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Wine & Beer Pairings
by Bellevue Wine and Spirits owner John Callaghan and Naragansett Beers President Mark Hellendrung
“Pinot Grigio and the subtle style of chardonnay would be great pairings for the delicate weakfish,” says John Callaghan. He suggests:
• THE DOMAINE LONG-DEPAQUIT CHABLIS 1ER CRU LES VAUCOPINS, 2011 – $34.99
• GLORIA’S “OLD VINES” CHARDONNAY, MENDOCINO – $14.99
• OBIZ PINOT GRIGIO, FRIULII 2011 – $14.99
• CORMON’S PINOT GRIGIO, VENEZIA GIULIA 2011 – $12.99
And Mark Hellendrung, President of Narrqagansett Beer, recommends their newly released Bohemian Pilsner saying, “It is an easy-drinking and flavorful beer that pairs well with fish…It has an excellent balance of malt and hops that will compliment just about any seafood dish…it’ll go nicely with grilled weakfish.
Bohemian Pilsner, Naragansett Beers, $8.49 – $8.99 in six-packs of 16-ounce cans and available on draft throughout Rhode Island, Boston, New Haven, CT and in Southeastern MA.
W hether you call them sea trout, weakies, or by their Native American name, squeateague, weakfish are delicious…and, we hear, they are being caught right now off the RI coast, not an everyday affair. While Weakfish are typically found along the Eastern seaboard from Nova Scotia–where they go to spawn–down to Florida, they really only visit us here in RI on their migration North and on their way back down South again.
Weakies, as we affectionately call them, are the most common of the sea trout caught in our coastal waters, but that’s no easy feat, even for the most experienced angler. The fish are strong swimmers and powerful fighters, a misnomer for the name “weakfish,” but it’s actually their jaws that are weak, often times easily tearing away when hooked, allowing them to escape along with your bait! Setting the hook without tearing it away from their mouth and keeping the drag loose are critical to catching this fish. The best bite is at dusk along beaches, fishing bridges and in the drift or mouths of inlets.
Unlike their bruisin’ cousins, striped bass, weakies are slim and spotted, speckling sliver in the sunlight and beautiful in the water. They are quick predators, feeding on squid, worms, Ocean State scup and clams. And they can grow to 3 feet and weigh around 17.5 pounds, but the norm in our area is more like 6-10 pounds. Once boated, the male makes a croaking sound that can surprise you…and keep the kids entertained for hours! But be sure to ice them right away if you want to preserve this fish’s fine eatin’ because its delicately textured flesh is fragile.
The “meat” of weakfish is white, sweet, lean and finely textured. It lends itself to being stuffed and baked whole (especially to preserve the skin and prevent from overbaking, which can turn the delicate fish to mush!), filleted and fried, or even smoked. A good friend swears that smoked weakfish is better than sable! We’re told that Gracie’s in Providence has a great preparation for locally caught weakfish when in season–served with garlic confit and smoked eggplant puree over wilted arugula–(yum!), perfect for the summer to fall weather transition. Gracie’s is known for its changing seasonal menu and sustainability efforts. They grow their own roof-top vegetables and herbs and source only locally, so you might find weakfish on their menu only twice a year during its semi-annual migration.
Gracie’s owner Ellen Slattery recommends pairing weakfish with their private label Connecticut Pinot Gris, available at their restaurant or from Jonathan Edwards Winery. She says, “The combination of locally sourced food and a New England-made wine is the ultimate testament to what we believe: Respect the land, care for the crop, and enjoy the harvest.”
She goes on to say that Chef Matthew will be one of 24 leading Rhody chefs cooking a signature dish for the 12th annual March of Dimes Signature Chefs Auction in Newport this year…just as this issue of CAM goes to bed at the end of September. By the time you read this, we’ll know which dish at the Belle Mer on Goat Island in Newport was the favorite at the event on September 19th, but we’re putting our money on Gracie’s Chef Matthew.
While we couldn’t catch Chef Matthew long enough to give up the details of his weakfish preparation until after this busy event, we found a recipe published by New York Times food columnist Florence Fabricant that also calls for a fresh seasonal green, basil, to augment the fish’s delicate white flesh…and it’s a good way to use up the last bits of basil in your herb box and your remaining hardwood charcoal for end-of-the-season grilling as the weather starts to turn cold. Just be sure to use a fish basket if you have one because the delicate flesh of the weakie can easily fall apart…but there’s an added benefit of using weakfish instead of sea trout or blues: No pin bones to pull out! Like so many of our great Rhody fish, weakies require a minimum of fuss and grill up spectacularly. We especially like the charred flavor of the basil that seeps into the fish and gives it an unexpected flavor, as well as the pesto-like topping that complements the white flesh without overpowering it. Try it with an Italian Pinot Grigio or a French Chablis to keep the flavors as light and fresh as a summer day turning into a cool, crisp fall season.