Rhea’s Plate of the Month: Saba Mackerel Crudo
Sailor Oyster Bar is a spectacular new addition to the Annapolis food scene. They opened their doors this past August and have been bringing an ever-changing variety of some of the freshest oysters around – over 81 types as of my visit! This oyster bar is so fresh you won’t even find a freezer or kitchen in the building. Instead, marvel as Trever Champion (Executive Chef) or John-Austin (Chef de Cuisine) prepare everything by hand with only the aid of a blowtorch and a toaster oven!
Sailor recently rolled out their new menu, which includes seven new cocktails and 14 new dishes. The new menu is an exciting way for Sailor to “flex their culinary muscles,” explains owner Scott Herbst. “With Trever spread so thin between Tsunami and Sailor, we wanted to open with a safe menu.” The original menu items were not only safe, but a culinary sensation; Jose Gourmet Portuguese tinned fish, octopus toast, and innovative crudos to name a few.
I had to keep coming back until I had everything on the menu – an enterprise I very much look forward to continuing! The same attention to detail and quality of ingredients that are the hallmarks of Trever’s craft have been carried through in Sailor’s new menu items, while the creativity gets taken up a notch. This is perhaps evidenced most with the Saba Mackerel Crudo that I had the pleasure of trying.
Crudo means raw in Italian, and is a Mediterranean style of raw fish. Saba is type of marinade, typically some kind of oil and lemon, used on sushi-grade fish. It’s frozen for at least six months (to eliminate bacteria), cryo-vacced, and shipped straight to Sailor. I was struck admiring the cut of mackerel Trever had set out for the dish, which was lovely on its own with deep blue and grey striping. It was also so meaty and tender looking that it reminded me of a cut of steak.
Before you think I’m waxing poetically about a piece of fish, it’s helpful to understand the distinction between sashimi and crudo. Sashimi showcases the mastery of sliced fish while crudo showcases the quality of ingredients. As Victor LaPlaca, Executive Chef of Isola Trattoria & Crudo Bar in New York puts it, “Because part of the beauty in crudo is its simplicity in preparation, the quality of ingredients really matters.” (Kapadia, foodrepublic.com)
As I took in the ingredients Trever had set up at his station, the simplicity and quality could not be more clear. I could count on my hand the number of ingredients that were involved, most of which were prepared fresh that day or up to a day or two before (as a rule, nothing stays beyond three days at Sailor) and made in-house. As for the quality, you already know how I feel about mackerel.
Trever began putting together the crudo with a simple beet relish using diced beets, which were roasted in a small prep room upstairs, and an in-house cream made of horseradish, creme fraiche, sour cream, dijon, salt, and pepper. Next came the frisee salad, a combination of frisee, a squeeze of fresh lemon, chives, olive oil, and sliced radishes in a separate bowl.
Then it was time for the grand finale. Trever kicked the blowtorch into gear and began torching the mackerel in quick strokes and bursts. The skin on the mackerel began to singe up beautifully, creating a black and golden crust that had me salivating. Once the fish was finished he placed it atop the bed of beet relish and added the finishing touches: the frisee salad off to one side of the mackerel, the careful placement of sliced radishes, an artful drizzle of olive oil, and a little spoonful of black lava finishing salt.
My first bite was incredible. I have to start by saying it was unlike anything I’ve ever had before, and I consider myself an adventurous eater. The flavors were dynamic from start to finish, and somewhat unexpected, too. The mackerel had a pleasant acidity along with a slight pickled flavor. The texture was oh so tender, very similar to sea bass. Mackerel is normally a very oily fish Trever explains, but the marinade and torching runs it off. You can you literally see this in the video when the fish gets lifted off the tin.
The horseradish cream deserves a spotlight of its own. Light and airy, it didn’t linger on the palate the way a mayo-based sauce might. It had just the right amount of horseradish to make its presence known without being overpowering. The frisee salad provided balance and texture to each bite and the black lava salt was dynamite. If eating is the fastest way to travel then, I was just treated to a pickled herring dinner in Norway or Scandinavia, minus the jetlag.
Another must-try is the Merchant Marine sandwich featured in the video. Sailor has already established their greatness in the sandwich department with their “Bloney Sandwich,” and this new addition raises the bar even higher. It’s packed with flavor and piled high with Italian meats. The drizzle of aged balsamic and truffle oil is utter perfection. Pair it with one of Sailor’s fantastic beer options like the Ballentine vintage IPA, the oldest beer recipe ever. The original IPA was crafted in the 1800’s until the recipe was lost and then found again. It’s remarkably light for an IPA with beautifully subtle flavors.
No meal is complete at Sailor without their chocolate peanut butter truffles made locally by Emily Black. They’re vegan, dusted with sea salt, and simply dreamy. (Sailor now has authentic Smith Island Cake available as well!) Pop into Sailor for buck-a-shuck happy hour and one of their many potent rum drinks or a bottle of bubbles. See what fresh and flavorful delicacy is in store for you today and celebrate everyday the Sailor way: “I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing” (Herman Melville).
Visit Sailor Oyster Bar online for a look at their full menu.
Photography and videography courtesy of Christian Smooth