The Farmer, The Chef, & The Fisherman

The Farmer, The Chef, & The Fisherman
By Tom Deptula

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Tom Deptula with a striped bass caught in a canal inn Rehoboth.

I love to fish. I fish for anything that swims and eats. I love fishing saltwater, freshwater, creeks, rivers, branches, bays and bridges. I love the excitement of striper fishing the jetty at the inlet on a cold November night or stumbling into an action-packed perch or largemouth honey hole back in the far reaches of some wildlife area. I love the serenity of fishing in the morning fog of a quiet pond, far away from the rest of the world. In the high stress hustle and bustle of a professional kitchen, fishing provides the ultimate escape from daily life.
For me, fishing is an excellent way to examine the connection between the natural world and the food that finds its way into my kitchen. Nothing is more important to a dish than the freshness of an ingredient, fish being the perfect example. If you’ve never had red snapper plucked from the briny lagoon of a tropical paradise and grilled on an open fire, well, you really ought to some day. But living here in the fertile watershed of the Delmarva Peninsula, opportunities to experience a meal made with the absolute freshest seasonal ingredients from both the land and sea are available in great abundance if you know where to look.

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Canal striped bass caught by Tom Deptula

This week I participated in an event along with a number of other local chefs and farmers known as The Farmer and the Chef. Each chef is paired with a farmer and asked to create a dish using some fresh ingredient supplied by the farmer. The goal of the event is twofold: to develop better relationships between our local farmers and chefs by showcasing beautiful Delmarva ingredients and homegrown creative talent; and to promote healthy eating and raise funds to support the cause of the March of Dimes. The chefs and farmers in attendance did not fail to disappoint, and the mark of freshness was clearly evident in each of the dishes prepared.
As one of this year’s participating chefs, my job was made easier as the event was being held on my own home turf at Baywood Greens. While my banquet chef Justin and I prepared a dish with local dry-aged beef from Reid Angus in Frankford and chili peppers from Cooper Farms in Laurel, downstairs in the kitchen I had another local ingredient in mind: rockfish. It’s impossible to focus on freshness in food and cooking without considering the seasonality of ingredients, and this time of year late in the summer, we have some of our best ingredients at their absolute peak.

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Tom Deptula’s shorty canal striped bass, with a sunset photobomb.

A quick inventory of what was available provided plenty of inspiration: a couple of pounds of glorious jumbo lump crab meat straight out of the belly of the beast on Hooper’s Island; plump, gorgeous yellow peaches from Fifer’s Orchards in Dover; beautiful multi-colored heirloom tomatoes from Reid Family Farms in Long Neck, and bright green basil picked right off the bush behind our kitchen at the clubhouse. To top it all off I just received a fresh shipment of some of the first Virginia rockfish of the year from a local fishmonger just that morning.
The result was magnificent. A marriage of ingredients at the height of their ripeness that un-mistakenly captured the flavor of late summer on the peninsula. The impact on the palette of a tomato that’s just picked from the vine, still warm from the sun, is a taste impossible to achieve with store-bought ingredients. We all relish the tenderness of a fresh lump of Chesapeake backfin, or the sweet aroma of our locally harvested peaches. And of course, we all know (as DSF followers) the utter joy of that beautiful, flaky, buttery striped bass that has just been pulled straight from our local waters. So, in anticipation of the coming fall run, here is a rockfish recipe you can try at home using some of the best ingredients that Delmarva has to offer this time of year.

Pan Seared Rockfish with Crab, Fresh Tomato, Basil, and Grilled Peaches

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(Yields 2 servings)

1lb fresh, local rockfish (I prefer to leave the skin on, but that is a matter of personal preference.)
4oz fresh lump crabmeat
2 large peaches, halved and pitted
2 large, fresh tomatoes (If you have them growing out back in the yard, use those)
3-4 leaves of fresh basil, torn into rough pieces
1 shallot, thinly sliced (half of a small red onion will work just as well)
Kosher salt
1T Vegetable oil
2T butter
2T Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Preheat your oven to 400F. Cut the fish into equal filets, about 8oz each. Season the filets with a teaspoon of salt each and let them rest in the refrigerator while preparing your other ingredients. Grill the peach halves. Grill them well, you want to see plenty of charring and color, but you don’t want them to turn into mush. Once they are nicely grilled, cut them into wedges and allow them to cool. Slice the tomatoes into large wedges. In a large mixing bowl, combine peaches, tomatoes, crab and basil with a teaspoon of salt and the olive oil. Fold it all together gently with a rubber spatula, taking care not to break up the crab too much. Place the tomato salad off to the side, and heat vegetable oil until shimmering in a saute pan. Gently add the rockfish filets and the butter, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Using a spatula, gently flip the filets and transfer them to the oven. Let them cook in the oven for an additional 5-6 minutes. Remove pan from the oven, and transfer the fish to a paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Serve the rockfish over the tomato salad and enjoy!

Tom Deptula



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