Saturday, October 3, 2015

Don't Give Up On Salmon

Recently, a market patron presented me with an idea he received from his doctor: that there was no nutritional value to eating farmed salmon.  Perplexed as to why a doctor would prescribe this nonsense, I was taken aback.  Being a simple fishmonger, it was difficult, nay, impossible to change this gentleman's mind at the time.  I mean, the advice came from a doctor.  Cleary a professional's opinion, one who's spent years understanding the human body and its needs, is going to outweigh the advice from a guy with fish guts on his shoes.

That being said, I thought this blog would be the appropriate forum for a few points on the benefits of eating high-quality farmed salmon, seeing as wild salmon season is shortly coming to an end in the upcoming weeks.  Wild salmon is a terrific choice but, soon, when the season ends, it will only be found frozen in our local markets.  In the case of fresh fish versus frozen, I am always going to advocate for fresh, and when the wild salmon season ends, I recommend trying our fresh farmed salmon.  Here's why.

Farmed salmon is good for you.  Farmed Atlantic Salmon traditionally has more heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids than their wild counterparts.  While farmed salmon also typically contains more saturated fat than wild salmon, that level of saturated fat is still much lower than other land-based protein choices.

Contaminants have historically been an issue with farmed salmon as a result of the salmon's feed.  You can still find these studies circulating the web, and often I have entertained arguments from customers using these outdated studies as "proof".  Look carefully though and you will realize that the majority of the contamination arguments quote studies that were conducted in 2002 or earlier.  Much in the way of feed improvement has happened in the last 13 years.  Salmon aquaculture (that is, farming) has greatly improved the feed recipes, eliminating the high levels of PCB's (Polychlorinate biphenyl, which is the organic pollutant historically associated with salmon farming) and other contaminants.  Today strict rules regulate the levels of contaminants that can be found in fish feed ingredients.  Now organic contaminants in farmed salmon are found at similar levels as those found in wild salmon, both at very low levels.

Salmon farming practices are getting better.  In the late 90's and early 2000's salmon farming came under intense fire for polluting their surrounding environments and harming the local wild populations of fish.  Efforts were made and there has been much success in fighting these issues.  Farms like Skuna Bay in British Columbia have reduced stocking densities, which has assisted with lowering the outbreak of disease, without the use of antibiotics.  Farms only stock sterile fish and pen technology has reduced the chance of escapees.  Many salmon farms practice crop rotation, moving open pens so that surrounding ocean environments can replenish and recover naturally.  It should also be noted that all reputable salmon farms such as Northern Harvest and True North have eliminated the use of dyes, hormones, and antibiotics in the farming process.  Land based salmon farming is in its infancy, but I predict by 2018 you will begin seeing fish reared on land being available to the domestic market.

Salmon, farmed and wild, is a healthy option when it comes to the question of what to eat.  The nutritional benefits of eating farmed salmon are numerous.  They contain healthy fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins that are not found at such high levels in other proteins.  I am no doctor, so I recommend you do the research and figure out what is best for you and your diet.  However, when quoting a study, it's just like purchasing the egg salad on special: it's best to check the date.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Blob

Halloween is over a month away, but October is just around the corner, so if you are like me, that's enough just cause to start talking scary things.  Creatures that are spawned from the depths of dark minds like Stephen King can keep you up at night, but truly, nothing is more frightening than real "monsters", and what's taking place in the Pacific Ocean off of our West Coast right now could warrant it's own feature film.

They call it the blob.  It's an ever-changing surface ridge that is comprised of unusually warm water resulting from a rare weather pattern that occurred two years ago.  It spreads 1,000 miles in each direction and runs about 300 feet deep.  The blob negatively affects the ocean's natural water circulation by not allowing nutrient rich colder water to reach the surface and, correspondingly, limits the amount of much needed oxygen available.  This changes the composition of the water and retards the growth and proliferation of the keystone food chain link, phytoplankton.  Phytoplankton is a necessary microscopic food source that supports many vital ocean species.  Without phytoplankton the entire food web is threatened.    

The blob is striking real fear into marine biologists, fishermen, and oyster farmers alike.  It is thought to be a contributing factor to the devastating drought occurring in California and the cause of the damaging algal blooms that have shut down many West Coast oyster farms this summer.  It is believed that the blob is here to stay and that increasing water temperatures are an immediate threat to hundreds of species in both traditionally warm and cold water regions.  The blob of the movies was a slow stalker, an immutable force that slowly swallowed whole anything and anyone that got near it.  The real blob is much more subtle, but if it continues to hang around, it could prove to be a more significant problem.      

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Try Them Raw

On my recent excursion to Japan, I came across some things that stuck with me.  The grand scale of the Tsukiji market awed me, while the solitude and peacefulness of the temples and culture humbled me.  The food, especially the beef and seafood, inspired me, so much so, that I wanted dearly to bring some items and ideas back with me, to implement them into our market.

One of the best things I ate while in Japan was raw shrimp.  The sushi piece completely changed my mind about what shrimp could be.  My American palate was accustomed to shrimp many ways, but even the character Bubba from the movie Forrest Gump left off raw preparation in his exhaustive account.  I had to bring these flavors back with me, to share them with our market and our customers.

Though I was served live shrimp that were prepared in front of me in Japan, I don't think the majority of our at home chefs and dinner guests on this side of the Pacific are quite ready for the execution of the plate so to speak.  So, I looked for the closest product I could find that would give everyone an opportunity to experience the exquisite flavor of great shrimp, without moving the needle on their gag reflexes.  What I found was the New Caledonian Blue Prawn.

New Caledonian Shrimp are a rare blue shrimp that are native to Latin America, but grown by SOPAC off of the coast of New Caledonia.   For those of you who are not familiar with the world of Oceania, the French island of New Caledonia is located between Australia and Tahiti.  I understand that many of you will immediately turn your nose up to farmed shrimp, but these are not your typical farmed shrimp.  New Caledonian Shrimp are grown without the use of antibiotics and pesticides in a preserved ocean environment.  Production is very small, with a focus on sustainability and quality.  The shrimp are not readily available in the U.S., and much of the production goes to Japan for the sashimi market.  The French product has been awarded many accolades for its elevated flavor and quality.  

We choose to offer New Caledonian Shrimp because their flavor is unparalleled.  It is a frozen product, so it is easy to have on hand for our guests, and when eaten raw I feel as though it can transport one to that eye-opening, whimsical world that only great food can unlock.  When enjoyed raw, they have a creamy mouthfeel without losing the integrity of their firm texture.  It's a paradox of bite, I know, but somehow they are forgiving and substantial at the same time.  The sweetness of their flavor is unlike any cooked shrimp, which is our reason for sourcing this product and insisting that you try it raw.  These shrimp have a clean balance of sugar and brine and a simple twist of lime or sprinkle of salt can elevate them from a mere experience to cosmic event.  We can't force you to step out of your shrimp comfort zone - that step you will have to take yourself.  We can promise you though, if you do, an ethereal world awaits.  One that will open the eyes of your palate, excite the emotions of your appetite, and change what you think of when you think of shrimp.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Vendor Spotlight: Samuels and Sons Seafood

Recently, members of the Black Restaurant Group (BRG) team were invited to tour the facilities of Samuels and Sons Seafood, which is located in Philadelphia, PA and nestled within a Mike Schmidt homer of the Philadelphia sport's teams complex.  We weren't sure what to expect.  We knew Samuels was a large company servicing many regions, while continuously looking to expand.  We also knew that they offered attentive, hands-on services with excellent quality seafood options.  It's very difficult to accomplish both of these things under one roof, but somehow Samuels is doing it and we were there to find out how.

Upon entering we were greeted with a state of the art test kitchen where a professional chef uses a revolving seafood inventory so large that it would make Poseidon blush.  Here, delicious seafood concoctions are created to educate staff, especially those in sales, so that they are able to intelligently advise the most discerning customers (read here chefs) on what is running strong and how those items may be utilized.

Walking through the giant facility, it was apparent right away that cleanliness is an active priority for the company's staff.  Though thousands of pounds of seafood lay inventoried, only the sweet smell of the ocean wafted through our olfactory senses.  The cutting room floors were spotless and reminded me more of a surgical operating room than a fillet house.
Cutting Room Display Tuna 
So how does Samuels keep an active eye on each client and give each one of its customers the individual attention they command?  Without giving away all their secrets, I can comment on a couple of initiatives I found creative and progressive.  Instead of one person working with an account, Samuels employs teams of sales staff to assist each account.  It isn't just lip service either, each person on the team had a vested interest in taking care of each team member's customer, ensuring that each account had many eyes on its products and services.  It was also refreshing to see sales staff not buckled down behind desks away from the seafood they were selling.  Sales staff was expected to assist in the loading of trucks every morning, getting a first hand view of what their customers were ordering.  In fact, moving boxes of fresh fish was actually the highlight of most of the sales staff's day and, overall, it seemed as if the process of getting the seafood out each day was a united team effort of everyone working in the company.  You got the feeling that even though you have this huge company where everyone had a specific task, it was everyone's concern that the right fish got to the right people.

That's where over a hundred years of success comes from.  The group effort of a well orchestrated team working with a united goal of serving great seafood is why we offer Samuels and Sons Seafood.  Samuels may grow tenfold in the coming years, but it's the attention to detail and the small company hands on service that will keep them rooted in their artisanal ideals and successful principles.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Seasonal Update: Black Sea Bass

The season is on in Massachusetts for one of the tastiest fish in the sea: the elegant Black Sea Bass.  Black Sea Bass are actually cousins to the grouper and their stocks can be separated into two divisions: the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic fisheries.  The Mid-Atlantic stock consists of fish from north of Cape Hatteras, NC all the way to Maine and the fish are usually caught in inshore waters during the summer months.  The South Atlantic stock has a winter fishery that takes place from south Cape Hatteras, NC down to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Massachusetts fishery is a part of the Mid-Atlantic stock which today is considered a rebuilt, sustainable fishery.  Black Sea Bass are considered incredible table fare.  Their flesh is silky white with tender, firm meat that is sweet, yet briny with shellfish undertones.  They feed on crabs, shrimp, small fish and clams and their delectable flesh resonates with a mouth pleasing bouquet of ocean flavor.  Their skin is best served crispy, and if this result is achieved, it can remind one of bacon of the sea.

In Massachusetts the quota is very small, only 263,000 lbs, so fishing will most likely be closed in a couple of weeks.  They are harvested by hook and line and the highly desired bigger fish are usually in the 3 lb range.  Trophy size 5 lb fish are even harder to find.  The males can be distinguished from the females by their enlarged foreheads, and few people know that they are actually hermaphrodites, changing sex at least once during their lifetime.

The Black Sea Bass is an American success story and the Massachusetts fishery produces some of the highest quality and best tasting examples.  You have only a few weeks to get these fish on your dinner table and I highly recommend you take full advantage.  There are few things better than a perfectly seared piece of Black Sea Bass done right with crispy skin.  The beauty is in the simplicity, the flavor is in the fish.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Market Forecast In A Shell

Happy National Oyster Day!  Each year I feel that this glorious day gains more and more traction in the national media and in restaurant goers' collective dining conscious.  Seriously, as if you needed more reasons to eat delicious bi-valves?  Getting caught up in the National Oyster Day celebration is easy to do.  However, we fishmongers must do our due diligence and keep our heads out of the clouds.  It's our duty to bring you both the good and the not so good news, so in the spirit of fairness and all things shellfish, I just wanted to give you a quick market update on what's happening with some shell wearing treats of the sea.

Shrimp season is in full swing in Texas.  It's been about 3 weeks of fishing now, and landings look to be solid.  As the freezer boats come in, we should see prices for domestic shrimp decrease for the September, October, November months.  Fresh North Carolina shrimp quality has been off the charts and availability has been very strong.  Prices for NC white shrimp have been the lowest in the last 3 years.  Weekly landings of CT Red Shrimp have been sporadic due to catch, but I expect these delicious rubies to be around for a few more weeks.

Lobster prices seem to be on the rise.  Canadian availability is almost nonexistent and Maine is shipping about 60,000 lobsters a week to China.  China's growing middle class is developing a growing appetite for "bugs" and this demand is causing prices to soar.  Summer lobster prices are usually pretty reasonable, but this year has seen some big increases.  Don't expect this trend to change until Canada gets back on line.

Most predicted this year's scallop harvest to be much better than years past.  Most thought the big harvest would give much needed relief to the exorbitant prices we have seen over the last two years on quality domestic scallops.  Sorry, we were wrong.  The U.S. landings are up around 8%, but the sizes of the scallops are smaller than projected.  Couple this with two major global scallop players, namely Japan and Peru, having very poor harvests, and what you have is a global market thirsting for good scallops.  Japanese harvest is down 25% and Peruvian is down about 50%.  The global deficit is placing a strain on our supply, and the outlook for the rest of the year looks expensive.

I noted earlier that West Coast Oyster production was taking a hit due to extremely warm water temperatures, but all is not lost.  We have had some excellent New Hampshire Oysters coming in that are summer gems and fall is right around the corner.  If we can make it through the month of August, then we are home free as far as mussels, clams, and oysters go.  They all will begin feeding again and the wonderful flavors we associate with delectable shellfish will once again be just a raw bar away.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Bluefin In Our Market

For many years we made the decision as a company not to sell one of the tastiest, most exquisite seafood options in the world due to its sustainability status.  Anyone who has bothered to pay attention to seafood news, even if only peripherally, in the last ten years will tell you that there are issues with eating Bluefin tuna.  Even if you have never picked up a color coded card of seafood sustainability, the chances are if asked to name a seafood option that is not sustainable, Bluefin will most likely be the first fish name to cross your lips.  The fish has made headlines, and not in a good way.  Yes it is delicious.  Yes it is overfished.  So why are we offering it this summer?

It has nothing to do with lust or greed, or some deal we made with the devil.  The landscape of the Bluefin fishery has changed, and this isn't some secret that only we are privy to, like some clandestine password that gets you into the hottest of seafood sources.  The information below is out there for all to see and has been but, unfortunately, good news on the subject often gets overlooked in the headlines.  I'll let you in on the basics of the deal, so that you can decide for yourself if Bluefin is an option you and your dinner companions can stomach.

First, there are 3 different Bluefin tuna populations; Northern, Southern, and Pacific, each with different issues posing varying degrees of problems.  In this blog we will be discussing Northern Bluefin only.  Northern Bluefin, also known as Atlantic Bluefin, can be further divided into two groups: Western and Eastern.  Though the two stocks intermingle, we will be focusing on the Western stock which is caught off the coast of North America and is primarily fished by Canada, Japan, and the U.S.

Bluefin tuna are a highly migratory species, so it takes the effort of many nations and agencies to oversee and report the results of the fishery.  In the U.S., the Western stock is managed by the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Management Division, which sets regulations.  These limits are based on conservation and management recommendations from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).  From 1972 to 1992 the Atlantic stock declined steadily and as of 2002 the spawning stock biomass (number of fish in the ocean at an age in which they are able to spawn) was at about 25 to 30 percent of the 1970 level. However, ICCAT started a rebuilding program in 1998 and the spawning stock biomass has increased by 70 percent since.  According to the 2014 assessment, Western Atlantic Bluefin tuna are no longer subject to overfishing.

Let's back up for a moment.  The Western Atlantic fishery we currently and solely purchase from is a U.S.-regulated fishery that occurs in U.S. waters by domestic fishermen who use either hook and line gear or harpoon to selectively harvest fish.  There is no by-catch and all tuna caught get reported.  Overfishing is not occurring.  The species remains overfished, however, according to NOAA and part of the reason for this is that NOAA is taking into consideration the mixing of the Eastern and Western stocks.  I must stress here though that, although the stock remains overfished, fishermen are able to harvest fish at low levels and still continue to ensure that the stock is able to rebuild and replenish itself to a sustainable level.  Thus, the species can be overfished without overfishing taking place.  Harvest is taking place at safe, conservative, healthy levels.  

Our Bluefin tuna is caught by guys like Captain Tyler Mccallister of the FV Cynthia C.  We know where the fish are coming from and we know who's catching them and how they are doing it.  The fish are reported.  The stock may be overfished, but the rebuilding plan is working and in this particular fishery overfishing is not the result.  Fish can be taken out of the water while a species is restored to a healthy and sustainable population.  Our market will sell Atlantic Bluefin tuna on a regular basis for the first time ever this year.  We will do it with a good conscience.  We buy a specific fish from a specific fishery.  It's a science, environmental, and dinning based decision.  It's a way to support a domestic fishery doing the right thing.  It's also a way for people to show that they can responsibly enjoy the best tasting tuna available without sacrificing the integrity of the species or their ethics.