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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Blackened Tautog, Chesapeake Risotto

By Paul Suplee, MBA, CEC, PC-3

I don’t know about you, but the kids and I are so happy that spring is finally here. Many of us were convinced that we were somehow in the middle of “Groundhog Day,” anxiously awaiting anything over freezing temperatures and pining for beach time in more comfortable weather. I’ve already been in the ocean, and while it is cold, there is nothing like salt water washing over your feet or dunking your head quickly under a wave; truly beautiful and grounding.

Wanting to get offshore as I haven’t been in a couple years, I jumped on Captain Bill Bunting’s Angler last week and went out to the African Queen Reef to wreck fish for some Tautog. I’ve never gone for Tog before, so it was interesting to learn about these tricky fish.

Using live fiddler crabs as bait, we learned quickly that you won’t feel the Tog on your line, even when it is tight. The fish’s lips are rubbery and incredibly soft, so they absorb the vibrations that you would normally feel shooting up the line. You wait patiently, think you feel something, wait again, wait a little longer, hope that you’re feeling something and then try to set the hook.

If you do set the hook but don’t clear the wreck quickly enough, the fish will weave its ways through the wreckage and you can kiss your rig, and the Tog, goodbye.

Snagging a keeper (at around 17 1/2 inches), I returned home with a bag full of produce, a little vino and some country ham. Sitting on six pounds of Arborio rice, it was time to make another batch of my famous risotto. The kids love it, and it is therapeutic to prepare; each addition of ingredients, timed carefully and cooked with love, adds layer upon layer of flavor, lending a dish that will satisfy even the coldest of souls.

This is a dish that I’ve served numerous times and it is one of my favorite things to make. The bright herb oil and crisp herb salad with tomatoes both contrast the richness of the risotto, and of course the fresh tog sits atop the mound of delicious flavors, adding a sweet and succulent component to the finished work. It is just one of those dishes that takes time to do right, and it is a lost art these days. Just like good cheese grits, it takes care, time and a little love to make it properly.

As I clean this article up at such an early hour, I realize that it is already 60 degrees. Since the temperature will hit almost 80 today, I might find it necessary to shirk a few responsibilities and get on my canoe and paddle a little bit. I simply can’t pass up this opportunity.

And then I’ll be off to work, grinding away as I finish out the semester. Well, at least it’s warmer, and sea bass opens up on the 15th. Mayhap I foresee another spring trip on the horizon.

Blackened Tautog, Chesapeake Risotto

serves 4

24 ounces Fresh blackened tog (recipe follows)

1/2 cup Herb oil (recipe follows)

4 cup Chesapeake Risotto (recipe follows)

2 cup Herb salad (recipe follows)

  1. Place risotto in a bowl in the center
  2. Carefully place that beautiful fish on risotto
  3. Drizzle the herb oil around the risotto, making sure not to drench either the risotto or the fish
  4. Top with the herb salad and enjoy with great vigor

Herb Oil

makes about 1 cup

1/2 cup basil leaves

1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves

1 cup EV Olive oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

  1. Place herbs in oil and put on the stove on a low heat
  2. Allow to heat slowly so as to not burn or overly discolor the herbs
  3. Once the herbs are soft and are bright green, transfer to a blender (Vitamix preferred)
  4. Blend until the herbs and oil are one homogenous oil
  5. Cool and set aside until ready to plate

Chesapeake Risotto

makes about 4 cups

2 cups Arborio rice

1 Tbsp. EV olive oil

1 Tbsp. Unsalted butter

2 Tbsp. minced garlic

1/4 cup Finely diced country ham, fat removed

Filets of 1 tomato, finely diced

1 shallot, finely diced

1 cup White wine

1 quart chicken stock

salt & pepper, as needed

  1. Toast the arborio in the oil and butter until it starts to get a bit of a nutty aroma. Do not burn
  2. Add the country ham and cook for 2 minutes, and then add garlic, tomato and shallot
  3. Add wine and then add the chicken stock in small additions (1 cup at a time)
  4. Cook until the rice is tender, which can take up to 35 minutes with constant stirring
  5. Use water if you need more liquid or more stock if you have that on hand
  6. Adjust seasoning and keep hot until service

Herb Salad

Makes about 1 c.

Filets from 1 tomato, finely julienne

1/2 cup Basil leaves

1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves

1/2 cup Curly parsley leaves

splash of grapeseed oil

splash of good vinegar

  1. I used Lindera Farms Wildflower Vinegar for this salad, but any good quality vinegar will do as long as it doesn’t overpower the fish and the risotto
  2. Combine all ingredients at service-time and use immediately