Species Spotlight: Striped Bass

The striped bass (Morone saxatilis), is a large anadromous schooling fish native to the East Coast of North America.  The striped bass is named for its distinctive dark stripes along its sides, which is why it’s also known as striper. They are also known regionally as rockfish or linesides and can reach sizes over 50 pounds. Striped bass with their seasonal migrations along the coast have been commercially important since colonial times and is the official fish of several states. Most of the wild fish spawn in lakes and rivers of the Mid-Atlantic states and can migrate as far as Canada. Throughout its range, the striped bass has also been an important sport fish, known for impressive sizes caught right off the shore in the warmer months. After stock collapses in the 1980’s the striper has, for the most part, rebounded. However, wild caught populations are heavily dependent upon spawning success within a very limited area.


Buying Striped Bass

About half of all the striped bass (sometimes sold as rock fish) in the United States is farm raised. These farm-raised fish are known as hybrid striped bass and are mostly raised in ponds, which can affect the flavor. The majority of the commercial catch comes from the Mid-Atlantic states, where the best fish are caught in the early winter. However the peak availability of fresh, wild caught striped bass can run from spring through the summer, depending upon where you live. Striped bass is a common sight on New England menus during the summer, often caught that morning by recreational fishermen or even the cooks themselves. I worked at seafood restaurants where the owner caught the fish in the morning for the daily special. If not caught by hook, wild striped bass are harvested in pound nets or in the gillnet fishery.

They are sweet tasting, with a high oil content, pairing well with a variety of sauces but flavorful enough to be enjoyed simply. The smaller fish, just at the legal limit tend to taste better than the big “slobs.” However that is not always the case, those big ones tend to eat a lot of lobster during their summer migrations. On the grill, in either steaks or fillets, marinated in oil and vinegar reminds me of summers in my teens. Striper can also be blackened, baked, broiled or pan sauteed. Any fish, bass or otherwise, with firm, white meat without a mild to sweet flavor will work as a substitution. Snapper, grouper or barramundi are good alternatives.

Historic Recipe

Stewed Rock-Fish ( 1854 )

Take a large rock-fish, and cut it in slices near an inch thick. Sprinkle it very slightly with salt, and let it remain for half an hour. Slice very thin a dozen large onions. Put them into a stew-pan with a quarter of a pound of fresh butter, cut into bits. Set them over a slow fire, and stir them continually till they are quite soft, taking care not to let them become brown. Then put in the sliced fish in layers; seasoning each layer with a mixture of white ground ginger, cayenne pepper, and grated nutmeg; add some chopped parsley, and some bits of butter rolled in flour Pour in a pint of water, and, if you choose, a small wineglass of vinegar, (tarragon vinegar will be best.*) Set it.

To make this vinegar,—half fill a bottle with tarragon leaves, and fill it quite up with the best cider vinegar. Cork it tightly, and do not remove the tarragon, but let it remain always at the bottom The flavour is very fine.

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