Editor’s Note: Some of the recipes described in this article were prepared onboard a boat while fishing. Check your local fishing regulations before consuming or cleaning fish while on the water. In some states, it is illegal to do this. All of this activity occurred prior to 2011, in federal waters, and in jurisdictions where it was legal to do so. Please check your local state and federal regulations before cooking, cleaning, or preparing freshly-caught fish while on the water.
Before I became a charter boat captain in Venice, Louisiana, I spent time running some well-known restaurants in New Orleans. During my time in the restaurant business, I was fortunate enough to earn some accolades from the likes of the James Beard Foundation and Esquire magazine, but in my heart, I just wanted to be in a boat in blue water. In 2001, I decided I was going to go fishing, and for the next 10 years, I did exactly that—in the world-class fishery of Venice. During that time, I frequently mixed my two loves of food and fishing, sometimes in a mundane fashion, but at other times, I pushed the envelope. Here are some of the more successful and exciting recipes that I developed while fishing out of Venice.
When I first decided to go fishing, I was lucky enough to land a deckhand job for Captain Scott Avanzino on his 32 Albemarle, Balancing Act. Scott was an outstanding marlin and wahoo fisherman and he along with Peace Marvel, Kevin Beach, and Billy Wells were developing reputations for pushing the boundaries of their boats to chase yellowfin tuna. Avenzino worked hard to differentiate us from Peace’s crew by marketing to a crowd that wanted a different experience, and part of that experience involved the food that we could provide on the boat. That seems like a small thing, but the Balancing Act was only equipped with a small refrigerator and a microwave—not exactly a luxury galley. We brought a grill with us on overnight trips but had to improvise on day trips.
1. Exhaust Manifold Wahoo Recipe
During my first winter season, we stowed the 80W chair rods and broke out the 50W stand-up tackle to fish for big yellowfins on the Midnight Lump and to troll for wahoo around the shelf rigs. After a long day of wahoo fishing, we busted a shaft on one of the Caterpillar 3108s. We limped in, cleaned the client’s 11 wahoo, and went about making overnight repairs.
We were up at 5 a.m., fueled the boat, took on ice, and loaded up the clients; and off we went to fish for tuna on the Midnight Lump. By the time we arrived and set the anchor, Scott and I were starving. Scott asked me what we had to eat, and I reminded him of the wahoo.
“I’ve got the angler, go see what you can do with the fish,” he said.
I just couldn’t bring myself to microwave wahoo—that would just be plain disrespectful to such an amazing fish. I looked in the fridge, grabbed some butter and lemon and decided to double wrap the wahoo in foil with just those two simple ingredients and a couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce. From there, I opened the hatch to the engine room and put the sealed packets on the exhaust manifolds. After 20 minutes, I pulled them off, and we all feasted while one of our clients finished up a battle with his 180-class yellowfin. Everyone was excited about the fishing and the food. From there a tradition was born, and, if it was calm enough to cook on the manifold, we provided hot lunch on The Balancing Act.
After experimenting a bit, I discovered that day-old wahoo worked best for this dish. Either way, I would cut ½-inch thick slices of wahoo or mahi. If I could, I’d sear the fish the night before after seasoning it with salt, pepper and a few dashes of paprika and garlic powder. To sear it, I’d get a heavy sauté pan white-hot, add a bit of canola oil, and cook both sides for a minute or so each. I’d then cool it in the refrigerator, and mix a compound butter the night before as well.
- Wahoo fillets
- 1 pound of butter softened
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- A few liberal dashes of Tabasco
- Mix butter with other ingredients well to make your compound butter and store in an airtight Ziplock bag on ice.
- When you are ready for lunch, put each piece of fish on a piece of heavy-duty foil and add 2 tsp of the compound butter. Wrap and crimp all edges multiple times. Turn the packet over and wrap a second sheet of foil around it, making sure to crimp the edges. Lay the packages on the manifolds (or marine grill) and cook for 30-40 minutes.
- The butter becomes your sauce, so don’t waste any!
- Anyone that has spent any time as a scout will recognize this recipe as an adaptation of the ubiquitous hobo stew. In a pinch, you can certainly make this with any other firm white fish like cod, cobia, or snapper, and as much as I hate to admit it, this can be made in a standard home oven set at 350-degrees and cooked for about 15-20 minutes. It, however, seems to taste much better on a boat.
- If there is an exhaust leak, don’t do this!
2. Fire and Ice Tuna Ceviche Recipe
By the next summer, I had earned my Captain’s license and went to work with Peace Marvel and his crew on a Glacier Bay catamaran. The twin outboards put a crimp in my manifold cooking, so I had to find a Plan B. Several years prior, while in New York to cook at the James Beard House, I had a late dinner at Patria which was run by a brilliant chef named Douglas Rodriguez. Douglas was known for his ceviche creativity, and I sampled all of the ones that he had on the menu that night. At the end of our meal, Rodriguez came out to the table and chatted. He then brought us into the kitchen to try some ceviches that he was working on.
I was amazed and surprised by the flavors that he was pairing, but they all worked beautifully. While I was running the Reel Job, my 26-foot Glacier Bay, I decided that it was time to adapt the ceviches that I had tasted in New York to work with fresh Gulf seafood. Here are a couple of my favorites. (Note, in some states it is not legal to clean and consume freshly caught fish on a boat, so be sure to check the current regulations.)
- 2lbs of fresh tuna diced
- 1 small can coconut milk
Mix in a Ziplock and allow to sit overnight:
- Juice of 4 limes
- 1/4 cup sweet rice wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 -2 Thai or Serrano pepper minced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp minced fresh Ginger
- 1/2 finely diced red onion
- ¼ tsp ground black pepper
Hold in a separate Ziplock bag:
- Peel, seed and dice 1 cucumber
- Mince 1 tbsp fresh mint
- ½ red bell pepper
- 2 green onions sliced
- 2 tsp cilantro
- 1/2 tsp salt
Dice 2 pounds of fresh tuna in to ½-inch cubes. Place the tuna in the first bag and allow to sit on ice for 1 hour. Add the remaining bag and coconut milk and mix well. It’s ready to eat at this point.
Easy Ceviche Marinade to Make Ahead of Time
- Juice of 4 limes
- Juice of 2 lemons
- Zest of 1 lime and 1 lemon finely grated(optional) 1 medium tomato diced
- 1/2 white or yellow onion finely diced
- 2 roma tomatoes finely diced
- 1 jalapeño finely diced
- 1 red bell pepper finely diced
- 1/4 cup cilantro rough cut
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper
- Mix in a 1-gallon Ziplock the night before your trip and put in your cooler on ice.
- When you catch your first firm-fleshed white fish (snapper, mahi, northern flounder, etc.) clean and cut it into 1/2-inch cubes and mix in the bag. 1-1 ½ pounds of fish is plenty. Seal the bag and bury it in the ice. Mix it around once an hour or so, and in three to four hours when the fish has turned opaque and firmed up, you are ready to dig in.
3. Blackened Tuna Sashimi Recipe
One night while fishing with some buddies on a 54 Bertram, we had some blackfin tuna come up around the boat, and we caught a bunch of them on spinning rods and Yo Zuri poppers. Around midnight, I was tired of catching blackfins—and starving. I cleaned a tuna and lit the grill. I knew exactly what I was in the mood for and had all of the ingredients to make it. With tuna this fresh, I was going for some blackened tuna sashimi which is a great way to give your tuna some texture and a bit of a spicy kick.
- 1 chunk of top tuna loin 6″x 2″x 4″
- 2 tbsp Creole seasoning
- 2 tbsp paprika
- 2 tbsp canola oil
Make ahead of time:
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp wasabi powder or 1½ tbsp prepared wasabi. Mix together and store cold
Heat until it boils and cool. Store separately:
- 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
- Juice of 1 lime and 1 orange
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- 2 tbsp sugar
- Get your grill as hot as it will get
- Mix the creole seasoning and paprika
- Lightly oil the tuna so the seasoning will stick, and coat the fish with the creole seasoning and paprika.
- Lay your fish on the grill for 30 seconds per side. (Note, you will have four sides. Don’t sear the narrow ends.)
- Take off and slice 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Dip in the citrus soy, and add a dollop of the wasabi mayo. This is great on tortillas, pita, or wonton chips for texture. If you have some, give it a shot.
My uncle, Herbie, served this dish served at his restaurant in Hilo Hawaii, Roussel’s, in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He and his chef were early fans of Hawaiian-Cajun fusion and may have invented this dish.
Read Next: 15 Great Ways to Cook What You Catch
4. Cured Tuna Recipe
While we are on the subject of things that can be done on a big boat with a galley, let me tell you about one of my absolute favorite tuna dishes. Both of my daughters grew up eating sashimi at the fish cleaning station after tuna trips, so they prefer to eat their fish as rare as possible. This dish is neither cooked or raw—it’s cured in the style of gravlax. We make this with the top loin of a fresh yellowfin, but it can be made with cobia, swordfish, or salmon. Fresh is an absolute requisite for this dish. If your fish is in question, cook it instead.
This takes a bit more time than a one-day fishing trip allows, but it can be pulled off in 24 hours—48 is even better so you long-range guys will really like this.
- 1-2 oz gin
- 3 pounds of tuna cut in a fairly uniform fashion. Use top loin for this or remove any chain, as tendons don’t work well with this recipe. I like to cut my tuna in 6-inch-by-4-inch-by-2-inch rectangles, but anything close to that is fine.
In a coffee grinder, roughly mix:
- 2 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tsp juniper berries
- 1/4 tsp caraway seeds
- 1 tbsp dry dill
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
Then add to a ziplock with:
- 2 cups kosher salt
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- After the tuna is cut and dry, lay it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes uncovered to cool.
- Brush with gin and coat all sides with the salt and spice mix.
- Place in a perforated pan in a single layer. (If you don’t have a perforated pan, don’t worry, you will just need to drain any liquid that forms from time to time and reapply salt mix as needed.)
- Place the pan in the refrigerator with another clean pan on top of the fish weighed down with a six-pack.
- When done, the fish will take on an opaque tint and should be firm dry to the touch. When you’re ready to eat, brush any remaining cure off of the flesh and slice thinly. Serve with anything you would serve with Salmon graved lox for a high-class cocktail hour on the boat.
(As a note, I love this dish. Try it some time with pumpernickel and creme fraiche.)
5. Tobiko On The Fly Recipe
Last but not least is one of my favorite snacks while offshore. It’s not so much of a dish, in fact, there’s only one ingredient to speak of.
Chances are, if you have ever eaten sushi, you have eaten Tobiko, or flying fish roe. The first time I ever made this, I was drifting on the edge of the continental shelf south of Venice trying to catch a swordfish. I remember the night well as it was a tournament weekend and there were boats tied up to the standby buoys at Cognac and BP109. Our sword fishery was in it’s infancy, so I was trying to be sneaky and not give away my presence as we drifted by them, blacked out with just our green light in the water, fighting a couple of good fish.
On the boat were three of my closest friends, Marc Amos and Mark and Charlotte Hardy. While they were busy fighting what were at that time considered big swords at 178 and 211, we had flying fish gathering at the edge of the boat in the glow of the green light. Now and then one would shoot into the light to try to grab a quick bite to eat, and occasionally, I was lucky enough to net one of them for the live well. While Amos was fighting one of the swords, I snatched a flyer, and it got out of the net onto the deck of the boat. I grabbed it and squeezed a bit to keep the fish in my hands, and, low and behold, she started giving up some of her eggs.
As I held the fish, the eggs dropped around the salty edge of the live well. I knew what Tobiko was and I thought I’d give it a try. The Tobiko took on a bit of salt and seemed to “cure” pretty quickly. Over the next few years, every flying fish that came into my boat was squeezed gently to check for eggs, and if they were present, the eggs were removed prior to it going back out on a live bait rig. There is absolutely no reason to let the tuna or mahi have all of the fun. I find that five minutes of sitting on a salty gunnel or cutting board is all that it takes to cure the roe. Give it a shot, and you won’t be disappointed. It sure beats a soggy bologna sandwich.