Porgy: Sustainable, Cheap and Delicious on the Grill

Porgies deserve more attention. Chefs love them and you will, too.,

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The cheapest wine on the list is often worth ordering. Similarly, bright-eyed, silver-skinned porgies — usually among the least expensive options at the fish counter — deserve more attention than they get. In addition to their low price, good flavor and succulent texture, porgies are abundant and sustainable, a rarity in these days of overfishing.

“As a former chef, I love cooking porgy; it has a sweet almost shrimplike flavor,” said Savannah Jordan, an owner of the Montauk Catch Club, which distributes local, just-caught fish, including whole porgies, to New York City and the Hudson Valley. “It is a versatile fish to cook with and, with fish prices soaring, it is still an affordable option.”

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The fish takes to assertive seasonings, says Dane Sayles, the executive chef at East Hampton Point. “You would not season a fish like halibut the way you could porgy.”Credit…Lindsay Morris for The New York Times

Other seafood experts singing porgy’s praises include Dave Pasternack, the chef and a partner at Pastavino on Staten Island. Though Mr. Pasternack recognizes that porgy is generally underrated, “it’s got flavor,” he said. He’s a fan of slicing fillets for sashimi and grilling them whole so the skin gets crisp.

Dane Sayles, the Jamaica-born executive chef at East Hampton Point who has for more than six years lived on Long Island, says the fish takes to assertive seasonings like those used in his home country. “You would not season a fish like halibut the way you could porgy,” he said. He prepares an herb marinade smoothed with tahini and zapped with pickled jalapenos to coat porgy fillets for sauteing or grilling.

Some resistance to porgies, also known as scup in New England, can be attributed to the fish’s many bones. “Don’t get me started on the bone thing; people hate fish bones,” said Dan Barber, the executive chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. The bones are easier to remove from the raw fish when it’s larger — in the two-pound range. But the simplest way to debone is to grill or roast porgy whole: The cooked fillet will easily lift off the skeleton.

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Ayesha Nurdjaja, the executive chef at Shuka in Manhattan, goes right ahead and labels the fish as porgy on her menu. At other restaurants, porgy has been given names perceived to be more palatable to customers, like Montauk sea bream.Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Another barrier to porgy’s popularity is its name, which like scup, is derived from mishscuppaug, the Indigenous Narragansett name for the fish.

“Sea bream is OK, but not porgy,” said Sean Barrett of Dock to Dish, a Long Island company that buys seafood from fishermen and delivers it directly to restaurants and retailers. Ayesha Nurdjaja, the executive chef and a partner at Shuka in Manhattan, also made the point that consumers have no problem accepting daurade and orata, two fish from the same sea bream family as porgy, but drag their feet at porgy. Mr. Pasternack of Pastavino sometimes calls it orata Americana. At Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton, N.Y., the executive chef, Joe Realmuto, labels porgy as Montauk sea bream and roasts it whole in a wood oven for an easy sell.

Ms. Nurdjaja goes right ahead and lists it as porgy on her menu, where she offers the fish grilled whole and stuffed with lemon and herbs, delicious by any name.

Recipes: Porgy Fillets With Pickled Jalapeno-Herb Sauce | Grilled Porgy With Lemons and Scallions | Slow-Roasted Fish With Mustard and Dill

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