As summer draws to a close I have a fish story to tell, from a good long while ago. Though it's not a tall tail, it’s a potentially “scaly” one.
During an extended family excursion to Topsail Beach, we tried our hand at landing the "big one."
All day long while we strolled, lolled, built sand castles, caught minnows, and chased the kids along a stretch of bars and shallow waters, the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier loomed out in the ocean. It was the epitomy of a focal point of SOMETHING. Was it an unquenched desire for a life unlived? A life close to the tides, the rhythms of the sea? It looked close and approachable but in fact it was miles away. Far enough so you couldn’t really see. You could imagine (and I did) that so much was happening there. That fish of all natures and deliciousness were being reeled in constantly. That whatever banter was playfully being bandied about was delightfully rogueish and risque and the tales of seafaring adventures were spilling out and over buckets of bait much as they had always done and composed the legends of Moby Dick and Ten Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
At this point in time the films of Pirates of the Carribbean or even Little Mermaid hadn’t yet been born. But the ingredients were there. All there. On the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier.
Apparently I was not the only one with this pier fantasy. My sons and my friend’s daughters exclaimed, over and over again, just how much. How very much, in fact, they wanted to go fishing. It might be the only thing they wanted that year. And they had wanted to go fishing all their lives. And quite possibly well before, even before, that.
After dinner of macaroni and cheese we walked towards the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier. I always wonder in these situations if it is really wise or even satisfying to confront the reality that your fantasy is based on. I leave it to you to decide.
We walked up and into the shop of ice cream, pool tables, kid coin operated whale rides, giant fishing poles, photos of all the world’s fisherman and their BIG fish. After much consideration we acquired our bait shrimp and squid, and a few snacks. We walked out on the seagull splatted wooden boards. The ocean rushed below us and the moon climbed in the sky to get a better view of the evening.
I tell you now, even from the distance of many years, the adrenaline still rushes forth in me to remember the characters in attendance that night on the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier. They were everthing that central casting had promised. Gnarly old men. Women in false eyelashes and supenders. Rusty old knives, scales and fish bones. Buckets of mystical writhing sea creatures, an occasional claw that slipped over the edge and then fell back. Fish, caught and some with hooks in their mouths, were proudly shown to us swimming in leaky old Styrofoam coolers. Would they become bait for their friends? Out on the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier it was a promised land of debauchery.
The kids decided on a point system for what they considered really memorable characters. Smokers. Two points. Drinkers. Three. A shark pulled in (that we all witnessed) would be awarded a generous six. And if you spotted a pirate ship out in the deep. Ten out of a possible ten points.
Ah, we had young imaginations and minds to nourish and we were here To Fish.
Boy legs and girl legs kicked anxiously back and forth on our weather beaten perch, our wooden bench at the Jolly Roger Pier. Launching our lines from this perch we began enthusiastically To Fish at 8:30 P.M
Pier-Pressure mounted. Before 15 minutes had passed we sat smugly among the others having snagged a skate and a crab.
By the light of the moon they looked downright sensational.
But, once reeled in and landed smack on the woody pier surface, we were unfamiliar with the next step in this fish procurring process.
"Grab a ma-an,” My friend said in her exaggerated Southern drawl, "to help us get out this hook."
All I saw were creatures of the deep. "We can take care of this," I assured her. And after a few more minutes of joint floundering we managed to maneuver him over the edge, hookless to boot.
A thankful creature splashed homeward bound. Farewell, seafaring wonder.
Our crab, as we fondly remember him, had clawed his way to the top of the line. Perhaps possessed by a fear of boiling, he clung fast for dear life. Until, the inevitable kerplunk.
We saw others pull in sharks (10 points!) and heard the call down the boards of a sea-turtle cut loose. We hadn’t even considerd that possibilty. We remained hourly steadfast and subsisted on our bait of Sun Chips, Cheetos, and Diet Pepsi's.
But as the kids tiredly asked if that was the sun coming up, we knew that our free-reeling adventure was over. And so on that sea-swept note, and at 12:30 in the A.M, we were weary and dog-fish tired.
Mr. Limpet, we love you!
The following day at the over-the-bridge fish market we had no trouble netting fresh wahoo, flounder, and claw crab meat.
"Eat as much fresh seafood at the beach as possible." My friend’s words were music to my sun-burned ears.
So if your fishing experience at the local seafood market isn’t as fishy as you’d like get thee hence to the Jolly Roger Fishing Pier. You may not catch fish, but you’ll swagger amongst a crew that’s got a tale or two to tell.
And you just might see that Pirate Ship.
SILVER QUEEN AND ONION CRAB CAKES WITH CHILI TARTAR SAUCE
The similarities of the crab, corn, and onion flavors make a sweet diversion from spicy seafood. I no longer use bread of any kind in crab cakes. When these were first made we fried them in a heavily buttered skillet over the burner of an outdoor grill because the power had just gone off on our half of the island. This kept the heat to a minimum in the kitchen. But, they can be cooked in that more traditional indoor method if you prefer. There's more than one way to hook and cook a crab!
makes 6, 3 inch cakes
FOR THE CAKES:
2 scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
4 ears of silver queen corn, dekerneled
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 pound lump crab meat
panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup butter for frying
In a 10 inch skillet over medium heat, melt the 1 Tablespoon butter and fry the scallions till soft but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add the scallions, egg, corn, parsley, and crab. Mix gently and well. Divide mixture and form into 6 cakes. Pour the panko crumbs on a large paper plate. Press the panko into the cakes. Refrigerate them for about an hour, if possible, to firm the breading.. When ready to commence cooking, heat a 12 inch heavy bottomed skillet on the side burner of the grill if cooking these outside or on the stove top if cooking inside. Meanwhile, have a coastal compadre make the tartar sauce. Fry the crab cakes over medium heat till golden, about 3 minutes per side. Place on serving platter and pass the tartar sauce. Sit outside, watch the sun go down, and savor the moment and the crab.
FOR THE TARTAR SAUCE:
1-1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
2 teaspoon or so of Lan Chi garlic chili paste, adjust taste
1 teaspoon or so of chopped hot and sweet peppers, adjust taste
Mix above ingredients in small serving bowl.
GRILLED AND SESAME'D FLOUNDER WITH PEANUT PINEAPPLE GINGER SAUCE
If you have a large grill, you can prepare both of these fish recipes at the same time. Plan to grill the flounder over a lower heat so a few minutes after the wahoo steaks, so both will be finished at about the same time.The crust gives way to tender flounder inside.
makes 4 servings
1 large flounder, filleted
1/2 cup mushroom soy sauce
1 cup toasted sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon of Chinese 5 spice powder
Place the fish and soy sauce in a shallow glass casserole. Marinate about 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Slide the sesame seeds and spice seasoning onto another plate. Have the older kids press the fillets in the seed/spice mixture and then turn to the other side to coat. Wash hands afterwards. Refrigerate to firm the seed coating for an hour, if possible. Heat the grill to medium high and if grilling the wahoo steaks too, grill the sesame fish afterwards on a lower heat, giving each side 3-5 minutes. Place on serving platter and pass the peanut pineapple ginger sauce.
PEANUT PINEAPPLE GINGER SAUCE
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1 cup pineapple, crushed or tidbits
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 tablespoon crunchy peanut butter
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mushroom soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons chopped pickled ginger
1 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Mix all the ingredients in small pot and heat on medium, stirring until all is combined.
ANCHOVY MUSTARD GRILLED WAHOO WITH CITRUS PERSILLADE
These are best when they have a good 2 hours to marinate, which is more than standard for fish, but beneficial for this meaty selection. Though usually thought to be highly detectable, the anchovies in this marinade combine with the other ingredients to provide a depth and richness in flavor. The persillade is a classic flavoring mixture with the added "zest" of citrus peel. These flavors add up to a definite splash.at the dinner table. If wahoo is not to your liking or is simply unavailable look for tuna, bonito, yellowtail, mahi-mahi, marlin, or bluefish as appropriate substitutes.
makes 4 servings
1/2 cup fruity olive oil
juice of 2 limes
2 anchovies, pressed with a fork
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
4 wahoo steaks
For Citrus Persillade:
1/2 teaspoon each chopped lime, orange, and lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
2 large garlic cloves
Mix the ingredients for the marinade in a shallow glass casserole with the aid of an innocent by-stander.
Place your fish steaks in and let the by-stander turn and coat well. Set in the refrigerater just before applying your sunscreen. Hats on and head to the beach!
A couple of hours later return to make dinner and. fire up the grill. Fish needs a hot hot surface to sear in the juices. Direct sand shovels outside while retrieving fish from fridge.
Prepare the persillade. Zest the lemon, orange and lime. Pound the garlic cloves to a paste, add chopped parsley and zest, pound some more. Set aside to "breathe." place these fish steaks on the grill, and grill for 3 minutes per side.
Serve at once on a platter with the persillade on the side.