Eight whole rockfish laid on cutting boards as a roomful of people nervously picked up their knives. They had never fileted a fish before, but were ready to try at the “Gilled to Grilled” workshop at Indian River Life-Saving Station.
“We’ve been doing surf fishing classes for several years now... but people want that next step,” said Laura Scharle, interpretive manager for Delaware Seashore State Park. She’s filling in the blanks with the new Gilled to Grilled program.
“We had one couple say it was one of their favorite date nights ever,” she said.
People lined the room, each armed with a knife and cutting board, staring at the raw fish, which they would be cooking in one hour.
“You guys are gonna be one happy family. We’re going to be eating dinner together,” Scharle said.
Tonight, Brian Scharle led the class, starting at the neck, working away the lower guts and fileting the meat away from the bones.
People bravely embraced the “ickyness” and dug in, even admitting to having fun by the end.
“I’ve retired and took up fishing, so I need to know how to clean it,” said Carolyn Baranowski. “Now I just have to learn what to put on the hook to catch the fish!”
“When you poke your knife in, you’ll feel resistance... you’re just gonna follow along the edge of the jaw,” Scharle said, as they pulled tender bits of meat.
Having proudly hacked their fish into edible pieces, the group washed their hands and got ready for business. They turned to face a pile of spices, butter, oil and lemon.
It was time to start cooking. Some massaged oil into the fish while others dumped lemon and dill on top. Eight chefs produced eight different recipes.
Everyone marched outside to cook over individual propane grills, while garlic and pepper teased their noses.
Joe Kienle called it “torture” to wait for dinner while his fish sizzled in butter. He and the others chatted to fill the time.
Kienle said he barely cooks fish, let alone cleaning it.
“When it’s done you should be able to stick a fork in it and twist real easily,” Scharle told his students. “There’ll be no resistance.”
Meanwhile, the indoor workshop was undergoing a complete transformation, from chop shop to cozy dining room.
“When the people come back in, they’re gonna be completely surprised,” said Margaret Kimmel of the IR Life-Saving Station.
Rockfish was just part of the night’s menu of salad, grains and bread.
“It’s not a program where you have to go to dinner before or afterward,” Laura Scharle said.
Plus, people feel accomplished to see their own filet served with greens and grains.
“This is better than advertised,” said Kienle, finally digging in. He found Gilled and Grilled on the state parks website.
“That was delicious,” Baranowski said.
“We did a good job,” Jeanette Baldwin said.
The diners also truly appreciated what goes into a meal, from the seafood market that carefully filets huge fish to the animals themselves. Some folks even admitted they always throw the fish back, for fear of wasting the animal by practicing — and botching the job.
“They just have a fear they’re gonna butcher it... and waste it,” Brian Scharle said. “If you’ve got somebody that can show you how to do it,” beginners can improve with articles or online videos. “Practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the more confortable you are with it.”
Some felt they could do it again, and some would want guidance.
After happily eating and comfortably chatting for a while, some people still had leftovers to take home
“We had plenty to eat,” Baldwin said.
“It’s a nice little social event,” Donna Dolce said.
The next Gilled and Grilled programs costs $45 per person on Fridays, Nov. 7 and Dec. 5
Pre-registration is required with Indian River Life-Saving Station at (302) 227-6991. Learn more about programs at www.destateparks.com/park/delaware-seashore.