Sunday, January 29, 2006

Tautog: Han Au Reun's Ultimate Capture

My visit friday to Baltimore County’s Han Au Reun Asian Supermarket on Rolling Road, was not without trepidation. A week earlier, nothing swam in the tanks below the seafood stall, and the salmon roe caviar purchased in a plastic container had proven less than pleasing. The main reason for today’s visit was to take advantage of being in the area to purchase five lemons for a dollar rather than pay 69 cents a piece for them at the local Safeway.

How things can change in a matter of days. Today, those tanks beneath the seafood stalls were full, swimming not only with the tilapia, lobsters, and dungeness crabs to which I’d become accustomed, but also a few "blackfish." I wonder who among the shoppers, or for that matter, the sizeable staff working the fish stall, had a clue just what "blackfish" was all about. It’s true that in some circles the they are legitimately referred to as "blackfish," but a more definitive and specific name is "tautog." The relatively obscure species is exclusively indigenous to Atlantic waters between Nova Scotia and South Carolina, and is rarely fished commercially. Today was the first and only time I’ve seen tautog in any form, much less alive, at a market.

The thick lips and "buck teeth" left no question as to the species. Having for many years been curious about and intrigued by tautog, I once chartered a fishing trip out of Wachapreague, Virginia, specifically to pursue them We were successful enough catch several along with more numerous black sea bass with which tautog share the aquatic bounty attached to long sunken shipwrecks. There was enough for us to make a large and delicious pot of tautog chowder, which accompanied seabass prepared several ways. All the tautog went into the chowder for lack of other recipes that featured it.

Despite its obscurity, however, the firm and mild tasting nearly white flesh of this ugly bottom feeder could make claim to being as delicious ---in a very neutral kind of way---as any species that swims the Atlantic. No way today was a three pound tautog, good for approximately a pound of filet at a cost of $32.00 going into chowder. It was unsettling that none of my myriad seafood cookbooks helped. Still, I didn’t want to risk of trying to invent a recipe that might not work when something this dear was at stake. As is so often the case, the Internet rescued me with a recipe that I now pass on, courtesy of the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association (, to which an obviously adept cook named Sandie Gelinea contributed it.


2 Pounds Tautog fillets, skin off
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
2 Tbsp. Soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tsp. Paprika
½ Tsp. Chili Powder
½ Tsp.Garlic Powder
1 Dash Hot pepper sauce

Cut the filets in single portions and place in a well-greased baking pan. Combine olive oil, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, chile and garlic powder and hot pepper sauce. Pour the sauce over the filets. Broil 4 inches from the heat source for 5 minutes. Turn the filets, baste with the sauce and broil an additional 3 to 5 minutes or until fish flakes easily.