Mariah Daggett has said more than once, “A cast iron skillet needs a good seasoning before it can really fly.” When Mariah talks about cooking and skillets, people listen. She’s the reigning champion of the iron Skillet Throw at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Fair. “The key,” she says is a “hot-hot oven.”
Today's Local Food Report is something different: a fictional essay inspired by the upcoming Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Fair and by a special bluefish recipe.
Mariah discovered that she had a knack for throwing an iron skillet a few years back when her husband of fourteen years decided it was time to clear his conscience and come clean - announcing after dinner one night that he’d been having an affair and wanted a divorce. Without a blink of the eye, Mariah grabbed the skillet that held the remaining baked bluefish and crispy potatoes - right off the counter and winged it at him. The food flew one way, sliding off with Teflon-like ease, while the skillet itself appeared to gain strength and velocity as it sailed towards her soon-to-be-Ex. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately depending on whose side you’re on) his reflex was sluggish. Probably because he’d eaten so much. He leaned in instead of away. The skillet knocked him in the head but didn’t kill him, which was probably a good thing in the end, although Mariah wouldn’t deny that for a split second, she wished that it had.
After he left, she took to training for the Skillet Throw competition at the Ag Fair. In the years past there had been some tough competitors in her age group–the 38 to 48 year olds–and by looking at her thin, wiry build you wouldn’t think that she had it in her. But word had gotten out around town about that infamous bluefish recipe of hers and the ferocity of her throw — swift and accurate.
Cast iron is a brittle thing and a skillet will often crack when it lands but there’s no substitute for the real thing when you’re in training. Mariah will go through three or four a month before the big event. She explains, “A good throw is a good arc. In my experience it’s all about the wrist, the release and the seasoning.”
To get that right, she wipes a nice even layer of duck fat all over the fry pan (except the handle) and sets it in a hot oven, 450 degrees. Then she turns it off, leaving it to cool overnight. The next morning she makes bacon in it, cooking thick slices of smoked pork belly over a low blue flame. “The fat should never talk back,” Mariah says. “Draw it out slowly, with no complaint, so the metal has time soak it in.” For Mariah, a well-seasoned skillet is not only a thing of pride but an even better thing throw. Her skillet is only ready to toss when its black burnished smell is of salt water and rendered fat, and her baked bluefish and potatoes slip out with ease.
It happened to be just last week when Mariah ran into Mrs. Violet Jones at the local hardware store buying a couple of new ten-inch fry pans, the exact size and specification for the Ag Fair throw. As it was, Mariah had a few of the same skillets in her carriage. The two women were polite in exchanging pleasantries and platitudes that included grousing about the dry summer, and then they went on their respective ways. Neither of them mentioned the Skillet Throw or the Ag Fair in August. Word had it that Violet Jones was in training too, which was now obvious to Mariah. But she wasn’t worried even though Violet was younger, big boned and had a lower center of gravity. Mariah had already heard through the grapevine that Violet missed him by a mile. All she’d managed to do when she threw a skillet at her husband was bust up a kitchen cabinet. Mariah decided that once the competition was over, she’d offer her bluefish recipe to Violet, if she wanted it.
Bake Bluefish with Potatoes (for 6)
2 bluefish fillets (about 1 lb. each), skin on
1 ½ lbs. boiling potatoes
2/3 cup olive oil
1 TBS chopped garlic (at least – I double this)
¼ cup parsley
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Slice potatoes thinly (3 times the thickness of a potato chip; do not worry if some are thicker). Put potatoes in a baking dish* (13 by 9 inches or bigger) with ½ the olive oil, garlic and parsley mix, and arrange on sides and bottom of baking dish. Place potatoes in upper 1/3 of heated oven for 15 minutes. Remove dish and place fish fillets on the potatoes; pour remaining oil, garlic and parsley mix over the fish. Liberally salt and pepper. Baste after 10 minutes with juice accumulated around potatoes; move the potatoes to keep them from burning. Bake another 5 minutes. People have been known to fight for the crisp potatoes in the corners of this dish. You must try this recipe – and do not spare the salt. Serve with a green salad and a sharp vinaigrette dressing and you will become more famous!
* I use a 10 inch iron skillet ~ Ali Berlow
Recipe posted with permission from ‘Cooking the Catch; A spirited collection of recipes based on the catch of the day’ by Dave “Pops” Masch (publisher: On the Water, 2007)
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