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sea robin fillets with tapenade; okra; tomato salad


Note to self:  The fish was astoundingly good, in both taste and texture, and the vegetables, which actually happened to be what I had on hand, excellent accompaniments.


There really are other fish in the sea. And some of them are scrumptious.

Please do not tell anyone about the ‘sea robin’, or ‘gurnard’who might not discover this post on their own;  its impecunious devotees might become very angry with me if the news of its virtues were broadcast too widely.  This delicious, yet widely and unfairly disparaged fish, is incredibly tasty, very inexpensive, and, in our experience on this occasion at least, without bones.   Found in abundance in seas from Southern New England and New York to Cape Hatteras, the species is among the least expensive, and apparently least endangered, of any of those harvested from our local waters; I can attest to their numbers anecdotally, having actually gone out into local coastal waters to pull in some cousins of theirs who are generally regarded as a far more desirable catch.

Now I can also attest to their toothsomeness.

The price of Sea Robin reflects its demand (pretty weak) and its supply (a seeming abundance).  $5.45 was enough to bring home the six fillets, which weighed a total of about .82 pounds, an amount which worked out perfectly as portion for two.

I found almost no information on their cooking (even Mark Bittman is silent on this species, in his book and anywhere else on line), but since our Sea Robin is related to the Mediterranean Rascasse, I searched under that name and came up with this recipe, for Rascasse à la tapenade.  Since deciding to use it, I’ve come across a couple more, and I expect to take advantage of my new, small inspirational ‘index card’ recipe bounty following future visits to my local fish mongers.

  • six small fillets of sea robin, aka ‘gurnard’, from P.E. & D.D. Seafood, rinsed, pat dry, then placed in a pan of sizzling olive oil and sautéed over medium-high heat for barely 2 minutes on each side, transferred to two plates, a little lemon squeezed on top and a bit of a tapenade sauce* spread over the fillets, which were garnished with fresh basil off of a plant from Full Bloom Market Garden in Whately, Massachusetts, purchased at Whole Foods and currently happy in one of our south windows
  • a few purple okra from Lani’s Farm, remaining from the batch we enjoyed yesterday, again sautéed in olive oil with crushed dried chiles in an iron pan over a high flame, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • a salad of tiny golden cherry tomatoes from Eckerton Hill Farm and two very ripe Maine cherry ‘cocktail’ tomatoes from Whole Foods, dressed with a good olive oil, salt. pepper, a few drops of balsamic vinegar, and chopped fresh oregano from Lani’s Farm
  • the wine was a Spanish white, Naia D.O. Rueda 2014, from Verdejo old vines
  • the music was Giovanni Paisiello’s 1782 ‘Il Barbiere di Siviglia‘ (one of the composer’s 94 operas), conducted by Adam Fisher


* see this recipe for details (in which I incorporated Gaeta olives, salted capers, and one salted anchovy, all from Buon Italia, and some chopped fresh thyme from Keith’s Farm)

sautéed sea robin, tapenade; grilled zucchini, garlic, basil

This is a terrific fish, and I’ve said so before. When I came across this site, where the first writer’s story, written only 4 years ago, pretty much sums up the more usual, negative American attitude toward the ‘sea robin’, or ‘gurnard’. Things may finally be changing however, thanks to some savvy fishers and their loyal customers.

Years ago I was on a small party boat fishing for fluke (a client treating myself and some colleagues), and I was really intrigued by these little guys I was pulling up out of the water. I thought they were “pretty and cute”, as one of the folks in that discussion says. The crew on our boat told us they were good for nothing, and tossed them back into the sea.

I now know how to appreciate them, and I have rhapsodized about them at least once before.  I hope that party boat crew has reconsidered its prejudices.

Here are the 9 fillets lying on the counter before they were cooked.

  • nine small sea robin fillets, or ‘tails’, from P.E. & D.D. Seafood, rinsed, patted dry, then placed in a pan of sizzling olive oil and sautéed over medium-high heat for barely 2 minutes on each side, transferred to the plates, a little organic lemon from Whole Foods Market squeezed on top, then small spoonfuls of an olive tapenade sauce [see immediately below] spread over or between the fillets, sprinkled with some chopped thyme remaining from the preparation of the tapenade
  • the tapenade was made by following this simple recipe; I don’t have a powered food processor, but it’s still easy working with only a chef’s knife; the ingredients were Gaeta olives from Buon Italia, Rocambole garlic from Keith’s Farm, one well-rinsed chopped anchovy packed in salt from Buon Italia, well-rinsed Sicilian capers packed in salt from Buon Italia, freshly ground black pepper, olive oil, and the chopped leaves from a few fresh sprigs of thyme from Stokes Farm

On Friday, at her Union Square Greenmarket stand, ‘Berried Treasures’, Franca Tantillo had steered me toward some fantastic, very sweet, juicy, tender, and buttery variety of zucchini she had grown this summer, ‘Costata Romanesco‘, an Italian heirloom variety.

Time for a side trip to Franca’s farm, with this short video, ‘A Day at Berried Treasures Farm with Brendan McHale‘.

At home I handled the vegetable pretty much as I often do when simply grilling summer squash, and they really were everything she had advertised. I also mixed them up with basil rather than some form of mint, as I have lately, mostly because the basil I had was in superb condition, something often difficult to arrange.

Here the squash slices are on the grill pan, after they had been turned the first time.

And here they sit waiting for the sea robin to finish sautéeing.

  • two Romanesco zucchini from Berried Treasures, sliced, thickly, on the diagonal, tossed inside a bowl with olive oil, finely-chopped Rocambole garlic from Keith’ Farm, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, then pan grilled, turning 3 times, on top of a seasoned 2-burner ribbed cast iron plate, arranged on an oval platter, sprinkled with leaves from a basil plant from Stokes Farm and thin slices of one small Calabrian medium hot cherry peppers from Alewife Farm, seeds and pith removed (although that removed all of their heat, which I think we would have welcomed) and allowed to rest for a few minutes while the fish was prepared
  • the wine was a Spanish (Girona) rosé, Espelt Coralí rosé (100% Lledoner negre [Grenache] grapes), from Manley’s Wine & Spirits
  • the music was the album, ‘Hand Eye’, from Eighth Blackbird

sea robin, tapenade; garlic-chili-grilled patty pan, lovage


The sea robin was delicious, but I think I overdid the garnish this time. It really didn’t need the bed of arugula, especially since I was sprinkling the fish itself with some torn fresh basil.

I was trying to hard to use the arugula I had in the refrigerator door while it was still sprightly, but also I was distracted by both an unusually smokey kitchen (the oil-tossed squash grilling over a high flame), and my multitasking 2 other very different programs (preparing the fish and vegetables at the same time I was rendering a supply of fresh veal fat in a large pot), all inside a warm kitchen.

[the veal fat, from Consider Bardwell Farm in the Union Square Greenmarket, originated with a calf of their cow milk partner, Lisa Kaiman’s Jersey Girls Dairy (her cow’s are Jerseys, and Lisa is from New Jersey, hence..) in Chester Vermont]

But the air cleared, the breakfast room eventually cooled down, and we enjoyed the meal – and great conversation – including some excellent cheese, great bread, and one of our favorite table wines.



  • nine quite small sea robin fillets, or ‘tails’, from Pura Vida Fisheries, rinsed, pat dry, seasoned with salt and pepper, then placed in an oval heavy copper pan of sizzling olive oil, sautéed over medium-high heat for barely 2 minutes on each side, transferred to 2 plates where they were perched on some rocket/arugula (‘wild arugula’) from Migliorelli Farm, a little organic lemon squeezed on top, and small spoonfuls of a olive tapenade sauce made minutes earlier (Gaeta olives, brined wild capers, a salted anchovy, and some chopped fresh thyme) spread over or between the fillets, which were garnished with torn fresh basil leaves from Sycamore Farms
  • four small patty pan squash from Alewife Farm, sliced horizontally, tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, chopped fresh garlic from Alewife Farm, part of a hot red Portugal pepper from Keith’s Farm, salt, and pepper, then pan grilled for about 6 minutes, sprinkled with lovage from Keith’s Farm

There was a small cheese course, which included a few sweet cherries from Samascott Orchards.

  • three cheeses from Consider Bardwell Farm: ‘Dorset’, a rich, buttery washed-rind cow milk cheese, and their 2 new-ish blues, ‘Barden Blue’, a cow cheese, and a goat blue which I believe has not yet been named [might I humbly suggest ‘Wellen’, as in Bardwell’s ‘Barden’-‘Wellen’?]
  • a terrific Hudson Bakery pumpernickel boule from Citarella


sea robin, tapenade; tomato; yellow beans; arugula


(in something of a statement about my at-least-intermittent compulsiveness, the various heirloom cherry tomatoes are already divided into two quite equal shares before the rest of the course has been finished; but they were pretty)


But it really wasn’t about the tomatoes, and in fact they were barely even an afterthought.  It was about the sea robin again.


I had prepared this excellent fish twice before, with super success, even if I haven’t yet come up with an alternative to the recipe I’ve used each time.  I now consider sea robin a lucky find and a great treat – and, surprisingly, still one of the best bargains on this side of the Atlantic.  At least so far they haven’t generally been taken seriously as candidates for the dining table, usually considered ‘rough fish’ or ‘trash fish’ by people seeking their prized neighbors, striped bass or flounder.   In France and elsewhere in Europe they and their relatives, whether called ‘gurnard’ or ‘rascasse’, are more respected.

I’m going to link to an attractive recipe on another site here, but it’s probably more for my own reference when than for any public enlightenment.

  • eight quite small sea robin fillet, or ‘tails’, from Blue Moon Fish, rinsed, pat dry, then placed in a pan of sizzling olive oil and sautéed over medium-high heat for barely 2 minutes on each side, transferred to two plates, a little lemon squeezed on top, then small spoonfuls of an olive tapenade sauce spread over or between the fillets, which were then garnished with fresh Gotham Greens Rooftop packaged basil leaves from Whole Foods, torn
  • the tapenade had been prepared with Gaeta olives from Buon Italia, a little garlic from Norwich Meadows Farm, one rinsed chopped anchovy, also from Buon Italia, salted rinsed capers from Buon Italia, ground black pepper, olive oil, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme from Phillips Farm, chopped
  • a handfull of small heirloom cherry and grape tomatoes from Berried Treasures, halved, then added to the plates, and seasoned with Maldon salt
  • yellow flat pole beans from Norwich Meadows Farm, blanched, drained and dried, then reheated in oil, finished with salt, pepper, and fresh fennel seed from Lani’s Farm
  • a simple salad of spicy wild arugula from Lani”s Farm, tossed with one thinly-sliced shallot from Norwich Meadows Farm, very good olive oil, Italian white vinegar, salt, and freshly-ground pepper
  • the wine was a California (Napa) white, Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc 2014
  • the music was Richard Zimdars performing 20th and 21st-century piano compositions by a number of composers, from his album, ‘Character Pieces from Four Continents

sea robin, tapenade; haricots verts; tomatoes


Note to self: This was my second outing with sea robin, and the result was even more delicious than the last time.


I absolutely do not understand the fact that this fish is still so unappreciated.  My memory of sea robin goes back to my first and only experience of fishing in Atlantic waters.  It was over 25 years ago, a company outing, a day trip, on a small party boat running off Long Island, and while we were hoping to haul in fluke, we were just as likely to hook a sea robin.  Sadly, or not, I think these fascinating little ‘winged’ creatures were all returned to the sea that day.  I took home the fluke.

I’m not even going to dwell on the fact that a generous serving for two will set you back little more than $5, or the fact that it is one of the easiest fish to prepare.  I’m thinking of the taste and the texture, and, as always, the aesthetics of its appearance on a plate.

My next assignment is to come up with alternative preparations for this delicious fish, since I’m certain we will be enjoying it again and again.

Oh, the thyme branch sticking up out of one of the tomato slices? A momentary absence of mind as I rushed from counter to table, since it had nothing to do with the tomatoes, and everything to do with the tapenade, where it should properly have been planted.

  • eight quite small sea robin ‘tails’ from P.E. & D.D. Seafood, rinsed, pat dry, then placed in a pan of sizzling olive oil and sautéed over medium-high heat for barely 2 minutes on each side, transferred to two plates, a little lemon squeezed on top and a bit of a tapenade sauce spread over the fillets, which were then garnished with fresh buds of basil plants given to us by a friend with a garden in Garrison, New York [the tapenade was prepared by hand rather than a blender, chopping the ingredients, which included Gaeta olives from Buon Italia, a little Rocambole garlic from Keith’s Farm, one rinsed chopped anchovy, also from Buon Italia, salted rinsed capers from Buon Italia, ground black pepper, olive oil, and fresh thyme from Phillips Farm]
  • tiny, very tender haricots verts from Norwich Meadows Farm, blanched in salted water, dried and reheated in butter which had warmed a little bit of chopped shallot from Keith’s Farm, some ramp fruits from Berried Treasures, dill flowers from Crock & Jar/Rise & Root, and parsley from Paffenroth Farms
  • two heirloom tomatoes from Berried Treasures, sliced, drizzled with good olive oil, sprinkled with Maldon salt, and tossed with some torn basil leaves clipped from a Full Bloom Market Garden plant in a south window, which had originated in Massachusetts and arrived in our rooms via Whole Foods
  • slices of a small sourdough baguette from Barbara Olson of Buon Pane
  • the wine was a New Zealand white, Tablelands Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough 2014
  • the music was the symphonies Number 2 and 4 of Robert Schumann, conducted by Roger Norrrington




the sea robin, out of water, “Caught in New Haven Harbor”


[the image at the bottom is from Wikimedia Commons]