Catch a Big Rockfish?
Try roasting it on a Caja China
We’d had a great day on the water. The bite was good, and we had boated a gorgeous pair of fat stripers, one 27 inches and the other just over 30. It seemed a shame to reduce them to fillets, so I didn’t. Scaling the hefty fish, then eviscerating them and removing the gills, I laid their graceful forms aside and reached for my phone to borrow a friend’s Caja China (pronounced: ka-ha cheena).
The Caja China is a Cuban barbeque box intended for roasting small pigs. It made its way to America in the 1980s. Immigrants fleeing Fidel Castro’s Communist dictatorship brought their favorite cookware with them from Cuba.
Bluefish have shown up all the way to the Chester River. Choppers to 26 inches have been reported around the Severn while smaller 10- to 12-inch snappers are causing headaches all over for live-liners trying for rockfish. The little blues bite off the back half of the live spot used for bait. Cownosed rays are also causing their share of problems as they swarm areas where rockfishing chummers are operating and eating baits intended for the stripers. In spite of everything, rockfishing remains good, though the fish are smaller and not quite as easy to find as they were earlier in the season.
Resident Canada goose: Eastern Zone: thru Sept. 14; Western Zone: thru Sept. 25. Calvert County is in the Eastern zone. Anne Arundel divides. For zone boundaries, see www.eregulations.com/maryland/mdhd12/early-resident-canada-goose-seasons....
It turns out that this simple roasting box is perfect for cooking large, whole striped bass. The presentation factor is off the charts, while the price isn’t, starting at about $250. Roasting is fast; a large rockfish is done in under 30 minutes.
Start out with a large striper (or stripers), clean as I described earlier and just before cooking brush the entire fish inside and out with olive oil; then season with salt and pepper. You can stuff the fish if you like. I’ve used cooked rice mixed with sweet corn cut from the cob and chopped red bell pepper. Others have suggested Crab Imperial as a great stuffer, but you’ll need a lot of crab.
Finish off by dusting the whole fish lightly with sugar to encourage the browning or caramelizing of the skin, which seals in the moisture and flavor.
Put the fish on a rack for convenient lifting. Start the fire on the top of the box with about four or five pounds of charcoal and spread it out evenly over the top after ignition.
When the charcoal is distributed and burning nicely, lift off the top, place the fish inside and cover. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes.
When the bass is nicely browned on one side, remove the cover and, using a couple of spatulas, turn the fish over. Roast for another 10 minutes or until that side is also well browned. The fish is done when it will flake easily at its thickest part. Then remove the fish and loosely cover with aluminum foil for about 10 minutes or until everyone is seated.
Remove the foil, then gently slide a knife under the fish’s skin and remove it. Remove the pectoral fin (it should easily pull away). Then use a pair of tongs to gently pull out the dorsal fin and its accompanying bones.
The top side of the fish can then be served, virtually boneless, after which the vertebrae can be snipped at the fish’s head and tail and the entire bone structure lifted out, making the bottom half of the fish easily accessible.
The most flavorful parts of the bass are those that were closest to bone, and the heavy top section of meat just behind the head is the sweetest. Reserve the cheek meat for the guest of honor.