I’ve been fishing a lot, more than I’d even like to admit.
Now that I have a fishing vehicle– my glorious 2002 GMC Sierra 4WD– I find myself on many short trips throughout the week. There is no shortage of places to fish within 10 minutes of our house, and I am slowly exploring all of them.
I’ve been shore fishing, wading, and kayaking; Catching bluegills, crappies, rock bass, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass. Spring is here and it’s great!
I’ve also been keeping and eating a lot of fish. Many of my trips have resulted in at least a single fish, which I bring home to practice cleaning, cooking, and eating. It wasn’t long ago I considered myself somebody who doesn’t like fish; as a result I have a lot to learn about preparing them for the table. It turns out I’m a “fish snob”: I won’t eat grocery store fish and am very picky about my restaurant fish; I prefer as fresh as possible. Generally that means fish I catch and cook the same day.
Now that I’ve accepted my fish snobbery and the fact that I like fish, I’ve been doing what I always do when I learn a new skill: Practicing.
My crappie beer-batter was excellent and the fish was sublime. The other day I caught a small rock bass in some slow water off the Flat River; I took it home, filleted the tiny fillets, and experimented with a soda water-based batter. It was very crispy and delicious, if a little lacking in flavor– I can see the beer adds a lot to the batter. I know it might seem silly to keep and clean a single small fish, but practice is practice. And then I eat the fish.
Yesterday I caught a fair sized rock bass with a white jig and twister in the Thornapple River (7 minutes from home). I decided to keep it and cook it whole. Rock bass have large heads and filleting them misses quite a bit of meat. I took the single fish to my new fish cleaning station– a table outside the basement door with an extra large cutting board, bowl, towel, and fillet knives. I scaled it, gutted it, snipped off the fins with scissors and took it inside to the kitchen.
Adobo is a Spanish word for marinade. Although it originally comes from Spain, it was widely adopted throughout the world– especially Latin America and as far away as the Philippines. Basically anywhere people from the Iberian peninsula had colonies you’ll find some type of adobo. (Arguably the Indian dish vindaloo is an adaptation of Portuguese adobo.)
One of my favorite variations of adobo is chipotles en adobo, which are smoked and dried red (fully ripened) jalapeños in a tomato-vinegar sauce. It’s a very strong and spicy flavor that would certainly overpower the subtle taste of fresh fish, but I’m not a subtle guy. I like big flavors.
So I opened a can of chipotle chiles en adobo and blended it with some garlic, onion, red wine vinegar, and seasonings. I also threw in a handful of red pepper I’d smoked over hickory the week before. Do yourself a big favor: If you have a smoker, go get some red peppers and smoke them. You won’t regret it!
I made some shallow cuts into the fish and poured the sauce over it, then put it in the fridge to marinate for a few hours.
When it was time for dinner, I roasted some potatoes in some more of my adobo, cooked some rice, and finally roasted the fish in cast iron. Rock bass is a “pan fish” after all.
If it were a bigger fish I would have eaten it with tortillas, making tacos from the tender meat, but in this case I just ate it with a fork. I love cilantro and radishes, so I sprinkled them on the plate with the roasted food. I think it added a nice contrast.
How was it? The fish itself tasted like any other fresh panfish I’ve eaten: not like anything really. Of course it was extremely flavorful after the marinade, but it was tough to get any flavor from the fish itself. The sauce certainly overpowered any fish flavor but that was ok. The allspice and cloves added a wonderful, very Mexican flavor to the sauce. This isn’t tex-mex folks, it’s a gringo trying to cook real Mexican food with a local fish.
Will I make this again? Absolutely, but I’ll probably save it for bigger and stronger-tasting fish. If I manage to catch a legal-size bass or 11-15″ carp this is one cooking method I’ll certainly try. This is a recipe for somebody who doesn’t like the taste of fish: Sure you’re eating a whole fish, but it tastes like smoked peppers and tomato. Nobody says* you have to be subtle with your fish recipes.
*Nobody except most recipes for fish
Whole Rock Bass in Adobo
- 1 Rock Bass or other fish, hopefully larger than the one I cooked
- 1 can chipotles en adobo (you can find it in the “Mexican” or “Latino” aisle)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/8 white onion
- A few strips of smoked red pepper (optional but delicious)
- a few glugs of red wine vinegar
- 3-4 allspice berries
- 3-4 whole cloves
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Chipotles en adobo are usually very salty, so you probably don’t need to add any extra salt
- Throw everything but the fish into a blender, blend away. Add a bit of water if necessary
- Pour mixture over fish, marinate for 3-4 hours in the fridge
- After marinating, take the fish out and bring to room temperature (everything cooks more evenly if you let it come to room temp)
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- Get a cast iron skillet blazin’ hot on the stovetop
- Glug a bit of oil in the pan, then carefully place the marinated fish in the pan. It should sizzle wildly
- Put the pan in the oven, roast at 350°F for 15-17 minutes (longer for bigger fish)
- Serve with roasted potatoes, rice, and other good stuff