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Here in Maryland it seems completely appropriate that our greatest natural resource, the Chesapeake Bay, is the home to one of the greatest fish in the whole world:  the celebrated rockfish. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino will tell you, the rockfish is hands-down one of the best tasting fish you'll ever come across.

That being said, you don't just toss your rockfish fillet in the skillet and hope for the best.  It's a little trickier than that. Jerry is an expert on the makeup of the rockfish, and he has some tips.

First, don't overcook the fish. 145° is the ideal temperature, and you want to hit that as near as possible.  Using a quick-read thermometer, bring the fish in the pan or oven to about 135°.  Remove it from heat, but keep in mind that it will keep cooking and hit that target in a couple minutes.

Getting the temperature right is important because rockfish is very lean, lacking the fats common in salmon. So overcooking will dry it out rapidly.

Because the flavor is so good, you should beware of over-complicating the recipe.  Stick with simple approaches and you'll be half-way there.

Freshness is of paramount importance. If you can, find a store that sells rockfish caught that same day. When buying a whole fish, smell it first. The merest whiff of ammonia is a big red flag.  Walk away fast.  What you are sniffing for is a fresh, mild, seaside aroma. Trust your nose. Next, look at the eyes.  A fresh fish will have bright clear eyes. His scales will press close to the body.  The flesh should be firm and resliant, springing back after you touch it. And check the gills. They should be deep pink or dark red.

With all this in mind, here are a few good recipe ideas.

Pan-seared rockfish with lemon cream sauce couldn't be easier. The lemon sauce is made by combining lemon juice, cream and white wine. Simmer it gently, allowing it to reduce by half.  Meanwhile, heat up a half cup of canola oil in a large skillet. Take a half dozens rockfish fillets and dredge them in flour. Sauté them until golden brown. Then set them aside to rest. After a few minutes, plate the fillets and drizzle the sauce on top. Easy!

One-dish rockfish is a snap. The dish in question is a medium sized pyrex baking dish.  On the bottom put down a layer of fresh spinach. Place two rockfish fillets on top of that, and season with salt and pepper, lemon pepper, dill, and onion powder. Slice up a lemon and lay the slices on the fillets, then do the same with an onion. Pour in a little chicken broth, then sprinkle the whole dish with quarterd cherry tomatoes.  Pop it in a 400° oven for about 20 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily.

Portuguese baked rockfish follow on this one dish idea. In this recipe you will start with a few rockfish fillets, skin on.  Cut them into big chunks and place them in the baking dish along with coarsely chopped tomatoes, tender white potatoes, onions and garlic. Season with salt, pepper and a lot of paprika. Sprinkle on fresh sprigs of parsley and thyme and let it cook in a 350° oven for half an hour. The fish and tomatoes will create a sauce, which you can enhance at the table with the juice of one or two lemons.

Here is a link to a few other rockfish recipes provided by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

-Al Spoler 

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
As General Partner of Clipper City Brewing Company, L.P., Hugh J. Sisson is among Baltimore's premier authorities on craft brewing and a former manager of the state's first pub brewery, Sissons, located in Federal Hill. A fifth generation Baltimorean, Hugh has been involved in all aspects of craft brewing.