Spinies, mud sharks, horndogs, dirty dogs, bonefish, net cloggers. Spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias), so named for its venomous spines in front of each dorsal fin, has a lot of nicknames on the East Coast. Once upon a time it was the favorite species for Limey-style fish and chips. The dish was such a mainstay that massive factory trawlers from Jolly Old England parked themselves within sight of the U.S. East Coast targeting spinies and scooping up all manner of fish before the Magnuson Act pushed them out to 200 miles in 1976.
Forty years later, without a strong overseas market into which to funnel this abundant (some would say overabundant) fish, the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance is using some Saltonstall-Kennedy grant funds in an attempt to rebrand the fish as Cape Shark.
I don’t need a fancy name to buy any wild fish. I’m happy to try them all. The only thing keeping me from eating more dogfish is accessibility. The fish markets around here just don’t sell them. Yet. So when the association offered me a free box of dog fillets, I jumped at the chance to make some classic fish and chips.
The fish part, anyway. I simplified a little and baked Russet and sweet potato fries in the oven to go with my beer-battered cape shark and homemade tartar sauce. You could go even easier and heat up some frozen fries. I won’t tell anyone. I also served this with a very simple and summery baby spinach and strawberry salad dressed with balsamic vinaigrette to lighten it up a bit.
2 pounds spiny dogfish fillets
1 cup flour plus 1/2 cup flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh black pepper
1 12-ounce beer
1/4 cup cornmeal
Oil for frying
In a large bowl, blend 3 quarts of water and 1/4 cup of salt until the salt is dissolved. Soak your dogfish fillet in this mixture for 10 minutes. Use a timer so you don’t forget. Soak too long, and the flesh will start to break down.
In a medium shallow bowl, combine 1 cup of flour with the seasonings. Stir in the beer (I used an inexpensive American lager), and set aside.
On a large plate, combine 1/2 cup of flour with the cornmeal.
The frying process takes just 10-20 minutes, so don’t heat your oil until you’re almost ready to serve. In a high-sided skillet or Dutch oven, heat a couple inches of oil (I use a combination of vegetable and grapeseed oil — anything with a high smoking point) to 360 degrees. Set your oven temp to about 225 and place a cookie sheet with a wire rack on top.
Gently rinse your brined fish and lay it on paper towels until you’re ready to fry them.
When the oil reaches temperature, dredge the fish in the batter, allowing the excess to drip off for a few seconds. Then roll each piece in the cornmeal mixture and place carefully into the oil. Cook the fish in batches, so you don’t crowd your pan and risk pieces sticking together, about 5-8 minutes each, turning them over after about 3 minutes. As each piece is done, place it on the wire rack in the oven until ready to serve.
Serve with tartar sauce, malt vinegar and fries.
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped bread and butter pickles or sweet relish
Splash of lemon juice
Whisk ingredients together and serve.
1 large russet potato
1 large sweet potato
2 tablespoons oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub and slice your potatoes into large wedges, keeping the slices as even as possible for even cooking.
Place slices in a single layer on oiled cookie sheets or baking pans, brush the tops with oil and sprinkle on salt and pepper.
Roast for about 40 minutes, flipping halfway.