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Original Issue


Bluefish is not an edible fish. I don't care what anybody says and I don't want your recipe.

Nor do I want your deer sausage, your antelope roasts, your bear steaks. I sit in fear that some nice person is about to appear at my door with a cold lump of nature in a Baggie, explaining, "If you only know how to cook it...."

O.K., so I'm a little grumpy. I wouldn't feel this way if I had just stayed back on the farm where we ate things that tasted good even if we just fried them in a Teflon pan while watching Wheel of Fortune. But no, I had to move to the East Coast, where bluefish live, and then marry someone who enjoys spending cold, rainy days at the beach hurling Atom Poppers into 40-mph winds. I was naive that first day, many years back, when three of my neighbors came by with a cheery "We brought you some bluefish." I was a bride. I thought they were being nice.

What I didn't know was that behind every good fisherman is a woman yelling, "If you bring one more damn bluefish into this house...."

I poached them. I fried them. I grilled, then broiled. Each night it was the same. My husband would say, "This really isn't too bad." I would have a peanut-butter sandwich.

Each time I failed, someone would advise me. "If you only know how to cook it..." the conversation would inevitably begin. My favorite recipe came from an elderly gentleman stationed seaside with a bottle of Jack Daniel's. "Wine," he wheezed, swaying gently with the breeze. "Boil them for a half hour in red wine." His breath gave me a clue. Perhaps if you knock back some Jack as you boil them, then start in on the leftover wine, the bluefish will be accepted by the delirious, numbed palate. I just can't get that drunk. That night my husband ate maroon bluefish and I ate a peanut-butter sandwich.

If the joy of wild game had ended with bluefish, I probably wouldn't have thought much about it. But we have friends who hunt. One weekend some guests, who are very nice people in other ways, brought us the gift of an antelope roast. Went about five pounds. Looked like meat. Smelled a little funny. When their plans changed suddenly, they left me with the special roast, the special marinade and the very special cooking instructions. I massaged the meat. I basted the meat. I rotated the meat. After about an hour, I opened the windows. "It'll probably taste a lot better than it smells," my husband said, moving toward the bar. That night we had chocolate cake and vodka for dinner.

We carried the antelope out of the house. The next morning, some gulls out on a landfill-reconnaissance mission snagged the roast.

It occurs to me that all this camouflage marinating and hickory smoking is to compensate for the fact that a lot of wild meat doesn't taste very good. But we have to go along with the cover-up because of a genetic twitch that commands men to fill the larder.

I have, on a couple of occasions, had steely-eyed sportsmen 'fess up. Some time back, a North Dakota man tried to explain to me the joys of a faraway bear hunt. I asked him if he ate the bear. "Oh, yeah...if you know how to cook it...pound it with a meat tenderizer...then soak it overnight...then marinate it for a few days in...." He stopped, looked down at his toes and said, "You know, now that I think about it, if you did all that, you could probably eat the Michelins you've got on your Bronco."

My sister used to have a freezer full of deer sausage. "Real good if you only know how to cook it," the benefactor had explained to her. The deer sausage was one part deer, one part pork, and one part green spices that make your eyes water. Last summer my mother decided to turn the uneaten deer sausage into chili. "If you fry it down real good, then mix it with a lot of hamburger, it's not too bad," she concluded. My sister now has a freezer full of chili.

Never one to scoff at primitive human need, this season, before the first corpse in a Baggie could appear at my door, I purchased a wild game cookbook. There is a man on the cover holding up some fish. Inside, I find I now have such recipes as walleye mousse,* crispy crappie, breast of coot, moose anachukos and porcupine. Porcupines, the book notes, are easy to catch because they're slow and "all it takes is a club to get one."

I would be tempted to do that, but I don't think I'll have the time. As soon as the winter snows melt, we're going blue-fishing.

My husband remembers a little restaurant near Cape Hatteras where they'll cook your catch. It's a dry county, but that's O.K., because they let you bring in your own bottle of booze.

And your own jar of Skippy.

*This recipe for fish served with whipped cream is, I admit, one I would not have thought of on my own.