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What’s better than a fat tuna steak just barely grilled on either side?
Well, you might say Tuna Crackers or a nice cut of Yellowfin on a sandwich with wasabi mayo. It’s certainly open to debate.
Having the best and freshest fish is of upmost importance to us, across all of our restaurants and every type of fish, though tuna is perhaps the most important. It’s a trophy species for recreational anglers but also a main target of the longline boats that fish out of Viking Village and Lighthouse Marina in Barnegat Light.
As if September and October aren’t magical enough around Long Beach Island, it’s when we see the most pelagic fish come into the docks of Barnegat Light.
“Our local longliners bring in yellow fin, and big eye and Bluefin. Sometimes it’s as much as 25,000 pounds,” says Robbie Robinson of Cassidy’s Fish Market at Viking Village.
Robbie is the wholesaler for all of our restaurants. The best fish for our restaurants are usually the 40-60 pounders. Eateries in Philly and New York tend to like the bigger guys.
Viking Village is one of only a few commercial fishing docks in the Mid-Atlantic, an outpost that goes back to the first Scandinavian settlers on Long Beach Island. We don’t get all of our fish locally year-round, but when the bite is on, we’re all about it. Among the local longline fleet are the F/V Monica, Frances Ann, Showboat, Eaglet and the Alexandria Dawn. Captains usually go out for 5-14 days at a time. It’s a balance to fill the boat but get the fish back so it’s still the freshest possible.
What we call “local” are fish caught out at the Hudson Canyon, 80 miles offshore, which is a lot closer than fishing grounds like the Grand Banks. Dropping down to over 10,000 feet deep, it’s a pool of nutrients fed by the Gulf Stream full of food for tuna. Fish caught in the cooler pockets tend to be of better quality.
Longliners put out 25-miles of line with 700 baited hooks, let it set for 6-10 hours, and then haul it in. The fish that are caught are butchered onboard, bled and packed with ice in the hold as soon as possible. The crew will run five “sets” to fill the ice hold before steaming back to the dock. In terms of product, the handling is as important as the catching.
When the boat is “packed out” the tuna are loaded onto the dock and graded. Tuna grading is something of a science and Viking Village’s Chris Sprague is a veteran. He takes core samples and judges the fish based on the hue and fat content.
“It’s about quality, color and clarity,” says Robinson.
Our Grilled Tuna at Mud City is a longtime favorite, marinated in our house sesame ginger soy. The seared tuna has always been a crowd pleaser at The Black Whale, Mud City and Ship Bottom Shellfish. Our Old Causeway friends love it Sesame Seared with sliced avocado, pineapple, soy glaze, over a soba noodle salad. Beach Haven folks love Rich’s Tuna Spring Rolls at the Black Whale.
We grill or blacken tuna to order, but when we have an affinity for rare or raw – sashimi style or poke. Among the most sought after plates this summer was the Tuna Crackers at Parker’s Garage – raw yellowfin on a Lavash cracker with avocado, sesame and citrus mayo. We discovered Hawaiian poke on our first trips to the Islands. At the Old Causeway, we serve it Hanalei-style over won ton chips. At Shellfish, we can’t seem to make enough of the Poke Nachos over warm tortillas with spicy mayo.
You can decide what’s your favorite, but fresh tuna is always a great call, across the board.
There are several types of fare that truly define summer at the New Jersey Shore. Of course there are the tomatoes that came into season a few weeks ago, sweet and juicy all over the state. There’s boardwalk pizza, favorite ice cream parlors, and the smell of peppers and onions on the grill. But at least as far as seafood is concerned, that most fleeting and delicious plate is the softshell crab.
“Of all our dishes, this is the one I look most forward to in our restaurants. It’s not really something we can serve in the off season. So it represents pure summer and its pure deliciousness,” says co-owner Mel Magaziner.
While some folks think it’s a different species all together, the softshell we eat is the blue claw, that iconic species found from New England down to South America. Take a look. They’re the same, one just has a softer exoskeleton.
The soft shell is a result of the crab’s growth cycle. Since the internal body grows faster than its shell, it essentially has to grow a new one. Known as a “shedder,” the crab cracks the exoskeleton and slowly backs out of the old shell. The crab pumps water into its body and the new shell begins to form. Within three to four days, the shell is completely hard.
This is what makes the softshell such a fleeting delicacy. Soft shell crabs are best as soon as they molt. They’re not often caught in traps because they stop eating during the molting process. That would explain why you don’t randomly get a softy in the trap off your dock. We get our crabs from shedder boxes, often right here on our bay.
The Blue Claw is the only crab that is eaten during the molting process in North America, which makes is that much more special. There are well-known shedder delicacies in Asia. Their Spider Rolls and Chu-chee dishes served in Japanese and Thai restaurants hold up very well with our local blue claws.
Cleaning blue claws should be done as close to cooking them as possible. They aren’t going to pinch at this state, so they’re easy to handle. Actually, you want to be delicate with them. To clean the softy, cut off the front quarter inch of the top shell with scissors. Then lift up the points on either end of the crab. You’ll notice they come up nice and easy. Cut out the gills on each side. Then on the bottom of the crab, you can very easily pull off the apron.
At most of our restaurants, we generally serve them fried or sautéed. Fried, they go into a light batter and into the deep fryer. With lemon, tarter or cocktail sauce, a piece of jersey corn and some coleslaw, this might be one of the most time honored East Coast seafood traditions ever.
When we sauté them, it’s in a bit of garlic, butter and white wine. We do have some variation among our chefs, Rich Schobel at the Black Whale uses some secret herbs. And at Mud City, you can get them over pasta, which some folks go crazy for.
Sautéed is generally for that most hardcore of seafood lovers. There’s nothing between you and that tender-shelled crab. This is what the purists come for.
Either way, they also make for an amazing sandwich with romaine lettuce and Jersey tomato, as the crab’s juices are soaked up by the bun. Occasionally, Ship Bottom Shellfish likes to serve up the particularly tender ones we get in June as its own sautéed appetizer.
At our newest establishment, Parker’s Garage, Chef Kyle has been experimenting with the softies. This summer, he’s been serving up a softshell summer succotash special, fried softshell with pancetta and an Old Bay aioli.
Across the board, let’s just say we don’t have many left at the end of the night.