Growing up, my folks and I would be driving down the FDR and we'd see fisherman perched up along the highway fishing into the mucky east river.
I asked my Dad, an avid fisherman, what they were catching and he responded, probably porgies. "Are they good?" I asked. He answered "Eh, they're ok but they're small, nothing type fish..." He made a face and from then on, I thought they must be a throw away.
The truth is there was probably a little prejudice involved and to be honest he'd probably never tasted one in the first place. Let's face it, the east river separating Manhattan and the bronx don't look like a fresh, safe haven for delicious fish.
The folks fishing for porgies off the east river were often African American, Chinese, or Latino people, setting a line into the water on a early sunday NYC morning. They weren't wearing fancy waders, fly fishing in the brooks and streams of upstate NY or Montana. Were they cooking for family, selling their fish, or maybe getting a little good old relaxation like everyone else who likes the hobby? Who knows.
What I do know is NYers, especially ones that can afford to go out for lots of dinners, often think if something's cheap or free, it's not very good. Sad but true, especially since much of Italian cuisine, one of our cherished cuisines as Americans, most famed dishes are rooted in the concept of Cucina Povera or peasant cooking. Dishes made from scraps of bread or leftovers were the cornerstone of Italian Cooking, where much of the population lived in extreme poverty, even in the beautiful hills of Tuscany where some say the term was coined.
Now don't get me wrong, our family was definitely on a food budget. I survived on chicken drumsticks from the local food emporium for years. And while we were eating farmed salmon (which I pretty much abhor) and the trout and stripers my Dad would bring home from a fishing trip to Long Island, other Nyers were eating the most local fish of all before people even started using the term local the way its so trendy to do now. In fact if I see local this and that written on a menu, my eyes begin to roll on auto.
A small, fleshy white fish, they live in the waters surrounding NY and New England where it's known as Scup, the flavor is fairly mild and texture flaky and juicy.
Fried the way that Ashley showed us using her family's secrets and simple step by step recipe techniques with the soak and dredge, I'm not sure I'd had a better fried piece of fish down south or in the carribbean in my life(thought Zeerovers in Aruba was the bomb.)
Now I'm seeing the porgy crop up on menus such as Cookshop and Chef Ayesha Nurdjaja's Hundred Acres where the fish is served whole, boneless, and beyond delicious. Great for food costs, I'm sure. In fact Porgy, when it's available at Chelsea Market's The Lobster Place, is usually the least expensive fish on sale.
This wonderful little fish that I have never seen on menus in all the years I've been eating out in NY, is now making it's way into peoples lives. Of course half of NY population that has been frying fish in their own kitchen already knew this, but now all the dodo foodie types like me can say they loves their porgy too.
Photo By: Sunny Tran