Chesapeake Bay Seafood - You Can't Beat It

You Caught It... Let's Cook It

Elnicki Wade

It all begins with a nibble on your line. A few strong tugs and your heart beats a bit faster anticipating that something delicious beneath the waves has taken the bait. Who knows what could land on the hook when you drop a line into Chesapeake waters?

The Bay shelters about 350 fish species, which presents a cornucopia of regional seafood. Whether you're trolling on the back of your boat or casting from a wooden pier, get ready to reel in a plentiful catch. With 11,684 miles of shoreline surrounding America's premier estuary, the possibilities are endless.

During the summer, three candidates are likely to land in your cooler: crabs, rockfish and catfish. Once you catch them, how do you cook them? To help you prepare local delicacies like a waterman's wife, Marinalife talked to Eric Rosen, owner of St. Michaels Crab & Steak House, who has spent nearly a quarter-century preparing seafood Chesapeake-style.

His restaurant is located at St. Michaels Marina, so he's a pro at showing boaters how to make feasts with big flavors in small spaces. Fresh and simple is the key, says Rosen about Chesapeake cuisine. With seafood pulled right from the water, you don't need to do much to create a memorable meal.

With a few cooking essentials on board 3-to 5-gallon pot, a frying pan, a bucket for discarded shells, newspapers, cooking oil and a can of Old Bay or J.O. seasoning you can whip up a tasty dish to satisfy your crew.

Steam Crabs Like You Were Born in Baltimore

Picnic tables covered with newspaper and piles of discarded shells, accompanied by wooden mallets smacking stubborn claws, represents a beloved summer ritual on the Bay. While licking rust-colored seasoning off their fingers, locals cherish the tradition of picking this iconic crustacean.

What makes Chesapeake crabs special? Some say the Bay's brackish water enhances their flavor. Others argue that cold winter temps force crabs to develop insulating fat that makes them sweeter than their Southern counterparts. Their season lasts from April to December and peaks in late summer when crabs grow plump and sweet.

Steaming crabs is easy, and a few basic rules ensure an authentic Bay experience. If they're not kicking, says Rosen, we don't cook them. When they're alive, you know they're fresh and safe to eat. Locals turn up their noses at boiled crabs, claiming that submerging them in water makes them soft and mushy. Steaming is preferred, because it locks in the flavor.

Some folks add a splash of beer or vinegar to the boiling water, but everyone shakes a hefty amount of Old Bay or J.O. Spice on top. A dozen crabs steamed in a 3- to 5-gallon pot with a tight lid take about 20 to 25 minutes. When their color changes from blue to red, it's time for picking. Favorite sides at Bay crab feasts include hush puppies, fries, coleslaw, corn on the cob and cold beer or orange crushes.

The One-Pan Solution for Flawless Rockfish

When you pull in a fish with dark racing stripes across its sides, you've landed a sea creature so beloved in the region that it's Maryland's official state fish. Technically, it's called rockfish in salt waters and striped bass in fresh waters, but locals don't fuss much over the name. This feisty fish is fun to catch and a treat to eat.

Rockfish cruise the Bay year-round but head north in the spring to spawn in fresh water. During the 1990s, their population dipped so low that authorities imposed size and catch limits. Reel in two and you're done, and rockfish must be at least 18 inches long to keep.From lip to tail tip, the average rockfish measures about two to three feet, yielding a pair of nice-sized fillets. Less is more, notes Rosen when cooking rockfish. You don't want to mask the delicate flavor of this mild fish by adding heavy doses of seasoning.He keeps it simple by lightly pan-frying them with butter, lemon and a splash of white wine. Broiling with Old Bay sprinkled on top works well, too. Stuffing crab meat inside rockfish fillets is a heavenly taste experience. On the side, try fresh vegetables, rice or garlic pasta, washed down with a crisp Chardonnay.

A Dash of Heat Delivers Purr-fect Catfish

Eating seafood can improve the Bay's environment, especially when you take a fork to blue catfish. This invasive species started swimming around Virginia's James and Rappahannock rivers in the 1970s and is gobbling up native aquatic life as far north as the Potomac. They breed like crazy and have few natural predators, so locals worry about their impact on the region's ecosystem.

The average blue catfish is two feet long. It's got a face that only a mother catfish could love, with four whiskers, pasty blue skin and beady little eyes. But, behind the ugly mug are tasty fillets that are mild and tender.

Two schools of thought suggest ways to skin catfish after snipping off its whiskers. Some folks fillet them like any other fish, slicing behind the gills and down the back. Others nail the tail to a wooden board and pull the meat from the skin. With two fillets in hand, Rosen dusts them with Cajun seasoning and tosses them on a hot grill. Each side takes about five minutes, and then you can devour the invader. Another tasty option: Cut the fillets into strips, dredge them in bread crumbs, cornmeal or our and quick-fry them in vegetable oil for a crispy finish.

Related Articles
St. Patrick’s Day Cocktails

Drunken Leprechaun

St. Patty's Day cocktail | Canva

“What do we do with a drunken leprechaun? Early in the morning!” 

The same way mysteries of mischievous leprechauns in Irish folklore have transcended through time, the original recipe for this drink is also a mystery. A few variations of this St. Patty’s-themed cocktail are served in local pubs, but most of them include its most important ingredient — good ol’ Irish whiskey. Like a fun twist on the Irish Screwdriver, check out our favorite version of this green concoction.


2 oz Irish Whiskey

1 oz Blue Curaçao

3-4 oz orange juice

Orange wedge(s)


Fill a cocktail glass with ice and add whiskey, Blue Curaçao and orange juice. Stir well and garnish with a fresh orange wedge.

Emerald Sunrise

This drink is not Irish, but its green color makes for a perfect St. Patty’s Day drink to enjoy at sea. Using the same ingredients but replacing whiskey with tequila, try another easy twist on the classic recipe for a Tequila Sunrise. Sail off toward the horizon while enjoying this beachy beverage.


2 oz Blanco Tequila

1 oz Blue Curaçao

3-4 oz orange juice

1 lime and 1 orange wedge


Fill a cocktail glass with ice and add tequila, Blue Curaçao and orange juice. Stir well and garnish with a fresh lime and orange wedge.

Read More
Valentine’s Day Cocktails

Heartbreak Harbor Margarita | Sirikunkrittaphuk from Getty Images

Heartbreak Harbor Margarita

For the salty sailor who could use a sweet kick on V-day, this sweet yet tart drink is perfect for your anti-Valentine’s Day party. This ocean-inspired twist on the classic margarita also makes for a perfect waterside cocktail.


1 ½ oz blanco tequila

1 oz Blue Curaçao 

¾ oz freshly squeezed lime juice

Splash of orange juice

Kosher salt

1 lime and 1 orange wedge


For a salted rim, fill a small plate with lime juice and swirl your glass rim in it, then dip it into a plate of margarita salt and fill your glass with ice. In a separate cocktail shaker with a light amount of ice, pour in tequila, Blue Curaçao, lime juice and a splash of orange juice.  Shake thoroughly and strain into your glass and garnish with a lime or orange.

The Love Boat

Also known as “The Isaac,” this romantic red drink was created by original Love Boat cast member Ted Lange, who played Isaac the bartender. Inspired by his signature bright red jacket mixed with the show’s sweet theme, the delicious libation is a perfect Valentine’s Day cocktail for boat lovers.


2 oz white rum

2 oz pomegranate syrup

½ oz fresh lime juice

Splash of club soda

Lime slice(s)

2 pineapple leaf spears


Fill highball glass with ice. In separate cocktail shaker, fill with ice, white rum, pomegranate syrup and lime juice. Shake and strain into highball glass and top it with a splash of club soda. Garnish with a fresh lime slice and two pineapple spears.

*Check out a special segment from Princess Cruises where actor Ted Lange gives a demo of the Love Boat cocktail that debuted on the cruise line in 2015.

Read More
Rum, Reggae & Spies!
The beach at Fleming Villa | Source GoldenEye

In my quest for the best Caribbean Rum, I’ve sampled a few. From Appleton to Ron Zacapa rum, my tastebuds have celebrated the luscious flavors borne from fermenting sugarcane into smooth amber elixirs.

In the pursuit of rum perfection, I’ve noticed that a well-designed label can give clues about what awaits inside the bottle. Many simply present the distiller’s name and location where a rum derives its unique flavors. But it’s hard to resist the image of a crusty old captain, pirate ship or sassy sea wench when pouring a hefty splash into a tumbler.

Curious rum aficionados like myself are always eager to hear the back story behind the libation in our hand. Like a slice of pineapple or lime wedged upon the rim of a glass, the history of a rum’s journey from the Caribbean to our lips can make a cocktail taste even sweeter.

I recently stumbled upon the extraordinary tale that intertwines Jamaican rum, world- class musicians and James Bond. To fully appreciate this unique saga, follow my lead and shake up a GoldenEye Cocktail (see recipe below) to sip while the story unfolds.


James Bond Dr No Poster Credit Flickr

Our story begins in 1939, when a London journalist named Ian Fleming joined the British Navy Intelligence Service. His unit specialized in military espionage and covert plans to thwart German aggression in Europe and the Caribbean.

During World War II, Fleming was engaged in Operation GoldenEye, and in 1942 he was sent to investigate suspicions about Nazi submarines in the Caribbean. During this deployment, he became enamored with Jamaica and vowed to live there some day.

When the war was over, Fleming returned to Jamaica and bought 15 acres of plush land that was once used as a donkey racetrack. In 1945, he built a house not far from the banana port town of Oracabessa Bay, and the seaside property became Fleming’s tropical sanctuary where he could focus on writing and the discrete task of taking previously tight-held secrets into a public, fictional genre.

He named the estate GoldenEye as a tribute to his Navy service and began working on a book that evolved around the dashing spy and Special Agent 007, James Bond. This protagonist would emerge as the amalgamation of agents he’d met during his maritime service. As an avid birdwatcher, Fleming took the name for his lead character from American ornithologist James Bond, an expert on Caribbean birds, who wrote the definitive field guide, Birds of the West Indies.

Fleming’s first spy novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1952. This book and all 13 in the James Bond series were written in his bedroom at GoldenEye. Three of them — Dr. No, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun — take place in Jamaica.


Chris Blackwell | Credit GoldenEye

Not only did the breezy island life at GoldenEye inspire Fleming’s novels, but so did his fetching neighbor, Blanche Blackwell. She was the muse who helped spark his creative drive. The Blackwell family had lived in Jamaica since 1625, exporting bananas and coconuts and crafting a distinctive brand of rum.

Blanche’s son Chris Blackwell grew up between England and Jamaica, and in his childhood spent a good amount of time with Fleming. In 1954, after Blackwell got booted from an elite British school for rebellious behavior, he came back to the island to get involved in the family rum business. Contrary to plan, he followed his instincts and made a career choice that would dramatically alter the global music scene.

For a while, he kicked around working as the aide-de-camp to the governor and as a waterskiing instructor. But after hearing the blind pianist Lance Heywood play at the Half Moon Resort, Blackwell recorded the musician, and in 1959 he launched a music studio called Island Records. In sync with his unconventional style, it became known for discovering and nurturing innovative performers who had been shrugged off or overlooked by bigger record labels.

Island Records introduced the world outside of the Caribbean to Bob Marley and the Wailers and Jamaican reggae music, showcasing island culture and universal struggles of indigenous people. It launched British bands such as Traffic, Bad Company, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Roxy Music, King Crimson and Fairport Convention. It also cultivated artists such as Cat Stevens, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Waits and the Irish band, U2.

Throughout his success in the music industry, Blackwell remained in contact with Fleming and his projects. When the first Bond movie, Dr. No, was filmed in Jamaica in 1962, Blackwell was hired as a location scout and consulted on the soundtrack. Sir Sean Connery, whom Blackwell had met during the filming of Dr. No, remained a friend until his passing in 2020. Using a family recipe, Blackwell launched his boutique rum in 2008 that is distributed around the globe.

Live and Let Die was filmed in 1973 on the Blackwell Estate, which now includes The Fleming Villa. Scenes from the movie were shot near GoldenEye, Blackwell’s luxury hotel in Jamaica. The latest Bond flick, No Time to Die, returns to the exquisite Jamaican backdrop of GoldenEye, and the production team was treated to a supply of Blackwell Rum for inspiration while filming.

TO CELEBRATE 60 YEARS OF JAMES BOND, a special bottle of Blackwell Rum has been released, along with a new memoir by Chris Blackwell, The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond. If you’re cruising around Jamaica this winter, cue up some Bob Marley tunes, open a bottle of Blackwell’s 007 Rum, and shake it (don’t stir) with pineapple juice and ice to create the GoldenEye Cocktail. And if you’re nestled in at home in a colder climate and dreaming about the Caribbean, we suggest watching a Bond flick and warming up with the Toasted Toddy.

GoldenEye | Credit GoldenEye



-1 part Blackwell Rum

-1 part pineapple juice

-Lime or pineapple wedge


Shake together and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime or pineapple wedge

Toasty Toddy | Credit GoldenEye



-3 parts Blackwell Rum

-2 teaspoons brown sugar

-1 1⁄2 parts fresh lemon juice

-6 parts boiling water


Add all ingredients to a mug, except for the water. Pour in the boiling water, Stir well to blend

Read More

Want to Stay In the Loop?

Stay up to date with the latest articles, news and all things boating with a FREE subscription to Marinalife Magazine!

Thanks for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Marinalife articles