By GRACE KELLY/ecoRI News staff
Cheap, plentiful, and tasty, scup — also known as porgy — is one of the best local fish species you can buy.
“It’s a super abundant species in our New England ecosystem, especially in the southern New England ecosystem, and NOAA puts the population status at above the target population. So it’s doing really well,” said Kate Masury of Eating with the Ecosystem. “In 2017 Rhode Island landed more than 6 million pounds of scup, which is quite a bit, and yet in terms of eating them, walking in to a fish market and finding them, we found that it was available in retail markets less then 10 percent of the time.”
So where is all the scup going?
“Most of it’s getting sent elsewhere, to New York, Philadelphia, or even as far as other countries,” Masury said.
Instead of eating locally caught fish, according to the National Fisheries Institute, the most consumed fish in the United States are shrimp, canned tuna, salmon, and tilapia. Shrimp and tilapia are often imported from other countries, such as Vietnam and China, and their farming can cause rampant pollution and decimate local species.
“We could be eating better quality fish, like scup, from our own waters,” Masury said.
So if you see scup at your local fishmonger, don’t be intimidated by its whole-fish format.
“I think it’s actually a bit of an easier fish to work with once you get over that intimidation factor,” Masury said. “It’s the perfect size to fry in a pan, or stick in the oven, or put on the grill. You don’t have to filet it, so as long as its scaled and gutted, which you can have your fishmonger do for you. You just have to stuff with herbs or lemon or whatever flavors you like, and it flakes of the bone easily.”
Andrew McQuesten, chef at the Providence restaurant north, said, “The main thing that impresses me with such a ‘lowly’ fish is its versatility. Between raw, whole roasted, or grilled applications, scup can hold up to most flavors without being overpowered.”
Stuart Meltzer, owner of the Fearless Fish Market in Providence, said, “We mostly sell scup in whole form. Look for clear, bulging eyes and moist skin. The fish should not have a smell.”
To get you started, we got two recipes for scup from local chefs: a simple, summery roasted whole scup with fresh, zesty chimichurri from chef Nikhil Naiker at Fearless Fish; and a luscious scup with coconut poblano sauce and grilled cucumbers from McQuesten at north.
Featured species: scup
Flavor: mild, sweet
Texture: medium firm, medium-sized flake, similar to black bass but darker flesh
Sustainability level: According to NOAA’s FishWatch, scup is above target population level in New England, making it a great sustainable choice.
Recipe: Roasted Whole Scup with Chimichurri
courtesy of Fearless Fish, @nikhilnn
Drink pairing: Pair with a nice, light-bodied red like a gamay, a crisp white chenin blanc, or if you’re feeling adventurous, grab a bottle of retsina — a delicious Greek white wine that is aged for a short time in a barrel coated with pine resin.
2 whole fish, about 1 a pound each, scaled, gilled, and gutted (have your fishmonger do this for you)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 lemon, juiced
½ cup red wine vinegar
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil plus 2 tbsp
2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 bunch parsley, chopped
½ tsp red chili flakes
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Add garlic into medium sized bowl and massage with the salt and sugar. Let sit for a few minutes. Add lemon juice, mix, and let garlic marinate in lemon juice.
Add red wine vinegar and ¾ cup olive oil, whisk until well combined. Add more salt to taste, if needed.
Add scallions and parsley to oil and vinegar mixture. Let sit and begin preparing the fish.
Pat fish dry with paper towel, before drizzling with the 2 tbsp olive oil and generously salt and pepper. Put fish inside oven in the middle rack. Set timer for 10 minutes.
Check fish after 10 minutes, cook longer if necessary.
Fish is done when internal temperature reaches 145 degrees or when fish flakes apart easily, flesh turns from translucent to opaque.
Transfer fish to plate and top with chimichurri. Garnish with fresh parsley and dill, and serve with crusty bread.
Recipe: Scup with Coconut Poblano Sauce and Grilled Cucumbers
courtesy of Andrew McQuesten, north
Drink pairing: Pair with a tart white wine (think pinot grigio) or a bold tequila cocktail.
2 larger scup, filleted as per the instructions, or ask your fishmonger
1 can coconut Cream
½ can coconut milk
1 tsp salt
Generous pinch of black pepper (15 turns if using a pepper grinder)
4 tsp sugar
3 poblano peppers
1 English cucumber or 3 small cucumbers
2 tbsp pickle brine
2 tbsp lime juice
Filet the scup (or ask your fishmonger). Filleting scup is much like any other round fish. Start by making a cut just behind the head and going down past the gills and out through the belly. Continue by making an incision at the dorsal fin toward the head and with gentle downward pressure and using the length of your knife, slice until you reach the spine. Turn fish and slice from the tail up to the spine in the same way on the bottom of the fish. Use kitchen shears to cut through the ribs. Where the ribs meet the spine is where most of the pin bones are. Cut ribs out with a knife going toward the belly and then use tweezers to pull out the pin bones.
Salt both flesh and skin of your filets and place skin side down on a hot grill. If using gas, once you get a good sear on the fish, turn the heat down and cook until flesh is firm. Be sure to spray your grill with nonstick to ensure you get to enjoy the skin.
To make the coconut poblano sauce, first put poblanos on flame and char on all sides.
Place in Tupperware with lid on to steam them. Soak in water to peel off charred skin and remove the seeds. Blend in a food processor for a few pulses until it breaks into small chunks.
Put coconut cream, coconut milk, salt, black pepper, and sugar in pot. Bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce to medium heat. Add poblanos and simmer on medium for 10 minutes. Pull off heat and let cool to room temperature. Mix in pickle juice and lime juice. Adjust as needed with salt and sugar.
Halve cucumbers and grill dry, cut side down. Grill until face is charred but cucumber is not cooked all the way through. Cut into bite size portions.
Spoon coconut poblano sauce in a shallow bowl to cover the bottom. Arrange grilled cucumbers on top. Place scup filet on cucumber pieces.
Note: This dish may also be prepared with raw scup or whole roasted scup. Raw preparation: If you would like to try eating scup raw, have the skin removed and cut into any size pieces you want. Thinly sliced would be best for a chilled version of the coconut poblano sauce. Be sure to follow USDA guidelines for preparing raw fish — for example, freezing to kill parasites. Whole preparation: Have your fishmonger scale and gut your scup. Score skin with a sharp knife, and salt generously. Place on a well-oiled sheet pan and roast the fish in the oven at 450 for 10-15 minutes.
If you make this dish, don’t forget to snap a pic and tag us @ecorinews, @fearlessfishmarket, @foodbynorth, and @eatingwiththeecosystem on Instagram.
The Go Fish in August was bluefish.