Red Fish, White Fish, Blue Fish for the Fourth

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor

Wild salmon, swordfish, and some beautiful blue bonito. Photo credit (from left): Sarah KarnasiewiczAlex Van Buren; Hans-Peter Siffert, StockFood. Illustration: Jennifer Fox

The Fourth of July provokes many memories: fireworks, beaches, sandals, beer, and burgers among the best of ‘em.

And then there are those memories of being overstuffed thanks to burgers and dogs and chicken, oh, my! 

How to avoid it? An all-American fish feast. A red-white-blue bonanza of wonderfulness. We got two crack chefs to let us steal their best recipes for red fish (wild salmon), white fish (swordfish) and bluefish. 

One requires the grill, one requires a blender, and one requires nothing but a sharp knife and a fridge. All three recipes are well-suited to any picnic table, and will leave you feeling light on your feet.

First, the under-appreciated bluefish (which is distinct from the also-delicious, taco-friendly bonito pictured above).

Cherries and smoked bluefish dip. Photo credit: Alex Van Buren

Often regarded as too oily, too stinky, too… fishy, it is at its most nuanced at Black Seed Bagels, where co-owner Noah Bernamoff has coaxed it into a super-simple, just-add-cream-cheese dip ideal for peppery crackers and bagel chips alike. 

All you need to do is find the smoked, brined bluefish (or mackerel! or trout!), which is available at lots of specialty shops and fishmongers. And seek out a local, fresh cream cheese, which Bernamoff tells us makes a big difference. 

Then there’s salmon. The wild stuff looks just gorgeous right now; if you can get your hands on some super-fresh salmon, turn it into a ceviche or a crudo, speckle it with fresh chives or dill, diced avocado, or pistachios, and drizzle it with olive oil. 

Photo credit: Alex Van Buren

David Posey, Chef de Cuisine of Chicago’s Blackbird (where the menu is chock-full of seafood dishes), tells us that red fish typically have one thing in common: “Char, salmon, and red snapper are all very good in raw applications, such as raw salads and ceviches.” That’s because they’re “high in fat,” so “any form of acid” is all you need to cook them and make them shine.

Posey currently has an Arctic char crudo with rhubarb vinegar on the menu, but if you don’t have rhubarb vineger kicking around, you need only “apply acid, a little salt, and if you were gonna add fat, like oil, do it at the end. You would have to be light-handed.” We squeezed lime juice and flung Kosher salt over perfect raw salmon, popped it in the fridge for 30 minutes, left it on the rare-to-medium-rare side, and finished it with olive oil. Incredible, and a heck of a way to showcase perfectly fresh fish. 

Photo credit: Alex Van Buren

Oh, swordfish. Our first fishy love. This steak-like fillet is ideal for the grill. Posey is a fan of a) brining and b) brushing with mayo before throwing swordfish steaks on the grill. “Brushing mayonnaise on less-fatty fish, such as halibut or any flatfish… [or] oily fish like swordfish and sturgeon” is “my way of oiling them for the grill; it doesn’t add much in terms of flavor, the mayo melts away, and it keeps it nonstick on both sides.” (Yet you still get those great grate marks!)

The brine is a killer suggestion; as is true of steak, brining or salting in advance helps the salt permeate the flesh, so the seasoning goes all the way through. 

Here are Posey’s and Bernamoff’s all-American, all-fabulous recipes. 

Grilled Swordfish
by David Posey, Blackbird
Serves 2

One 1-lb., 1”-thick swordfish fillet
¼ cup Kosher salt
Sea salt 
Fresh-ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise 

Place swordfish in container with high sides. Cover with 1 qt. water and salt. Refrigerator for one hour to brine.

Pat fish completely dry and bring to room temperature. Season both sides with a small amount of sea salt and a good amount of pepper. Using a pastry brush, apply mayonnaise to both sides. Grill for about 4 minutes per side over medium to high heat. (It’s done when it starts to flake apart to the touch of the tongs, very lightly.) Serve.

Smoked Bluefish Dip
by Noah Bernamoff, Black Seed Bagels
Serves 4 as an appetizer

For a silkier texture, use a immersion blender to combine the flaky fish with the cream cheese.

1/2 lb. smoked, brined bluefish
8-16 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 tsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt 

Pick the meat off the fish. Using 1 part fish to 2 parts cream cheese (or a 1:1 ratio, depending on your preference), mix using a stand mixer or immersion blender. Add lemon juice and salt, to taste. Serve with bagels or toast.

Salmon Crudo
by David Posey, Blackbird
Serves 4 as an appetizer

One 1-lb. fillet high-quality wild salmon
1 lemon or lime
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Flaky sea salt

Remove skin and dice salmon. Place in glass container with high sides. Squeeze lemon or lime juice over all surfaces and season with salt.

Place in refrigerator for 30 to 45 minutes.

When fish is “cooked” (it should be opaque), remove from refrigerator and dress with olive oil and sea salt. Serve with toast or crackers.