AJ and I are passionate about seafood. This was our first year participating in the Cape Ann Fresh Catch Community Supported Fishery out of Gloucester, MA. Their direct-to-you model has been awesome, allowing us to chat with Fisherman Nick when he comes into Cambridge on Monday afternoons for the weekly share drop and enjoy the daily fresh catch. I am a strong believer in being an informed and educated consumer. Daily, we have the opportunity to positively impact our local economy and support sustainable practices when we choose where to buy our food. We have been so thrilled by this program that we sat down with Heather at Cape Ann Fresh Catch and talked about the experience and our background- from childhood, to the MasterChef kitchen and our day-to-day back in Boston.
Heather: How did you hear about Cape Ann Fresh Catch – what made you reach out to us?
Anna & AJ: We were actually told about Cape Ann Fresh Catch from a friend who lives on the North Shore. We came home and did a Google search and were able to locate you online. We were looking for a sustainable, organic, natural fish supplier in New England. While we still catch our own, living in the city does not allow us to get out on the water as much as we would like to. Cape Ann Fresh Catch over-delivers with our expectations and is the perfect price-point.
Heather: Are you enjoying receiving whole fish?
Anna & AJ: We definitely prefer getting the “whole fish” share! for us, it allows a much more versatile way of cooking. We like having the option of filleting our fish a specific way, whether we are filleting and skinning, scaling and keeping the skin intact for creating a crispy texture, even cutting out the cheeks (Bluefish Cheeks & Eggs), baking whole fish (Whole Flounder with Black Bean sauce), etc. We also prefer making our own fish stocks so it’s crucial that we have the fish bodies to use. We actually gave a fish carcass to our Nephew’s last week to go crabbing with and even baited one of our Lobster traps!
The biggest treat for us is the diversity of the fish we receive; we get fish that we have never personally caught which is fantastic. Another great thing about CapeAnnFreshCatch.org is that if you are not familiar with how to clean or filet a particular fish, the website provides instructional videos which are very informative.
Heather: Anna, you grew up in the Pacific Northwest – how is the seafood landscape in the North East different than what you grew up eating? What are your favorites from each coast?
ANNA: My dad has been a Fly Rod Design Engineer for Sage Manufacturing for almost 30 years and growing up on Bainbridge Island in the Pacific Northwest, fresh fish and seafood was a way of life. For as long as I can remember, I was out fishing with my folks on our small boat in Puget Sound. My favorite catch was salmon that my dad would prepare in a traditional Northwest style on a charcoal grill. He would soak alder branches from our property in water and allow them to smoke on the open coals. He grills the salmon simply with pureed parsley, red onion and lemon. The subtle alder flavor in the salmon is a taste of home and childhood for me.
Another memory of growing up in the Northwest was squid jigging late at night in the dead of winter. I remember being 4 or 5 and out on the docks with my parents and cousins. We would take a full bucket home to be fried up for a late night snack. Whether it was raking through the eel grass for Dungeness Crabs, digging up manila clams during low tide, or coming home to a bucket of oysters left by one of my dad’s friends from Hood Cannel, “abundance” is how I would characterize seafood in my childhood. I think that is one of the reasons why I am attracted to New England and feel so much at home. While AJ and I don’t have as much time to get out on the water ourselves right now, being involved with Cape Ann Fresh Catch is a way for us to still be connected and support fresh, locally caught fish.
Heather: AJ, Cape Ann Fresh Catch is a program of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives and we have a strong Italian heritage in Gloucester, especially within the fishing community and the fishermen’s wives association. What are some of your favorite family seafood recipes?
AJ: I grew up in a big Italian family here on the East Coast with two brothers and two sisters and spent my summers foraging along the New England seacoast catching Tautog (BlackFish), Porgies, Black Sea Bass, Fluke, Flounder, Striped Bass, Bluefish (lots of Bluefish), Lobster, and Blue Crabs. We would fish, clam, crab and spearfish (which I still do to impress my wife) and always ate everything we caught and used any of the fish bodies to bait our 5 lobster traps. Seagulls also enjoyed scavenging as we would toss fish skins in the air as we filleted.
My Mom is a fantastic cook and always made monumental meals growing up. My friends would actually come over to our house for leftovers following their own holiday meals! Anna and I have taken the reins and now host the Rossi’s traditional “Feast of the Seven Fishes” on Christmas Eve for 22 people. Last year, we had 14 different dishes that all came out piping hot at the same time- all from a very small galley kitchen in a Brownstone in downtown Boston.
I love making Baccala. It’s a very traditional Italian dish prepared a number of different ways and can definitely be an acquired taste. I make Baccala with Olives, Onions and Potatoes in a delicious herbed chicken broth. Baccala (Salted Cod) is one of those dishes that seemed to only get picked at, at the table. I wanted people to devour the dish and came up with a great recipe for it. The texture from the Cod is firm and the flavors are fantastic. A four-day soak in water with regular water changes sets up the Cod beautifully.
Roasted Monkfish with Fresh Sumer Vegetables –
I also enjoy making Stuffed Calamari. Cleaned squid bodies stuffed with minced tentacles, my fresh Italian breadcrumbs, fresh Crabmeat, pureed anchovies and pureed scallops (the pureed scallops act as a binding agent). Toothpick the Squid bodies shut and bake them with garlic, olive oil, (add San Marzano tomatoes for added acidity) and fresh breadcrumbs. Amazing…
One of my signature dishes is Pasta alla Vongole, pasta with White Clam sauce. I use dried Linguini in this dish over making pasta fresh. This is one of the dishes I served Anna when I first cooked for her on one of our many dates! Fresh shucked and chopped cherrystones with chopped Italian parsley, garlic, white wine, olive oil and plum tomatoes. It’s perfectly balanced with a light clammy broth, one of our personal favorites.
Roasted Yellow Peppers with Anchovy Puree – this is a very simple dish that is so fantastic Anna and I will eat nothing but this for dinner. A good crusty, toasted bread for soaking! Do NOT underestimate the power of Anchovies! This was also part of Anna’s “pre-wedding diet” as she claims it does wonders for a great complexion!
Squid with Potatoes (Sautéed Squid bodies and tentacles)
Summer Clam soup with Zucchini – OMG
Heather: Congratulations on your participation with this season of Master Chef.
Anna & AJ: Thanks! MasterChef was an amazing experience, especially being able to share it together as Husband and Wife!
Heather: We see that you both prepared seafood dishes on the show – white clam
Anna & AJ: We saw some amazing dishes walk into the MasterChef Kitchen. Our friend Brian Kho, from Michigan, whipped up a stunning homemade Tagliatelle Pasta with an Infused Uni Butter and Shrimp…YUM!!! AJ and I loved seeing some other New England classics earn Aprons. For example, a great guy from Nantucket, Pete, made outstanding Baked Stuffed Clams that flew him into the next round. And our friend Larry from San Francisco, earned his way into the Top 36 with a classic Butter Poached Lobster dish, inspired by French Laundry. In general, the people who had experience with seafood would jump at the opportunity to showcase their skills, where as it was one of the most greatly feared categories for those with no experience. As we know, fish, when prepared properly, can effortlessly become a star. However, it can be extremely daunting for someone with no practice. We were thrilled to bring our knowledge of seafood into the MasterChef Kitchen and considered it one of our greatest competitive advantages!