Ocean State to Your Plate: 2015 Scup Seafood Challenge

Appreciating the ‘under loved’

Scup took the spotlight at the second annual Rhode Island Seafood Challenge at Johnson & Wales University (JWU) earlier in April, where three student teams prepared the underutilized, but tasty, local fish.

The goal – to raise awareness among budding chefs – and the public – about local, sustainable seafood products.

The event was a partnership between JWU, the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation and Rhode Island Sea Grant to show just how scrumptious scup, also known as “porgy,” can be.


Scup may become the next popular seafood. Photo Courtesy: Champlin’s Seafood

Scup have an expansive range in the Atlantic, from Maine to North Carolina. They have a mild flavor, making them suitable for a variety of preparations, but the bony, 1-to-2 pound fish is difficult to fillet, and doesn’t yield much meat. These challenges make scup cheap, but that means fishermen don’t always find it profitable to drop nets.

“You’ve heard a lot about scup. It’s sometimes described as underutilized, under eaten, and here’s my favorite one, ‘under loved,’” said Peg Parker, the executive director of the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation. But new technology, especially an innovative machine developed in Michigan that removes the bones from scup, may change all of that.

With this innovation, boneless scup fillets can be easily produced. “Now we need to create the demand for fish like this,” Parker said.

Enter the JWU students, and the Rhode Island Seafood Challenge.

The Nutrition Society, Cooking Asia, and the Club for Culinary Excellence each developed unique recipes for scup. Students carrying trays served the samples to the audience, filling the auditorium with notes of ginger, fragrant flowers, and savory onions.

To drum up excitement and help everyone understand what went into the preparation, the first team, the Club for Culinary Excellence, demonstrated how to fillet the tiny fish and offered tips and tricks for home preparation. Then for what everyone had been waiting for – the first dish.


Beer battered scup with lime broth, ancho chicharon, and a cauliflower lime puree.

The team served up beer battered scup with lime broth, ancho chicharon, and a cauliflower lime puree. They laid this on a bed of cauliflower couscous with dried cherries, pistachios and fresh lime zest. The first bite coincided with a quiet uproar from the audience – ‘yums’ and whispered praise were heard throughout.

Their dish was a tough act to follow, with many people licking their bowls clean. But Cooking Asia proved a fan favorite. Their porgy in a pouch, or scup en papillote, was a blend of carrots, celery, onions, mushrooms, bell pepper, snow pea pods, and radishes, steamed with cilantro, lime, and lemongrass all bundled together in a parchment paper pocket and garnished with an edible flower. They wowed the audience not only with their delectable delight, but also their informational video that gave a background on scup and brought viewers to Point Judith where members of the fishing industry offered insights on the economics of scup.

The final team, the Nutrition Society, prepared a scup bouillabaisse. Scup, lobster and clam stock accompanied fingerling potatoes, chorizo, smoked mussels, and mixed vegetables. They developed a brochure that offered information on where to buy scup, how to pick the fish (since it’s only sold whole) – look for clear eyes, no sunken features, bright gills and firm flesh – what to pair it with, and nutrition facts.

It was a close vote, but Cooking Asia ultimately won the competition.

While the audience’s votes were tallied, a panel of fishermen then spoke about the economics and feasibility of increasing the supply of caught scup. They answered questions from audience members dreaming of how to recreate the delights they’d just tasted. The number one piece of advice – ask your local market to carry scup. If there’s a demand for the underutilized fish, fishermen and markets will respond with a supply.

“We’re really lucky to have this kind of sustainable food right here at our doorsteps,” Parker said.


Johnson & Wales culinary students compete in 2015 Rhode Island Scup Challenge.


By Kelsey Quinn | Rhode Island Sea Grant Communications Intern and URI Journalism student