The sea robin debacle, or, not all junk-fish experiments succeed


This is a sea robin. At least, that’s what Captain Rick called it last Friday. A friend who stopped by as I was getting ready to cook it said that, when she fished off Shelter Island as a kid, her dad referred to such things as “garbage fish.”

Rick sells lots of perfectly normal fish (filets of tuna, flounder, etc.) at his stand at the 97th Street Greenmarket. But that kind of stuff costs real money, and is kinda boring, so I’m usually drawn to his little bin of whole fish. I’ve bought lots of excellent porgies from him, and the week before I had gone for the butterfish. This time the weirdest thing in the bin was the sea robin, so I bought it. For $5.

I asked Rick what to do with the thing. He said to cut off the tail and bake it. So I cut off the tail:


I then followed a recipe for monkfish tail in the no-longer-All-New Joy of Cooking (1997 edition), stuffing the thing with chopped garlic and basil and Maldon salt:


I roasted it at 450 degrees, initially just with oil and then with some Vinho Verde thrown in.

It was a bust, which is why I took no pictures of the finished product. It didn’t look good. It didn’t taste good. The kid, who will eat porgies all day, didn’t like it. The wife didn’t like it. I didn’t like it. The mix of flavors was just wrong. Maybe I overcooked it. Or undercooked it. But I don’t think that was the problem. Luckily, I had also made a nice salad and cooked up some couscous and Fresh Direct lamb sausage. But still, it was a bust.

I think the fish might taste fine in a thick, creamy sauce. A sea robin etouffee. Except that it’s got lots of little bones which would make such treatment difficult. So this week it’s back to porgies or butterfish. Or maybe even tuna.

17 thoughts on “The sea robin debacle, or, not all junk-fish experiments succeed

  1. I remember catching sea robins when we were out fishing for flounder (or most anything else.) As I remember it, we had to be careful since they had a poisonous spine that you had to avoid. I don’t really remember eating one but was told that if you filleted them carefully they were delicious. I can’t imagine your grandfather not trying them, however.

  2. After looking Sea Robins up in Wikipedia, I think the poisonous spiny fish we caught in the Chesapeake were Blowfish – they puffed up like a balloon. But if you cut out a fillet it was supposed to be delicious.

  3. I too googled sea robins after that comment; I mean, it’s not like we chewed on the spine, but I didn’t remove it, either.
    Wikipedia and other sources seem to think sea robin belongs in bouillabaisse, which sounds about right.

  4. We used to throw back sea robins by the bucketfull, but no more now that the fishery has been decimated by the commercial boats. They are fine fish for frying, and you can filet them if you wish. I like them with just a dusting of flour, salt and pepper. I keep a jar with mostly vinegar and some olive oil and jalapeno, habaneros and other super hot peppers. Splash a bit in a hot hot pan and then toss in the sea robins. They’re terrific and crunchy. Works well with pieces of blue fish that are larger, too, to cut the oily flavor.

  5. I see that Capt. Rick sometimes has the sea robin fillets, but they have been going for $8 a pound… I’m a fly fisherman who goes to Breezy Point a lot for bass, bonito, etc. and usually throw back the sea robins I catch. Last week I kept 4 and took home to cook. I filleted them, still missed a few small bones, no matter how careful. I floured and sauteed, with brown butter/caper sauce. Okay, but not great. The texture was too “solid”, very similar to monkfish (nee goosefish). If I were to cook them again, I would definitely use a stew or soup vehicle, as the flesh would hold up to heat and be as good as monkfish. I wonder how they would work as sashimi? Like hirame?

  6. I google image searched for sea robin, and this page came up. I did this because I was reading an article about the fish. In the article, it was stated that sea robins’ tails taste just like lobster. This jives with the suggestion of a thick, creamy sauce. So, maybe it should be treated like lobster.

  7. These things thrivein a small estuary on Cape Cod called The Herring River. Never knew you could eat them.

  8. Today I was out fishing for Fluke out of Smithtown Long Island. We always seem to catch a bunch of Sea Robins and throw them back. Today we got lucky and caught a beautiful Fluke that was 7lbs. 7oz. Besides that, we caught an extremely large Sea Robin as well. We decided to keep the Robin and try to cook it. I have always thrown this fish back, but this one was too big and tempting to try to cook it. I baked it in the oven “Oregenata” style for 10 min at 350 and finished in the Broiler for about 2 to 3 min. This fish was very surprisingly delicious!

  9. Went fishing for fluke yesterday. We caught a 5 lb fluke (my son did) and a bunch of shorts. My nephew caught one large sea robin, and the mate said it was large enough to get a reasonable amount of meat out of and we should try it. Well my son and I had some today, along with the fluke, and it was really good. Just flour, salt and pepper. left the skin on and sauted skin side down with a little oil. Was very tasty.

  10. Try fileting them and remove all bones and skin then fry in panko bread crumbs. The taste is no match for fluke and bluefish combined

  11. I highly recommend the above video. The lesson is basically that you have to give up on some of the meat nestled among the bones in order to get nice, usable filets.
    Also interesting to learn that sea robins are also called gurnards.

  12. Reading up on bouillabaisse led me to sea robins—which look like great fish—and here.
    Firm-fleshed fish which kind of approximate shellfish texture are very appealing and offer flexibility in cooking (think stews, grilling) not available with very soft-fleshed species with filets that fly apart much too easily.
    Another “trash” fish, the freshwater drum (Aplodinotus grunniens), gets little love but sports clean, firm flesh that holds together nicely. Big, old specimens tend to have heavily developed connective tissue, but younger, smaller fish under three pounds or so are very worthy on the table. A two pounder recently formed the basis here for a landlocked version of zuppa di pesce.

  13. Justin you have to skin it the skin is nasty watch you tube on how to fillet a sea robin. they are quite good but you need a good size one like at least 12 inches.

  14. I think the initial advice from the fish monger led you in the wrong direction. The meat has a light and flaky quality similar to flounder. Rather than skinning the tail and leaving the meat bone in, fillet the fish and remove the skin. You shouldn’t have lateral bones in the meat if you do this right. Look up a flounder recipe to follow and remember that the robbin fillet is going to be smaller than a typical flounder fillet so you will need to adjust accordingly.

    I did this with my girlfriends family in New Jersey, all of whom thought robbins to be a trash fish, and in a blind taste test they couldn’t tell the difference between the flounder and the sea robbin.

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