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Who's Cooking: Michael Potts, Montauk

Michael Potts of Montauk with his striped bass

Michael Potts of Montauk with his striped bass over spinach with sauteed onions and spicy mustard. The longtime fisherman always makes sure the fish is bled right away, iced and eaten within a couple of days. That's the secret, not a recipe, he says. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Michael Potts, captain of the Montauk charter fishing boat Bluefin IV (, lives in Montauk with his wife.

How long have you been fishing?

I was born in Montauk and I've been fishing here my entire life. My father and uncle operated a charter boat since 1944. By the time I was 10 I had steady work on the docks. After getting a degree in environmental biology from Florida Institute of Technology, I returned to fish full-time.

What's good and local?

Striped bass, fluke, porgies, bluefish. You may scoff at bluefish, but I would make it and you wouldn't believe how good it is. Most of my success with fish has to do with the fact that I caught it myself or it was caught on my boat and it's properly handled. Bled right away, iced and eaten within a couple of days. That's the secret, not a recipe.

How do you prepare bluefish?

I take a 3- to 4-pound fish. I bleed it right away and then ice it to maintain its integrity. Then I remove the skin and cut out all the red meat. In the process, I'll be removing the bones, too. Anybody who thinks they don't like fish, cut out the red meat, and you'll immediately improve its flavor and make it less fishy. Another reason to get rid of the red: The red meat is the fatty meat, where pollutants collect. I take a piece of foil, brush it with olive oil, put all of the fish on the foil and sprinkle it heavily with fresh oregano (blue fish has an affinity for oregano), chopped garlic, a little more olive oil and sometimes some Cajun spice, Tabasco, or cumin. Then I wrap it up and cook it over medium heat on the grill or in the oven, about 20 to 25 minutes.

For those of us who don't catch our own, how should we buy and store fresh fish?

What you have to be aware of is what is coming in at the time. If you're buying tuna in January, it's coming from a long way. In January you'd look for tilefish, fluke, cod. Now, local striped bass is plentiful. I'm a pain when it comes to buying stuff. I want to smell it, taste it, feel it. If you won't let me, I can't buy it. If I bring fish home and I know I'm not going to eat it immediately, I keep it on ice and pour more ice over it for a day or two. All fish in a fish market are kept on ice because the temperature of the refrigerator isn't enough. Fish needs contact with 32-degree ice to stay fresh.

Aside from wrapping it in foil, are there other ways you like to prepare striped bass?

Take a smaller striped bass filet, skin and scales still on. Heat a grill so it's very hot. Score the thicker part of the skin at a diagonal with a sharp knife. Rub olive oil on top liberally and into the score marks. Coat it with chopped fresh herbs. I like sage with striped bass, but you can use parsley, chives, thyme. Work the herbs into the cracks you've made on top. Lay the striped bass, skin side down, on the grill. Striped bass scales are tough; they will not burn. They transmit heat really well from the grill to the fish. Cover the grill. After a minute, turn the heat down to medium and just let it sit there for 15 or 20 minutes. After 15 minutes, check the middle of the filet with a fork. When it's white it's done. Then take a spatula and spatula it off in a couple of pieces with all of the herbs, leaving the skin behind on the grill.


Potts uses striped bass here, but says that tile, halibut or grouper would also work.

1 tablespoon or two of grapeseed oil or very light olive oil

2 sweet onions such as Vidalias, julienned

3 to 4 tablespoons best-quality spicy brown mustard

10 to 12 ounces fresh spinach, washed and dried, or frozen, thawed and squeezed of excess water

4 to 5 pounds striped bass fillets, about 1-inch thick, skinned, deboned, most of the red meat removed


Ground black pepper

1. Preheat a gas grill to medium (about 375 degrees), or preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the mustard and cook for another 2 minutes. The onions should be about halfway cooked. Remove from heat.

2. Lightly brush a large piece of heavy-duty foil with water. Make a bed of spinach on top of the foil, about the size of the fish. Lay the fish on the spinach. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with the onion mixture.

3. Crimp the foil tightly around the fish. Cook on the grill, covered, or in the oven for about 25 minutes. Let stand in the foil for 10 minutes before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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