A New Taste Treat Comes Off Everyday Fish; Laternflies Will Be Sneaking Into the County

By JAY MANN | Sep 25, 2019
Photo by: Jay Mann It’s time to take flight ... to ‘The Rip’ in Holgate.

Surf City — Having spent many a decade behind the spatula, I like to think of myself as more than your flash in the pan seafood cook. I also pride myself on culinary experimentation. That said, this fall I might have my culinary parameters sorely tested, to see if they run more than skin deep … as in bluefish skin. I’ll explain.

Through a fellow seafood aficionado, I was alerted to a group of international chefs committed to using every iota of a fish. After hearing what they’re cooking up, I believe a couple of them really should be committed, beginning with the ones plugging boiled fisheyes as a delicacy of the highest order. Fisheye soup is already, as the song goes, big in Japan. As I immerse myself in creative use-it-all culinary experimentation, eyeballs are out. I’ll eat my pride before I’ll eat, say, broiled striped bass peepers. Of course, exporting eyeloads of eyes to Tokyo for eye-openingly big yens, that’s a matter I’ll have to look into, pun intended.

Prepping myself to better utilize the entirety of a fish, I’ll grudgingly admit I’ve been guilty of wasting a goodly portion of what a full fish body has to offer. This might be most obvious with bluefish, a personal favorite of mine when of “eater” size. I fast fillet them, likely not slicing as close to the bone as I should.

With that filleting abuse in mind, this fall will see me going skin deep as part of my emerging effort to let no fish part go unused. But am I ready for … fried fish skins? My first forays into fish skins will be bluefish in nature. And, yes, I’m serious. Fish skin appetizers are already being blackboarded in some upscale establishments, expensively so. Spanish-speaking countries call them chicharrons, relating the final product to pork rinds. Check out this recipe website: honest-food.net/fish-skin-chicharrons-recipe.

You ready to fry up some skin? Again, I’m experimenting with blues.

Scrape off a bluefish’s easily removed scales. Once scales have flown – and they do take flight – proceed with typical filleting, separating flesh and skin into separate piles. I’ll note, merely in passing, that full-utilization fanatics make a third pile comprised of heads, bones and even innards. Those go toward more complicated usages, like sausages. For now, let’s be tasteful and just stick with skin.

Turning to what can become a sizable pile of skins, rinse the pieces quite well, in a de-sanding way. Lay flat on paper towel and pat dry. Move to cutting board and slice into 3-inch-wide pieces.

It’s the next step that makes the skin chips. With the help of a little oil or egg whites, coat each skinette with sundry seasonings or maybe a very light seasoned batter. I’ll likely go with Bay Seasoning or my homemade Cajun spices. It’s then off to frying.

To cook up a slew of skins, go with one of those home-grade deep fryers. Almost as good is a cast-iron skillet, sporting maybe an inch of grapeseed oil – with a few dashes of sesame oil. Sorry, olive oil can’t take the heat so don’t try it.

Hot cook skins until crisp, turning once. Total fry time is less than a couple minutes. Remove skin chips, paper towel excess oil and get ready to munch away. OK, for the taste test it might not be as much a munch as a tiny cautious nibble. If your taste buds respond, as other buds have done worldwide, you’ve found yourself a new seafood delectable. If fried skins move you, some worthy contributors include tog, black seabass, fluke, weakfish … and those blues. Striped bass skin has low potential due to the wicked scales that need to be removed. Of course, it might be worth the descaling effort to fully appreciate all of a bass.

But what’s in a fish skin that makes it appetizing? I’m betting it’s not the actual skin side of things that make the chips pop. Having worked as fish filleter in a Dallas fishery, I can say with assurance that even the sharpest of knives and craftiest of fillet moves still miss a thin layer of fatty flesh attached to the skin. In the cases of lousy or lazy filleters – and they’re legion – there’s weighable meat left on the skin. That’s from whence comes a fish chip’s succulence.

Wow, I’ve thoroughly talked myself into trying this.

ENTER THE LANTERNS: Ocean County has no way of sidestepping a fast-approaching onslaught of invasive spotted lanternfly, a form of leafhopper, related to cicadas. In from Asia, they’re plant killers of the highest order.

About an inch long, these leafhoppers sport gray wings, punctuated by scattered black spots for the first three-quarters and a spray of small roughly aligned dots toward the rear of the wings. They display some wildish colors in-flight, when bright red and deep black sections of their hind wings jump out. They have a black head, black legs and a streaked yellow abdomen with black bands.

First appearing in Pennsylvania, these somewhat attractive, mothlike bugs are ravaging plants in many sections of the Keystone State. And they aren’t overly picky about their eats, willing to bore into over 70 plant species. They gang-feed on a plant’s saps while excreting a sugary goo called honeydew. Honeydew is not sweet as it sounds. The goo tends to attract a black mold that not only looks awful but slowly sickens a plant.

What’s to be done when they arrive here? For now, NJ is fostering a sophomoric crush-’em plan. That means we all need to grab our special bug squishing shoes and commence to doing the two-step upon them. I’m serious. One of the NJDEP’s directive is a kill-on-sight command.

If you want to use a more nip-in-bud tactic, you can watch “an instructional video” by Pennsylvania state Sen. Judy Schwank, titled  “How to Remove Spotted Lanternfly Eggs,” found at youtube.com/watch?v=WoFp_MbDiE8.

As a naturalist, I’m taking the researchesque approach by tracking down the first lanternflies. But, instead of smooshing them into insect eternity, I’ll usher them into lanternfly heaven by squeezing their thoraxes twixt thumb and forefinger. A tiny popping sound indicates doneness. That’s a viable long-accepted collecting technique used when prepping bugs for pin mounting. “So, would you like to see my collection of pinned insects” was never said at a dinner party. Once the lights of a lanternfly are snuffed out, it can be rushed off to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s lab for verification. See nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/pi/pdf/See%20It%20Report%20It%20English.pdf.

If you’re not into hands-on bug snuffing, the state suggests taking a selfie of sorts. “With your GPS function turned on your smartphone or a camera with GPS, take a photograph of ANY life stage (including egg masses). Submit picture to: SLF-plantindustry@ag.nj.gov.”

How serious is the lanternfly invasion? The buggers already have their own hotline. America: land of opportunity, right?

“If you can’t take a specimen or photograph, call New Jersey Spotted Lanternfly Hotline at 1-833-223- 2840 (BADBUG0) and leave a message detailing your sighting and contact information.”

Personally, if they ever get as populated as they now are in Pennsylvania, I’m making some sort of artwork out of them, exposing the bright red hind wings. Oh, wait till PETA hears about that!

SPIDERS AND AN AMAZING SWEDISH GIRL: If you think you’ve been seeing a load of spider webs this month, join the multitude. I can only go anecdotal here – though my reporting is based on some definable observations – but our only “S” month has “s”pider written all over it. I tried some Pinelands trail running the other day and quickly became so coated with fresh web material that I finally gave up. I trudged out of the woods looking like I was wearing some sort of cobwebbed Halloween get-up.

There’s no pinning down why this year is spiderier than most. So, in the spirit of the times, I’ll default to climate change. This go-round, I’ll eagerly take that route out of a sudden veneration for that quite cool Swedish gal, Greta Thunberg, 16, who has become the worldly voice – and glaring continence – of the battle against mankind’s ruinous treatment of the atmosphere. The icy glare she recently gave The Donald was enough to temporarily slow the planet’s rapid warming.

You gotta love Greta’s ageless spirit, wisdom and willpower. She gladly accepts being called “climate change warrior.” Just last week, with none of the meanspiritedness common to politics today, she firmly and respectfully ripped Congress – and, by extension, all world leader – by telling the august body, “You’re not trying hard enough. Sorry.” Surely a Joan of Arc feel to her.

Try out some of these Greta quotes taken during million-protester rallies.

“We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. We have come to let them know change is coming.”

“How dare you!? If you choose to fail us, we will never forgive you.”

“We can no longer save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.”

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.”

I promise that young Swedish lady is bound for Nobel Peace Prize glory, begun by a fellow Swede, businessman Alfred Nobel. If the prize comes quickly, she could become the youngest recipient ever, edging out the war-wounded crusader, Malala Yousafzai, 17. Yousafzai won the prize through her epic and ongoing battle “against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

AFTEREFFECTS AND AFTER-THOUGHTS: When it comes to reporting on accidents and tragedies, like the drowning I wrote about last week, the media is most often stymied, maybe even stonewalled. New laws forbid first aid squad members, paid/volunteer firefighters, police officers and even town officials from forwarding little more than the most basic details, not the stuff of an informative article. Then there’s the unwillingness of many authorities to disseminate even the basic allowable information, fearing it might elicit so called “bad press.”

Public entities often say they fear speaking on accidents due to legal risks. To be sure, there is understandable uncertainty over the scope of laws prohibiting detailed accounts of accidents by anyone other than the victims themselves, or close family members. Law enforcement has long been unwilling to offer specifics of accidents and medical calls.

The state is no help. Not long ago, I wanted a law enforcement report regarding a serious boat accident that occurred in Barnegat Bay. Here’s what the state requires: “Boat Crash Reports can be requested using the Case Number or the Crash Details. Records Requests for Serious/Fatal crashes can be submitted only by an attorney’s office and requires a Court Order issued by a Judge.”

In that boat accident, I already had exacting details from emergency responders but literally didn’t want to put those responders at legal risk by using their information, even though I would have kept their names out … at any cost. It wasn’t impossible to envision myself sitting in jail for not giving up those names should legal action have ensued. Yes, that’s overly dramatic – though it has happened to reporters in the past – but it shows how risky reporting on accidents has gotten.

Since reporters are being taken to task by emergency responders and the public, here’s an open invitation to emergency responders wanting/willing to offer details of high-profile calls. Keep in mind that vehicular crashes are too numerous to write up, though passing on information about pedestrian or bicycling accidents has an overall public safety component.

Along those public safety lines, being able to report on accidents and medical emergencies is often educational. Here’s a gerund statement from the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: “Newspapers have the power to inform and educate the public (Voight et al., 1998). Prevention information and sufficient details that may be helpful for the public to evaluate their own risk often are not included in reports, which influences risk perceptions about public health issues (Slater, Long, & Ford, 2006). By providing information about injury risk and the benefit of taking preventive measures, newspapers could make use of their power to produce social change. …” (See ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2659876/.)

I’d like to think my writing up of the tragic drowning might have had a cautionary impact on post-season beachgoers, reflecting the public service aspect of reporting on certain accidents.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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