WE ASKED LUCAS MURRAY, LOCAL FREEDIVER AND SPEARFISHERMAN, WHAT HIS GO-TO CAMPFIRE MEAL WOULD BE AFTER A LONG DAY IN THE WATER. THIS EASY AND DELICIOUS RECIPE CAN BE MADE WITH JUST A HANDFUL OF INGREDIENTS AND REQUIRES LITTLE TO NO PREP.
The humble black or blue rockfish is perhaps the most harvested fish in the frigid waters of the pacific northwest. These plentiful fish school in large groups, often hovering mid-water, under the kelp. Larger rockfish are more solitary and can be found hiding in rocky caves and crevasses on the sea floor. Speargun in hand, cruising the depths, a spearfisher can selectively pick off one or two sizeable rockfish per school over the course of a day in the water.
Rockfish populations are closely monitored by state fish and game agencies, and the daily harvest is limited to sustainable quantities. In Washington and Oregon, this amounts to seven fish per day. For a spearfisher hunting the shallow depths of the coastline, the sustainability and availability of rockfish make them a workhorse species in the game bag.
Like many of the other reef fishes on the Pacific coast, rockfish has a mild, white flesh, which makes it a versatile fish that takes on the flavor of any seasoning added. Rockfish is superb fried, baked, or pan-seared, but my favorite way to enjoy it is grilled whole. Early in my evolution as an underwater hunter, I brought home countless rockfish. On late nights at the fillet table, this was our go-to way to produce a mouth-watering meal with just minutes of prep, without having to fillet the fish first.
• 1 scaled, gilled, and gutted blue or black rockfish
• 1 jalapeño
• 1 lemon
• 1 stick butter
• 1 tbsp cumin
• 1 tbsp paprika
• ½ tbsp chili powder
• 1 tbsp garlic powder
• 1 tbsp salt
• 1 tbsp black pepper
Pre-heat your grill or start your fire (we will be using the coals) . Blend the spices together to make the seasoning. Dry the fish with a towel and place several vertical cuts, 1” apart, on both sides of the fish, from dorsal fin to belly
Generously cover the whole fish, inside and out, in Cajun seasoning. Stuff the cavity and cuts with diced jalapeños. Then stuff the cuts with butter to hold the jalapeños in. Place remaining jalapeños and 2 lemon slices in each cavity.
Place the fish on grill on high to allow skin to blacken. After the skin has blackened on both sides, turn heat to low, cover the fish with the remaining lemon slices and allow it to cook slowly. Flip the fish to allow even cooking, re-decorating the surface of the fish with lemon slices after each flip. The fish is done when the tail easily separates from the body. On larger fish, check that the fish is fully cooked by checking that the thickest portions of the fillet (near the head) separate from the spine when gently lifted with a fork.
Each piece of the fish should lift off the skeleton to make individual morsels. These morsels do make excellent fare for tacos, but usually I can’t bother waiting for that, instead choosing to eat them directly off the fish while they’re still hot.
Words and Recipe by: Lucas Murray