Photo By Jeff Dennis
A proper billfish serving tray filled with smoked marlin dip
By: Jeff Dennis
With the conservation of billfish front and center in the minds of offshore anglers, there are occasions when flesh from a blue marlin needs to be honored with skillful preparation. Billfish tournaments like The Big Rock in North Carolina champion catch and release tactics, except for a very few blue marlin that are brought back to the dock.
A mature blue marlin hanging from a digital scale in front of fishing enthusiasts at a marina can also signify an educational opportunity for the public. Most folks don’t go fishing offshore, so they might never see a blue marlin in person otherwise.
Science can also benefit from a blue marlin carcass, and biologists with the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing Series always take tissue samples from any blue marlin harvest. They extrapolate information regarding the health of the fish and add that to an existing data set of records that can reveal long-term trends regarding blue marlin and their ecosystem.
A veteran bluewater fishing crew knows to care for the flesh of a blue marlin once it is brought aboard. They prepare a bed of ice bags to lay the fish across, and then they cover the flesh with wet towels to reduce exposure to the sun during the long ride back to the marina, adding ice on top of the towels along the way.
Once the blue marlin is weighed in, and the fish research is completed by officials with the local Natural Resources Department, the preparation process of the marlin flesh can begin. The texture of the meat is firm and while it can be consumed as sashimi, or grilled, it is best when the meat is smoked.
Large steaks are cut from the body of the blue marlin and the skin is then removed. The steaks are placed in a high-quality cooler to soak in a brine of Morton’s Sugar Cure and lots of ice. It takes about five days of soaking to prepare for the grill.
Using pre-soaked applewood chips for smoke, the steaks are loaded onto an oversized grill, and are smoked for two hours at a temperature of 200-degrees. The white meat swells and constant attention is required when juices begin streaming out of the flesh, indicating that the cooking time is nearly complete.
When the blue marlin meat is removed from the grill, it must cool down enough to be handled and picked apart, much like pulling pork. The cooked flesh is transformed into a smoked dip when combined with mayonnaise, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, celery and onion.
A rigid cracker works well to serve the smoked marlin dip and it is best enjoyed in the company of those that have logged many hours in search of pelagic fish. This is the kind of occasion that offshore anglers dream of, where they savor the anticipation of their next trip offshore fishing, and they relish the flavor of a rich saltwater fishing heritage.
The author’s Lowcountry Outdoors blog is celebrating a tenth anniversary in 2019.