Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Triggerfish and Little Compton wrap up

Mommy Ryan’s annual Little Compton rental was the past two weeks, hence the lack of posts.  I swear that the internet is barely functional no matter where I go in that lovely seaside town, plus it’s no fun to sit inside writing a blog post when you are at a beach house.  It’s also no fun to pause and take pictures of what you are cooking, so this won’t be my strongest post.

That’s not the house Ma Ryan rented, but it is a pleasant place to have a beer on the deck when the weather is nice.  This was taken a few seconds before Janet started eating pebbles and grass like potato chips and I had to sprint towards her to make her laugh at my lack of athleticism and slow her progress

Little Compton is a bit shaky on the grocery store front, and the best idea is usually to head out of town for most supplies.  The fresh food options are fantastic though, with Walkers (the farm stand en route), dece foraging, the Sakonnet Lobster Company, and a new discovery from this trip on the best place to buy fish.

No real secret to Walkers, just insanely fresh, ripe, locally grown produce that is always delicious.  For the foraging, there are a few sandy spots where you can covertly go quahoggin’ but I have never participated due to fears of undercover shellfish cops.  Elsewhere, the mussel population was unfortunately destroyed years ago due to the introduction of a non-indigenous crab species that wiped them out.  But, we’d heard rumors you could find them on the rocks.

As usual Buschy wanted to go foraging, which meant he wanted to watch and ask questions without getting his nails dirty.  What we discovered on the rocks in front of the house was a huge mussel population well on the way to a full rebound but still a little young.  I plucked a few of the biggest ones for a small appetizer.

I prefer this to the foul smelling mud where I’ve mucked mussels in Maine, but I was consistently positive I was about to break a bone on these rocks

I only pocketed a couple dozen since the mussel population on these rocks likely needed another year to have a full crop of standard-sized shellfish.  The ones we did have were awse; very clean with meat that was tender, sweet, and more white than the usual pink/orange color.  Lots of potential for future years.

Back to the local food sources.  To get the best lobsters and feesh, it’s best to arrive at Sakonnet point between 9 and 10AM.  For the lobsters that will earn you some well priced monsters.

The beer bottle does a far worse job than expected of providing a size and scale reference for the lobsters

To explain, Sakonnet Lobster Co sells on a progressive per pound scale where the larger lobsters are also more expensive per pound.  Pretty standard, but there is a separate price structure for “Cull” lobsters which are priced at 6 or 7 dollars a pound.  Cull generally refers to single claw lobsters, but there are also usually a few that have two claws and are too ugly to be sold for full price.  Considering that you’re not eating the shell, who cares if there is a barnacle or divot on the outside?  You gotta get there early when they are sorting the day’s catch, though; these two pounders with a couple stray barnacles usually go home with the fishermen.

Similarly, around the corner by the jetty at Sakonnet point there is a commercial fishing dock where they sort the day’s catch before 10AM.  If you have cash, you can pay wholesale prices for whatever is fresh caught that day before it heads to the fish markets in Fall River.  Sometimes it’s common fish like Striped Bass or Cod, but the day we went I encountered three fish species I’d never cooked before: Tautog, Triggerfish, and Scup.  After parting with my $8, I headed home with two Triggerfish to clean and prep.

Didn’t get a good shot of the fish, or the awkward 5 minutes where Buschy and I were standing outside the commercial fish docks too nervous and intimidated to go in and ask if they sell fish.  We were acting like high school kids hanging outside a liquor store hoping someone would just offer to buy us some beer instead of asking

Triggerfish are ellipse-like in shape and have a little mouth full of sharp teeth.  Their outer skin is like a solid coat of armor with small scales that were seemingly impossible to remove by scraping.  Since these were whole and fresh off the boat, I wanted to remove the guts and clean them to get that step out of the way.

I learned how to clean trout in Michigan when I was 10.  This wasn’t that similar with the massive air bladder and huge liver, but I got through it

These weren’t the simplest fish to clean since the opening wasn’t easy to get my hands into.  Plus, the air bladder was pretty thick and difficult to remove.  Aside from that, I was surprised by how large the liver was for a relatively small fish.  Once fully cleaned I rinsed the insides out with a hose and put the fish in the fridge until dinner prep.

But I certainly wasn’t going to waste that liver.

This is after a rinse in the sink.  I had to at least try them, right?  I mean what kind of weirdo would just throw that away?

It’s going to sound bizarre, but the main reason for why I cooked the livers was the highly encouraging smell.  They were clean/not fishy smelling, and had the general aroma of a freshly steamed New England mud clam (or steamer).  So, once they were fully rinsed and patted dry, I threw them in a pan with olive oil and a couple twists of coarse sea salt.

After a few minutes browning on each side, they were ready.

I wish I had bought 100 Triggerfish just for the livers.  These things may have looked foul and smelled super-fishy at first, but they were pretty incredible

The texture was liver-like, soft with a crispy outside from cooking in the olive oil, but the flavor didn’t have a hint of what you expect from liver.  They tasted most like a fried clam belly and were very mild and rich.  I was stunned when Kristi took a bite and more surprised when she agreed with my previous assessment.  She even commented on how my lunch of fish livers on an English muffin looked good!  I’ve created a monster.

When it came time to cook the Triggerfish, I didn’t have many options.  The skin was like armor with small scales which made boiling it a tricky proposition and I’m not good enough with a knife to fillet a fish that thin.  So, I went with what I know and packed it in a mixture of kosher salt and egg whites with the cavity stuffed with sliced lemon and bay leaves for a salt baking.  As with my previous experience, it came out surprisingly well.

I was a little sloppy removing the huge crust of salt on top and a little flaked back on the fish, but the skin easily pulled away in one solid piece which cleared most of the salt away.  Yeah, like I was really nervous about salt getting on my food

I was pretty into this fish.  The meat near the ribs and collar was very buttery tasting and tender while the more dense meat towards the tail was dense but flaky and more like a traditional whitefish flavor.  Really good.  Next time around I think I will be stuffing with lime, chili peppers, and cilantro to use the fish meat for the best fish tacos of all time.  Can’t wait to go back to those docks.  Thanks to Buschy and Taylor for all the pictures.

My freezer is completely full due to the recent arrival of a tuna head and guts courtesy of the Hard Four crew (big ups to Johnny of course, and Brother Tim for carpooling with the head).  Not sure if it will be the post for next week, but I have some other posts in mind.

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2 thoughts on “Cleanin’ Out My Cabinets: Triggerfish and Little Compton wrap up

  1. This was a nice weekend and thanks for including us. That fish was very good and I would like to try it with a sauce of some sort.

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