We went crabbing in Barnegat Bay, usually using lines rather than traps, since lines are more fun. We crabbed from shore, from rowboats, or from the motorboats expertly captained by the DeMollis and Disoteos.
As for cleaning, you can take the crabs home in baskets or buckets lined with some wet seaweed. Then drop them live in a boiling pot, and the diners have to do the cleaning themselves. Or, if you have access to a pier-side hose or the like, you can stab the crabs right where their necks would be. The crabs die instantly. Then rip the bottom shell off so the lungs and other junk can be washed out. But you may want to be careful to preserve the yellow roe and such, as many people like to eat that. In either case, get the crabs home and cooked ASAP. (If you do the cleaning with an outdoor hose at home, the grass around there will be very green, as the crab leavings are excellent fertilizer.)
Our method of preparing the crabs was easy: “marinate” the crabs, in their shells, with oil, pepper and parsley. Maybe add some sliced or minced raw garlic. Add a little vinegar if you like that. Sloppy eating, but delicious.
While you’re at the shore crabbing, you might as well go fishing, too. We used to catch flounder and weakfish (and too many sea robins) but for me THE New Jersey fish is good old oily bluefish.
Here is Mom Gelsie Mazzer’s recipe for sauce for both broiled or baked fish, with ingredients for roughly a 3 1/2-pound fish, after it is cleaned. So adjust the ingredients depending on the size of the fish.
Sauce for Baked or Broiled Fish
½ cup oil
½ cup white wine
2 thinly-sliced onions
½ cup tomatoes, fresh or canned
½ lb. mushrooms, sliced
Peas, 1 can or 1 box frozen, or fresh (lima beans are a good substitute)
½ cup minced parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
A few basil leaves
1 tbsp. dried oregano
3-4 medium potatoes or the equivalent in small potatoes
Combine ingredients (except for the potatoes), and apply to fish as instructed below.
Separately from the sauce, parboil some small potatoes to put around the fish.
Broiled Bluefish Directions:
Grease the bottom of a baking dish with a little oil. Split the fish and lay it in the pan, skin side down. Season with salt and pepper and put in the sauce and potatoes, around and on top of the fish. (Or, if you do not use the sauce, add thinly-sliced tomatoes and onions on top of the fish.) Dot liberally with butter or margarine.
Broil on a low shelf in the oven about 25 minutes, without turning.
Baked Bluefish Directions (based on a 5 lb. fish):
Grease the baking pan and put the fish in whole. Season with salt and pepper and add the other ingredients (the above sauce recipe, or just thinly-sliced onions and tomatoes). Dot with some butter or margarine. Bake in a moderate oven (375 degrees or so) about 1 hour.
Bake in a 300-degree oven and when the fish reads 150 degrees on a meat thermometer, it should be done.
You can also cook bluefish on a grill:
Wrap the fish in foil, and prick two or three holes in the foil to allow steam to escape. Bring the charcoal to the same heat as for a steak. Place the fish on the grill and cook 10-12 minutes on each side.
We enjoyed baccala prepared by my grandmother Angelina Mazzer, by her cousin Celia Menegus and by our family friend Regina DeMarco. I do not have their recipes, but I have been making baccala for a few years now based on what I can remember about their dishes.
I usually make two dishes when I prepare baccala, a “salad” with garlic and oil, and a milk-based stew with potatoes. So I divide the codfish for the two dishes. Not necessarily half-and-half. It depends what I am in the mood for eating more of at the time. So, the quantities of ingredients below are very rough, depending on the weight of the codfish you buy and how much you want to make of each dish.
One final note: Codfish may soon be an endangered species, so try to get it from a sustainable source, or just skip this, and keep the taste of baccala in your memory.
Preparing the dried codfish.
If you have a lot of money you can buy skinless and boneless dried codfish. If not, you will have to remove (unless you like the skin; I don’t) the skin and bones when you can, after soaking or while cooking.
In any case, soak the dried codfish in cold water (you can keep the bowl(s) in the fridge) for 24-48 hours, changing the water about 3-4 times a day. The fish should be soft. I really believe this is a hit-or-miss process. Usually after the soaking the fish is not salty at all, but sometimes when I taste the dish when it is almost cooked, it still is too salty for my taste. (That is when I add more raw potatoes cut into big pieces to the cooking baccala, remove them after the cooking, and hope for the best.)
Ken’s Baccala Salad
Ingredients (based on a 2 to 2 ¼ lb. piece of cod, before soaking):
½ cup or more of finely chopped parsley
¾ cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
Pepper (and maybe even salt) to taste
6 tbsp. lemon juice (or vinegar, if preferred)
½ tsp. hot red pepper flakes
Drain and rinse the soaked cod. Place the fish in a large saucepan of cold water and bring it to a simmer. Let it simmer for 10 minutes. If you cook it too much it will become tough. Remove the fish from the heat and allow it to cool. When it cools off a bit you can then take off any skin that did not come off during the boiling, and remove any bones. The codfish meat should come apart in flakes. If the flakes are too big, break them up
Mix together the garlic, parsley, seasonings (and lemon juice or vinegar, if using), and beat this into the oil. Pour the mixture over the codfish, garnish with more parsley and serve.
However, I usually marinate this. If you want to do that, put the cooked codfish and the mixture in a container that can be sealed, and stir it or shake it up every few hours. This can keep in the refrigerator for several days.
Serve as a side-dish salad, or with fresh or baked polenta.
Ken’s “Venetian”-style Baccala Stew
This is based on about 2 pounds of dried baccala; adjust proportions if the fish is bigger or smaller than that.
½ cup olive oil (or less), for sautéing
1 carrot, chopped small
1 celery stalk, chopped small
1 onion, chopped fine
3-4 potatoes, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 to 1 ½ cups milk
½ cup white wine
1 small can of tomato paste (or 1 or more cups of tomato sauce, if you want this
½ cup finely chopped parsley
Black pepper to taste
Sauté the onions, carrot and celery in hot oil until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and codfish and brown it, with medium heat, not very long. Add the wine and cook for 1 minute. Add the milk and potatoes. When this comes to a boil, simmer and add the tomato paste, parsley and pepper (if desired). The codfish should break into flakes. Break up any large pieces you do not want, and remove skin (unless you want that for flavor) and bones, if any, while this is simmering. Cook on medium for about 20 minutes. Add water or milk as needed. Ideally the sauce will be a nice pink, and not too thick or thin.
Serve with polenta.
Baccala note: Everyone I know always makes these types of dishes with dried, salted codfish. But our health food store sells frozen chunks of codfish, and of course the fish market has fresh codfish (at least for now). Is there any reason why fresh or frozen cannot be used? I don’t know. That sure would save a lot of time and trouble with the soaking, and eliminate the guessing game about the fish being too salty.
Once or twice a year, certainly for Good Friday, my grandmother Angelina made eel, in a stew. I do not have the recipe. Any good suggestions? Anyway, the eel stew was very good, but I prefer eel Japanese-style. For one thing, the eel is filleted, not cut in slices, so you don’t have to deal with the bones. You can get Japanese-style eel (ready to eat in the food court, or if you want to prepare it at home, from the supermarket) at Mitsuwa in Edgewater, NJ.