“Dogfish, you want to try the dogfish?” queried my companion as we eyed the menu at Provincetown’s Far Land on the Beach. With just $20 between us, we were wavering between sharing one $19 lobster roll, or each ordering our own $9 dogfish sandwich.
Dogfish, a small shark, was on the Memorial Day menu courtesy of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance Pier to Plate Program, a first-of-its-kind initiative promoting local, sustainably caught but relatively unknown fish.
Hungry from biking, we opted for the dogfish sandwiches. We were not disappointed.
Dusted in cornmeal and deep-fried, the white fish patty was meaty and moist without strong flavor. It didn’t flake like cod, but it was piping hot, slightly crunchy, and served on a buttery brioche roll with lettuce, tomato, and a caper basil tartar sauce. It hit the spot.
With cod and haddock increasingly harder to find off Cape Cod, local fishermen are turning to more abundant species, and they’re teaming up with chefs eager to innovate savory, new dishes cooked with the “under-loved” fish to entice consumers to expand their palates.
“Pier to Plate is a way for the public to support local fishermen,” says Nancy Civetta, spokeswoman for the fishermen’s alliance. “The truth is, what used to be the bread and butter for Cape fishermen has changed. Now it’s dogfish and skate.”
Twenty-eight Cape Cod restaurants and one fish market (Hatches in Wellfleet) are participating in the program, which is funded by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Here’s a sampling of their early June offerings:
Terra Luna, North Truro
Longtime chef and owner Tony Pasquale serves dogfish appetizers ($9) such as escabeche, deconstructed sliders, and “shark bites,” dogfish cut into small bites and fried in beer batter, at his funky, intimate restaurant.
“Dogfish is oily, even though it’s a white fish,” Pasquale says. “You have to find a way to hide that oily flavor.” He masks it handily with marinades and hot sauce.
The deconstructed slider, for example, is a thin fish cake, ground with spices and nestled between dollops of fiery, hot aioli on a thin, pizza-shaped slice of sourdough. Local pea tendrils and thread-like red pepper strings add freshness to the dish, but it’s the spicy aioli and drizzled Portuguese hot sauce that truly make it sing.
Festive and colorful, the escabeche is dogfish fried and marinated in blood orange oil, diced red and yellow peppers, tomatoes, vinegar, lime, and radish. The citrus, lime flavoring is vibrant and sweet, though a slight bite of sardine comes at the end.
“It’s a tough fight,” Pasquale says of the aftertaste, “but . . . I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to be beaten by a tiny Cape shark.”
Pasquale also serves a sumptuous skate dish ($27) as a special, though he may add it to the regular menu. The skate is rubbed in black pepper and fennel, pan-fried in herb butter, and served with rice and peas, and sautéed watercress.
Mac’s Fish House, Provincetown
Located far from Commercial Street’s buzz, this large, moderately upscale eatery offers indoor and outdoor seating options, including an outdoor sushi bar.
Owner Mac Hay, who also owns several retail and wholesale fish markets, says he offers only skate through Pier to Plate.
“We have so much variety,” he says of his restaurant’s menu. “So much fish you can get, so someone’s not going to choose dogfish, and you have to do a certain volume to keep it fresh.”
Hay serves skate pan-fried in herb blanc ($22 lunch menu). The fillets arrive perched high above a bed of julienned seasonal vegetables, topped with passion fruit glaze, drizzled black garlic, and micro greens. It’s a beautiful, summery dish with tropical, sweet sour overtones that pair well with the asparagus, carrot, and mild-flavored skate.
Skate sells well, says Hay. “Friday night we sold out of it.”
Bluefins Sushi and Sake Bar, Chatham
Bluefins was recently opened by Andy Baler, a stalwart of the Cape fishing community. The modern, upscale, Asian-fusion restaurant is open year round and serves a variety of fare, despite its name. On a Sunday night in early June, the restaurant was hopping.
Bluefins serves miso-marinated dogfish ($14), a dish created by chef Terry Na, who previously worked in New York City restaurants. Seasoned with miso wine sauce, the dogfish is baked, then broiled, and served on a bed of cauliflower puree, with a side of mixed greens, orange slices, cherry tomatoes, and miso-citrus dressing.
Baler says he’ll sell about 10 plates a night. Na wanted to set the price higher, but Baler prevailed. “We want people to try it, and this way people can try it as an appetizer.”
Bluefins also offers a skate dish ($23), lightly breaded and pan-seared with shallot, roasted garlic, red pepper, and soy sauce. The fillets are nestled, like yin and yang, against a brilliant green edamame puree topped with sautéed fresh spinach, sesame seeds, sunflower sprouts, and parsley oil. This complex, exquisite dish is my favorite.
Far Land on the Beach, Provincetown
After the Fourth, the beach stand will add a Portuguese fish stew made with skate, clams, and mussels in spicy tomato broth, and dogfish tacos served with chipotle Napa slaw and lime crème salsa fresca.
“People want to support sustainably caught fish,” says chef Wes Martin, who formerly cooked for Martha Stewart. “Word is getting out. People are coming to the window, saying that they are eager to try it.”
“It’s a fascinating study, what people want and what we can provide them, and how they develop taste, says Hays. “Look at lobster. It’s a big bug that crawls on the bottom of the sea, and it’s a bottom feeder. And yet it’s a succulent treat, a delicacy that sells for $45 a pound.”
If lobster could win our hearts, dogfish and skate deserve a shot.Meg Wilcox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.