Here in the U.S., the Atlantic bluefish is quite often overlooked, save for its use as the main component in smoked fish dip. The fish itself often presents a conundrum for home cooks, and can be a bit high maintenance, requiring immediate icing after being caught (its digestive enzymes cause rapid deterioration if not). It also tends not to travel well, hence why it’s smoked to preserve it for the long haul.
But in South American cuisine? Bluefish is a sought-after staple.
“It’s a very popular fish in Uruguay,” says chef Stefano Mastracchio of Montauk’s Mostrador Marram, “and we use it in a lot of different ways by grilling or curing.”
Mastracchio sources his bluefish from local purveyor Gosman’s. He prepares his version in similar fashion to boquerones en vinagre, a typical Spanish tapas of fresh filleted and marinated anchovies. Here, the chef embraces this curing technique for his bluefish boquerone, allowing the fillets to saturate overnight with different types of vinegar, salt and sugar. Once the acidity has done its job and the skin is carefully removed, the thinly sliced bluefish is served atop grilled sourdough (made on premises at Mostrador Marram) spread with homemade aioli and charred roasted red peppers. “It’s a very simple type of bruschetta, complemented with acidity and smokiness.”
With its laid-back cuisine and unique mostrador-style lunch service (mostrador is the word “counter” in Spanish), you might think you are dining on the shores of Jose Ignacio, a coastal town near Punta del Este, Uruguay, where acclaimed chef Fernando Trocca and restaurateur Martin Pittaluga started their boutique-y beachside restaurant concepts. Its inception was the restaurant Santa Teresita in Jose Ignacio, where Trocca and Pittaluga first offered their trademark seasonal outdoor service, showcasing fresh in-season produce, Mediterranean-style salads, savory meats, grilled vegetables and freshly baked goods. It’s an eat-with-your-eyes approach that has expanded to locations like Montauk, Buenos Aires, London and New York City.
“We serve 12 to 20 different salads at Mostrador Marram that we change every day,” explains Mastracchio, who helms both the Montauk and Uruguay locations. “Guests can choose different salads to accompany their meat or fish choice and embrace the tradition of the mostrador by building their meal.”
Visually appealing and beautifully plated, the all-day counter at Mostrador Marram gets an early start. “At 6 a.m., we start making traditional style Argentinian style pastries, croissants, pain au chocolat, all with the dough fermenting from the day before,” Mastracchio explains. Popular not with just the hotel guests, you will find bike-riding locals lined up for the 8 a.m. offerings. “The pastry program is very strong,” he says.
The counter then seamlessly transitions from breakfast to lunch at noon with its ever-changing salad offerings. “We try to focus on seasonal products from local waters and farms like Balsam and Amber Waves,” says Mastracchio, “whatever’s best here, right now.” Dinner begins at 5 p.m. with a small menu, like addictive empanadas, scallops, and homemade pastas, all local ingredient-driven and served on disposable, environmentally safe dishware, necessary at an ocean-front establishment.
“We need to be conscientious of the way we are doing things here,” Mastracchio says, a feeling he shares with Mostrador’s managing partner, Martin’s son, Bambou Pittaluga. “The beauty and the vibe are very similar to Jose Ignacio,” Mastracchio says, “and it’s important to get along with the landscape.”
They just closed for the season a week ago, but if you’re planning a South American cuisine-themed casual dinner, you can still try this recipe for bluefish boquerone that celebrates an uncommonly used yet delicious local fish as a starter. “Follow it with grilled lamb chops with cilantro chimichurri,” suggests Mastracchio, imploring you to cook the chops over an open fire. “In Uruguay, fire’s our thing, you know?”
Chef Stefano Mastracchio’s bluefish boquerones
For the bluefish boquerones
- 1 bluefish fillet
- 1 liter rice vinegar
- 1 liter white vinegar
- 1 liter water
- 4 oz sugar
- 2 oz salt
For the garlic aioli
- 1 red bell pepper
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup ice water
- fresh dill
- olive oil and Maldon salt, to taste
- 2 slices sourdough bread, each cut in half