canada, Chile, Scotland, Ireland and Norway.

SNAPPER
PEAK SEASON: Year-round.
WHERE CAUGHT: Off Florida and in the Gulf of Mexico


SWORDFISH and TUNA

PEAK SEASON: Year-round, with a slight slowdown in winter due to harsh weather.
WHERE CAUGHT: Some in Jersey waters. Also off Delaware to the Flemish Cap in Canada, which is closer to Ireland than to NJ. Also imported from Africa and South America.

TILAPIA
PEAK SEASON: Year-round.
WHERE CAUGHT: Farmed in all corners of the world, including the U.S.

Click on the links below to read more from our Seafood Lovers’ Guide:

Sea Power
For quality and quantity, the ocean is one of the Garden State’s richest gardens.

Our Favorite NJSeafood Restaurants
Seafood is a given on virtually every restaurant menu, but some places pride themselves on providing a broad range of the very freshest catch. Here are some of our favorites, with a few words on what to expect. If none of these float your boat, there’s always sushi.

Shell Game
Scallop fishermen, working like dogs, haul in Jersey’s most valuable seafood crop. A day on the job with the crew of the scallop boat Lucky Thirteen.

The Whale’s Tale
You have to get there pretty early to beat Fair Lawn’s Peter Panteleakis (a.k.a. Mr. Whale) to the best seafood at the Fulton Fish Market.

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