Good Food

10/09/2011

A Real Downeast Clambake

Clambakes came to us from Native Americans, who would cook their clams on hot rocks. Early colonists expanded the practice to include other ingredients.

from http://media.photobucket.com/image/clambake/ronandmia/Whidbey/ClamBake3.jpg?o=27

A clambake combines several genuine Maine shore experiences; the gathering of the sea’s bounty, building a nice fire, exotic seaside aromas and a great feast. Local professionals will build you one and supply all the food for a hefty price.  You can even get a “clambake” delivered to your door, minus the fire. But with just a little work you can do your own. Besides the ingredients you need a venue. A shoreside fire pit fits the bill. A lonely stretch of beach with the pit dug during low tide will work, just make sure the tide doesn’t rise too soon and that the land owner is  on board. One of our best clambakes was in our driveway!

The rockweed goes on the fire

The primary feature of the fire is rocks and hardwood. The hot rocks will do the cooking after the fire is reduced to embers, so they should be big-ish (like your head). The hardwood will burn hot enough to get the rocks hot. The rocks may split from the heat, but that’s par for the course. Think of it as a bonfire, quick and hot. Just make sure the rocks are hot enough to steam any water they contact. As the fire burns down you need to be ready for the next step: the seaweed. Collect about 25 gallons of rockweed from the shore. That’s the ubiquitous brown bladder-bearing stuff that is so common you will have no problem finding it unless you look for it at high tide.

Meanwhile, another crew is preparing the food. Corn should be cleaned of silk but not husks, the husks are folded back over the ears. Our October feast was corn deprived; grocery stores were out.

A tarp covers the seaweed and food

Clams should be in mesh bags. That’s often the way they come from the fish store (like Downeast Lobster Co., 1192 Bar Harbor Rd, Trenton, ME 04605). Otherwise  use loose fitting potato or onion bags, or improvise with cheesecloth. There should be plenty of room for the clams to open. Mussels and other shellfish can also be prepared the same way. Mussels can often be collected at low tide right on the shore without a license, but be sure there are no red tide or pollution closures for your area. Pollution closures occur often after heavy rains when poo washes down from the land. The Maine shellfish hotline is 1 800 232-4733. The lobsters need no preparation besides last rites, but I like to cut off their bands before they go in. Potatoes should be quartered and partially precooked, since the big problem with this process is overcooking of the clams.

Back to the fire. The big heat-producing phase is over and the hardwood is reduced to coals. A tender with a rake is making sure all the wood is burned or raked away, and the rocks are pushed together. Now everyone gets in the act.  Start throwing seaweed onto the pit. Immediately you will hear popping as the air bladders explode and send their flavorful steam through the air. Keep dumping on seaweed until you achieve a six to eight inch layer. Now it’s time to throw on the food. Reserve the hottest areas for all but the clams, place the clams at the perimeter or on top of other food. Some like to put in a raw egg. When the egg is hard boiled it means the bake is done.  Cover with another layer of seaweed and a wet tarp or old bed sheet. Anchor the sheet with rocks at the edge. You will see steam rising through the weave of the cloth. Start timing. After 1/2 hour uncover the food and look for open clams, that means it’s time to eat. The process may take up to one hour or more based on the heat of the rocks. You may find some items are not quite ready, but if the clams are done, don’t leave them in! First course! Keep a hose or water bucket handy in case the tarp catches on fire.

I can’t claim to be an expert at this. Be prepared like I am to pop some potatoes or corn into the microwave because they weren’t over a hot spot.  But overcooked clams are to be avoided, unlike lobsters, which can stay in longer without harm. The best part of a clambake is not the perfection of the timing, but the flavors of woodsmoke and seaweed which infuses the food, and the fun you and your friends have putting it all together.

If you want the flavor of a clambake without the pit and the big group, consider wrapping the ingredients (seaweed, lobster, clams, corn, etc.) into an aluminum foil pouch and cooking it on the grill or in the oven.  It comes pretty close!

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08/26/2011

Anthony Bourdain Came to Maine

Anthony Bourdain, from the Travel Channel

Travel Channel viewers know there are two guys with shows about eating strange stuff in faraway places. One is the nice guy, Andrew Zimmern and the other is his bad boy opposite, Anthony Bourdain. I watch them both. I encountered Andrew’s Bizarre Foods show about Maine when it aired and wrote about it here.

What I didn’t know was that Tony Bourdain did his own take on the Maine food scene too. Filled with the usual frequent profanity bleeps Tony followed his long-time (and Emmy winning) cameraman Zach Zamboni to his home town of Milo, Maine as well as a few coastal stops along the way.  Their show is called No Reservations and like Bizarre Foods, they probed the endless quirky backroads (and bays) of Maine to find strange people and stranger food. But in our country of endless malls and cookie-cutter towns, what seems bizarre to the folks of suburbia is quite ordinary to those of us who have made the escape, or never knew they were born in areas of strangeness.

So fasten your seatbelts and take a trip with Tony and Zach to their odd corners of Maine. Portland (the foodie town), Rockland (Midcoast culinary impressionism) and Milo (just watch). There are three parts of this YouTube video.

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05/07/2011

SeaCat’s Rest Wine

For a while I’ve been saving empty wine bottles that guests of our oceanside apartment have left behind with the vague notion that I will someday make a batch of wine. Last year I actually planted a vineyard and the plants did great over the summer of 2010. I did not allow them to produce fruit however, since this is what you are supposed to do for the first few years. Over the winter I bought a few wine kits, reasoning that if I wanted to utilize my eventual harvest to the utmost, I should get some practice in winemaking.

I couldn’t believe how easy it was. The making of the wine consisted of :

  1. boiling a couple gallons of water
  2. dump a gallon of the boiled water into the primary fermenter
  3. add an envelope of powdered bentonite, a type of clay which helps to settle out the solids
  4. dump in the juice from the kit
  5. pour in enough water to reach the six gallon mark and
  6. pour in the wine yeast

This whole process took less than an hour. At this point I had no idea if the end product would be drinkable, but I did know it would be cheap. The per-bottle cost was under $3.

The directions called for “racking” at regular intervals. This is the transfer of the wine from one container to another, to allow leaving behind the sediment. At the final racking two envelopes of fining (clarifying)  agents are added and one envelope of sulphite as a sanitizer. Then in two weeks, bottling, and the first chance to taste the wine.

I’m no great judge of wine, but I will proclaim the two batches I made as highly drinkable. If others agree (given a respectable time for aging) I will offer my guests a bottle or two. Of course I don’t intend to sell them, just please save the bottle!

In the vineyard, I did my first pruning in early April.  Pruning is necessary to limit the number of buds; too many buds produce too many fruiting clusters and produce small, low quality fruit. I haven’t decided whether I will allow fruiting this year (a second pruning operation removes the flowers) but I suspect I will allow a few per plant. The other thing I did which is exciting is to attempt to root the cuttings. This is happening now, and consists of placing the cut twigs into a moist pot of soil over a heating pad. Supposedly I should see root growth in a week or two. When this happens I will move the pots into the sun so that the buds will start to produce leaves. Then I can expand the vineyard to accommodate another 12 plants. These are all frontenac gris vines, a hardy variety developed by the University of Minnesota.

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02/20/2011

Maine Tourism and Seafood Updates

Lamoine Beach

The numbers are in for 2010. Maine tourism is on the rise since the dismal 2009 season, with increases in the state of 8% and Acadia National Park of 12 to 13%.  Additionally, the fall season was even better, indicating that the trend is not fading. Both the Maine Office of Tourism and The Maine Tourism Association are bullish on the 2011 season. Maine is within a six hour drive of 26 million people, and if the economy continues to mend, those folks will need a vacation.  We hope they come to Acadia.

Maine shrimp

Now for seafood. The big news on Friday was that the Maine shrimp season is shutting down early, on February 28, six and a half weeks earlier than planned. While this sounds like bad news, it’s not. The early shutdown is simply because biologists have declared that the total catch quota has been reached. The shrimp fishery is healthy and shrimp fishers have reached their limit with less fuel and in shorter time. Although this quota is much less than old record years, the management of the fishery is with an eye toward building up the stocks rather than the boom-and-bust days of old. Soon Maine’s shrimp industry will rival the productivity of our lobster fishery. Read on.

And how did the Maine 2010 lobster season do? Terrific! 81.1 million pounds was the 2010 total, far outstripping any other year since record keeping began. Remember, our lobster are caught in traps, not nets or dragged dredges, so it’s certain that many, many lobster escape to live another year. Follow the link above to discover the details of our sustainable lobster industry. The only possible problem on the horizon is the cost of fuel and bait. Diesel keeps going up, and our method of rejecting under- and over-sized lobster in addition to egg-bearing females means lots of fuel is necessary for each pound harvested. Compared to 1950, and adjusted for inflation, our lobster fishers are receiving less per pound ($2.92 in 2009 VS. $3.12 in 1950) and paying more for fuel ($1.60/gallon VS. $2.50/gallon or more now) and bait ($1.00 per bushel VS. $20-$25 now). We may get to a time when the limit to the lobster industry is not supply, but the price of lobster to the consumer. Thanks to The Ellsworth American for the above numbers.

Atlantic cod

Meanwhile, Maine groundfish, the word used to mean all traditional finned commercial species like cod, halibut and haddock, is  not doing so well. Actually, the fish are doing better than the industry. Some say the industry is on the verge of collapse, with fewer than 70 boats compared to a peak of 350 engaged in commercial groundfish fishing in Maine. There are many reasons why stocks are down but overfishing is the big one, and applying the management techniques used in our more successful fisheries is showing signs of success–stocks are rebounding. But how do we make sure there are those able to catch the rebounded stocks if the industry is allowed to die? In 2008, those 70 or so boats were allowed to fish a total of 48 days. Perhaps the correct level for allowing the stocks to rebound but not the industry. Times are tough. Now there is a new management system in place, which divides fishing grounds into sectors and allows more local management. The fishers will be more actively involved in the science and will no longer be in a mad scramble to maximize their catch in 48 days. We’re at the bottom of this fishery at present, I hope to report soon that the Maine groundfish industry is on the upswing. Once those cod recover however, look out lobster! They are a cod’s favorite food.

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02/08/2011

Scallop Season in Acadia

Atlantic sea scallops, (Placopecten magellanicus) Photo courtesy of Kevin H. Kelly, Maine Department of Marine Resources

Another secret many summer visitors don’t know about is Maine’s scallop season. Like shrimp, it’s a winter thing; the season is (this year) from December 15, 2010 to March 27, 2011. Also like our shrimp fishery, this is a sustainable fishery with tight regulations.

from http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov

The season is kept short to limit landings and many of the best scallop beds are off-limits to ensure the health of the fishery. This means that Maine’s scallop harvest fluctuates wildly, but that fluctuation does not indicate a free-for-all, boom-or-bust approach. Unlike lobsters, our scallop harvest is much lower than our states to the south. In 2009, total East coast landings topped 25,000 metric tons, of which Maine’s share was just 324. This is a small number compared to the average Maine harvest of over 2000 metric tons in the 1990s, but sustainability is the new top priority. In 2008 a survey was done by the NOAA and the results found that:

The numbers are the highest seen on Georges Bank since 2000 and the second highest since 1979 in the Mid-Atlantic Bight, and help document the effectiveness of a key measure used to manage the commercial fishery, that of rotating access to highly productive sea scallop areas while closing others to allow scallops to grow.

When we buy scallops at the seafood counter, we’re actually buying only the abductor muscle of 3 to 5 year old scallops. This muscle is big so that the scallop can flap it’s shell halves together to jet around the sea floor. So scallops are unique in this ability to move around in a hurry, if only for a limited distance. The scallop is cleaned at sea, and the rest is discarded, since scallops cannot be kept alive like clams. Seafood lovers in Europe however have been known to eat the whole scallop.

from http://www.fishingnj.org

Although Maine’s scallop fishery has made great strides to sustainability, one fly remains in the ointment: the dreaded dredge. This is the metal basket towed behind the fishing boat which collects the scallops. It also disturbs the sea floor and occasionally traps sea turtles. Some commercial harvesters dive for scallops, which is much better for the sea floor, and new evolving dredge designs are on the horizon. Overall, the trends for scallop fishing are encouraging. Now science plays a primary role, and so much more is known about what is happening “down there” than in the old days.

Our local Ellsworth roadside seafood man, David Gardener, is selling tubs of scallops for $12.50/ lb. These are not the kind you’d be likely to find in your frozen food section, some are so big you have to slice them in half to cook them at the same rate as the smaller ones. Think small hamburgers. The other difference is these are “dry” scallops. Some processors soak their scallop meats in phosphates to get them to take on water-thereby increasing weight. When possible, buy dry scallops for the best flavor. I’ll save my favorite Maine Scallop recipes for a later post.

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01/22/2011

Hu Eats Maine Lobster?

"Just make sure you serve Maine lobster."

I think it’s safe to say that China’s President Hu Jintao must like lobster from Maine; a great deal of research and preparation go into these affairs, and the menu items are carefully chosen. Thirteen years ago, when the last state dinner was served to Hu’s predecessor Jiang Zemin, the menu also included Maine lobster.

The theme for the menu this time was “Quintessentially American” and was specifically requested by the Chinese delegation. The full menu is below, courtesy of drvino.com:

The complete dinner menu

D’Anjou Pear Salad with Farmstead Goat Cheese
Fennel, Black Walnuts, and White Balsamic

Poached Maine Lobster
Orange Glaze Carrots and Black Trumpet Mushrooms
Dumol Chardonnay “Russian River” 2008

Lemon Sorbet

Dry Aged Rib Eye with Buttermilk Crisp Onions
Double Stuffed Potatoes and Creamed Spinach
Quilceda Creek Cabernet “Columbia Valley” 2005

Old Fashioned Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream
Poet’s Leap Riesling “Botrytis” 2008

from http://www.drvino.com/2011/01/19/state-dinner-menu-hu-jintao-quilceda-creek

I enjoy the thought of all those dignitaries dealing with shells and flooded plates, but something tells me the chefs figured out some way to spare heads of states from the usual lobster mess. Did President Hu wear a plastic bib? Someone knows, but they’re not talking. I have to comment on the black walnuts. This blows me away; I thought I was one of only about 10,000 Americans who love black walnuts. You can’t even buy them in Maine. They’re a Midwest thing I guess.

President Clinton’s dinner for Jiang Zemin in 1997 featured chilled lobster in tarragon sauce, probably not bib-worthy. The Bush Jr. administration didn’t like formal state dinners and never hosted one for Hu, much to his disappointment.

The thing about lobster is that  it can be as formal or as casual as you like. Here in Maine don’t expect white tablecloths and fine china. Most of the time you get a plastic bib and a bag of chips with your lobster, probably not fit for a visiting head of state. On the other hand, former President Jiang has been known to grab the mike and sing impromptu renditions of Elvis tunes. He seems more the plastic bib kind of guy.

Maine lobster has made the cut for a classic American food for many White House meals. It’s nice to know something from Maine has that status. It also happens to be one of the more sustainably harvested seafoods too.

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01/15/2011

Dragonfly Farm and Winery, Stetson, Maine

Frontenac Gris, growing at Dragonfly Farm and Winery

On Wednesday, January 12, in the midst of a wild blizzard, I visited the Dragonfly Farm and Winery on my way back from Vermont. There to greet me was the owner Todd Nadeau, who with his wife Treena grow grapes on two or three acres of gravelly Maine soil. What makes this winery unique in Maine is that all the grape wines are produced exclusively from grapes grown right on the farm. There is no option or inclination to buy grapes from other areas, in or out of Maine. That means this is the only commercial Maine winery where the wines can be said to offer the taste of the farm, a taste referred to as the “terroir”. The reason this is possible is that the winery is operated as a “hobby farm”, Todd and Treena have day jobs, so income from the winery doesn’t need to pay the mortgage, and we are the beneficiaries.

Todd Nadeau

Todd and Treena are both full-time Maine Air National Guardsmen, Todd a Lieutenant Colonel and Treena a Master Sergeant. Todd’s  inspiration to become a vintner started with his frequent military-related trips to the Moselle river area of Germany. Here he was practically forced to taste the local wine. Having never been a wine drinker, he was amazed at the taste and suddenly found his (second) calling.

German wines are made from varieties such as Riesling, Gewürtztraminer and Müler-Thurgau but these varieties can’t make it in Maine’s climate, even though we’re further south. Todd and Treena set about to find hybrid varieties which can tolerate our climate but produce wines which recall that first taste in Germany. The chosen white grape varieties are La Crescent, St Pepin, Frontenac Gris, Louise Swenson, Praire Star, Edelwiess and a few new ones which only have numbers. On the red side are St Croix, Sabrevoix, Frontenac and Concord. Other fruits yield to Todd and Treena’s winemaking skills: blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries and plums.

My two favorites are the Clarity, made from the La Crescent grape and Shorty, made from Frontenac Gris. The full list of Dragonfly wines can be accessed at their website, mainewinegrower.com. This time of year there are not many wines for sale and no grape wines at all, but on Maine Maple Sunday, March 27, Clarity, St Pepin, By the Numbers (made from the Elmer Swenson 7-11-22 variety) and Serendipity will be bottled and available for sale. You’ll notice from the photo that the winery is very limited in production and be advised that wines sell out fast. What is available on March 27 may not be around for long.

Speaking of Serendipity, that’s exactly what led me to this gem of a winery and many thanks to Todd, Treena and Todd’s mom Rita for the chance to visit. The weather was awful but the winery was an inspiration to those of us hoping for a healthy grape wine industry in Maine. I’ve heard many say that it can’t be done, but now I know better.

Dragonfly Farm and Winery is located just 20 miles from Bangor in Stetson, Maine, not far (8 miles) from exit 167 on US 95. Take Rt. 143 north and turn left onto Mullen Rd (Rt. 222). The winery is at 1069 Mullen Rd on the left, but you might want to call ahead to arrange a visit at 296-2226/2229.

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01/09/2011

It’s Maine Shrimp Season

Maine shrimp

Few visitors to the Bar Harbor area realize that Maine has a shrimp season. This is because it happens in winter. Our shrimp are not what you would expect from the Gulf of Mexico, they are smaller, sweeter and lack the iodine flavor. In fact, they are a totally different species with the lofty sounding Latin name of Pandalus borealis. Gulf shrimp are either Penaeus setiferus, Penaeus aztecus or  Penaeus duorarum. Think of Maine’s wild blueberries compared to the larger cultivated type and that’s a good way to think of our shrimp too.

David Gardener, near Ellsworth Giant Sub on Rt. 3

While our native shrimp take a back seat to our more famous Crustacean, the Atlantic lobster, there are plenty of reasons not to forget this winter bounty. First, it’s local. It comes from the cold, clean water off the Maine coast. Second, the Maine shrimp fishery is sustainable. Catches are tightly regulated, closely monitored  and robust. Finally, Maine shrimp is very affordable and fresh. Around here, the usual way to buy is from the back of a pickup truck or van, unfrozen, along the roadside, although our supermarkets have them too. From David Gardener (on 2 January 2011), the shrimp can be bought with the heads on for $1.50 per pound. We bought 5 pounds, and when we cleaned them we ended up with about 2 pounds of meat, so this worked out to $3.75/ lb with shells, heads and eggs left over for stock.   David also offers cleaned shrimp for $6.00/lb.

Speaking of roe, why are all Maine shrimp roe-bearing females? Funny you should ask. Pandalus borealis start out as males and remain so for two years as they hatch and morph through larval stages. As they mature they head for deep water where they mate with females. Then something weird happens. By year 3 these males become females and produce eggs. They head back to the shallow waters in winter to spawn and that’s when they are likely to be caught.

The best way to cook Maine shrimp is to boil or fry very quickly, a half minute in small quantities, and add to whatever dish at the last minute. Over cooking is the primary mistake in preparing Maine shrimp. Some even like to eat them raw or seviche style.  Traditionally, Mainers like them battered and deep-fried. Chowders work well too.

Maine shrimp is shipped in limited quantities down the coast to New York City and beyond, and generates culinary excitement in the larger markets. This time of year food sections of major eastern newspapers brim with the news and recipes. Here are a few: Washington Post, The Portland Press Herald, New York Magazine, The Boston Globe, The Bangor Daily News. Maine harvests about 9 million pounds on average of shrimp, about 1/8 of our lobster harvest, and people who appreciate this delicacy know the season is short (136 days) and sweet.  Seize the moment!

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01/06/2011

Bar Harbor’s Bugs

Underside of egg-bearing female Homarus americanus.

No, I’m not talking about the latest infestation, I’m talking about the one to four pound underwater variety which just about every visitor likes to see on his or her plate. The Maine lobster, Homarus americanus, leads a fascinating life. It starts with the female excreting her egg mass into her rows of abdominal flippers, “swimmeretes”, and gluing them there with a bio-adhesive, which she happens to also excrete. At this point a pretty weird fertilization occurs. A few weeks or more back the male lobster gave her a few packets of sperm which she stashed in a pouch and plugged. Now she pulls them out (older females can hold more and can fertilize several broods with one mating). The eggs stay glued under mom for 9 to 12 months. During this time the embryonic lobsters shed about 35 times.  Shedding is what lobsters do in order to grow, otherwise their shells become prisons. During this time the mother lobster must not shed, or the eggs will be lost. Her important job is safeguarded by Maine lobster fishers. Not only will they not take an egg-bearing female, they will mark her with a notch so that no one else takes her after she’s released her eggs.

Each time they shed, the tiny lobsters take a more developed form. When they finally hatch they are free swimming, propelling themselves with paddlelike appendages to the surface, where the wind moves them with the top layer of water, dispersing them like dandelion fluff. After a few more molts the free swimmers sink to the bottom in search of a safe home. By now they resemble tiny lobster, with tiny claws, antennae and legs. They are now “post larvae”. At this time it is important that the correct habitat is available on the sea floor–not sand, not clay, not ledge, but cobbles—medium sized stones. This is one of the big surprises of recent research, and perhaps the limiting factor to Maine’s lobster population.

If they survive they will continue to shed and grow. At first the shedding rate is blistering, but after a few years they settle into one or two sheds per year. It is at this time they enter adolescence, ready to mate and have eggs of their own. If they survive to over five inches in carapace length–male or female–they are considered “breeders” and can live long, productive lives, free from the dinner table. The egg bearing capability of a female is geometrically related to her size, so older females can really crank out the babies.

Over the course of the year, lobster migrate back and forth between deep and shallow water. The deep water stays warmer in the winter. Lobster move slowly in the cold, deep water and so don’t eat much. When things warm up they’re ready to move inshore and shed. It is at this time they also mate. Both deep and shallow places require housing, not only for safety from predators, but also from each other. They like to back into dark places and stick their antennae out. The perfect apartment even has a back door to escape through. Bigger males pick frequent fights to establish dominance and become alpha males, mating with multiple females. Both sexes require a safe place to shed. For a while their new body is like jelly and they can’t even stand.

So housing is important. Different bottoms offer different housing types to different age groups. One big concern of lobster fishers is that well-meaning government scientists may increase the size limit on lobster so that they may need bigger apartments. This may mean a lack of proper housing, resulting in greater mortality or migration to different areas. The end result could be a lower lobster population and smaller catches. File this in the unintended consequences section.

A lot of work, science and conservation goes into Maine’s sustainable lobster industry. Celebrate these efforts by having a lobster dinner tonight. Better yet, come to Maine and see what it’s all about.

Thanks to: The Secret Life Of Lobsters by Trevor Corson, Dr. Alistair M. Dove, U. of  N.H. and Maine Department of Natural Resources for photos.

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12/25/2010

Mackerel, Maine’s Fun Fish

Here on Lamoine’s shore, 8 miles from Bar Harbor, the mackerel schools show up with the warm weather and the tourists. While not as thick as in Belfast, an hour southwest, our local mackerel is certainly worth pursuing. In fact, it takes so little in effort and investment, it’s the cheapest seafood you can get. And they’re fun to catch too.

It must be said, the beauty of the fish, with its classic streamlined shape and iridescent purple coloring is somewhat unmatched by its culinary appeal. The meat is oily,  sort of mushy and strongly flavored. Not the premier dining experience, but even sushi chefs serve it. The mackerel is related to the tuna and bluefish, so it has good heritage, and the fishery is reasonable healthy. Some folks find the taste quite good, especially when fresh, and the meat is high in vitamin B12 and omega 3 fatty acids. Also, unlike their larger cousins Northern Atlantic mackerel are very low in mercury, and can be eaten at least twice a week according to EPA guidelines.

Catching mackerel couldn’t be easier or more fun. The most humble of fishing pole and reel are adequate and the classic “four drop” mackerel rig can be bought anywhere for a few dollars. This rig has four hooks arranged with colorful sleeves and the impression is that when you reel in, all hooks will have a fish. This may be optimistic, but I have had more than one on occasion. Add a weighted hook at the bottom for easier casting.  Spoons or bare hooks can also be used. Bait is often a cut up mackerel, but where do you get cut up mackerel before you catch the first one? Start out with whatever meat is in your fridge: a hot dog, a chicken bit or a shrimp. Or, just ask the guy fishing next to you on the dock for a bit of mackerel.

Mackerel move and feed only at certain times. The tide has a big effect on their feeding behavior and it’s best to ask around for the local knowledge. If you go to the Lamoine State Park, just glance at the floating dock to see if anyone’s fishing. This is the best mackerel spot around, so just monitor the activity there and you will have success. Alternately, throw a line overboard while sailing or kayaking, but be ready for a fight. Mackerel are feisty fish and may pull your small boat quite a distance before they tire.

Keep your fish alive or on ice as soon as possible to preserve their texture. They can be simply grilled but are especially good smoked. I have done this by placing cherry sticks under the grill of my gas barbecue, heating them until they flame and then shutting off the gas. The fish are high enough to not be reached by the flame (on the upper grill). When the wood is burned, the fish are usually done, but if not the gas can be relit for a few minutes. Enjoy a meal of Maine mackerel, Maine potatoes and Maine sweet corn!

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