Friday, May 22, 2015

Mahi Are Back

The Mahi Mahi are coming, so get ready.  It’s that time of year again when these beautiful, brightly colored, migratory fish make their long journey from the already hot waters of South America to the cooler, more comfortable climes off the coast of our southern and mid-Atlantic states.  The fishermen are gearing up and for a few weeks we will see some of the freshest, tastiest Mahi Mahi available. 

I understand it’s easy to get lost in the shadows of popular, seasonal powerhouses such as wild salmon and halibut, but this East Coast specialty should not be overlooked, especially considering the savings it gives at the register.  Right now the bite is on, specifically off the coast of North Carolina in areas such as Cape Hatteras and Oregon Inlet.  Fishermen there are landing Mahi caught with rod and reel, day-boat operations, ensuring that fish make it to market not only fresh, but also well handled.  We all benefit from fishing operations such as these.  The fish come to market just hours out of the water and are sustainably managed to boot.

Mahi means “strong” in Hawaiian, which is very appropriate since they are incredible swimmers with the ability to make trips that are thousands of miles long.  Each summer for a short window they migrate to our East Coast waters to spawn.  Mahi are a very fecund species, reaching sexual maturity after only a few months and then spawn several times every few weeks after that.  This enables the species to thrive even under intense fishing pressure. 

Mahi meat is firm with large flakes, having a texture similar to that of chicken thighs.  Bite in and you’ll experience a succulent mouth feel, moist, with citrus notes like that of clementine, but starchy.  With the fish coming in this fresh, you can use the fillets for ceviche or crudo.  The meatiness of the fillets make Mahi perfect for these applications.  It also performs great on the grill and can hold up to savory or sweet marinades.

Don’t wait too long to get your Mahi on, though, as the season usually ends abruptly, most often so quickly that it feels like the fish headed for deeper water overnight.  Expect the fish to be around for a couple more weeks, but after that it’s over until the fall.  One more thing: Mahi have also gone by the name “dolphin fish.”  Have no worry though, you can eat in good conscience: they’re all fish and not a bit dolphin.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Maryland: Crab Cakes And Football...And Scallops?

If you are from the MD area, the name Ocean City conjures up images of sandy beaches, cold beverages, and probably some hazy memories of youthful stupor.  It most likely doesn't at all say fresh, gourmet scallops, but since you are probably past the age of overindulging in the nectar of the gods, it might be time you looked to the local summer stomping ground as the source of your next great meal.  For a short time during the next month, some of the freshest, finest quality scallops will be coming out of Ocean City Maryland.

Okay, so the scallops are not harvested from beaches of bathing beauties with rigs working between boogie boarders and popsicle vendors, but they are harvested pretty close.  These local bivalves are actually wild harvested in an area called "Elephant's Trunk" which is located 45 miles due east of Ocean City.  Catching them is up to Captain Derrick of the 45 foot fishing vessel "Second To None".  To accomplish this he drags a 12 foot turtle dredge on the sea floor in water that is about 200 to 300 feet deep.  He does this for about 30 minutes, then dumps his load on board and shucks and ices the product right away.  Each scallop is plump and meaty and there are about 13 shucked scallops in a pound.  He may do another one or two 30 minute run before he is done for the day.  The scallops are unloaded in West Ocean City, MD and make it to the market less than 24 hours out of the water.  If you are still doing the math, that's fresh, dry scallops on your plate in less than 36 hours.  I am not sure you could catch them yourself and have them ready for dinner in that amount of time.

These scallops will be one of the freshest local ingredients you will get your hands on this summer.  They are unadulterated, completely dry, completely fresh and are some of the sweetest meats you will ever taste out of the ocean.  As with all good things, though, these scallops will be limited.  The season is set by quota and each vessel can only harvest 600 lbs a trip.  Most likely the total quota will be met by the end of this month or early June.  If you are at a restaurant and they are offered on the menu, order them.  You might be surprised by what's been hiding in plain sight.  You think you know a place like Ocean City, and then you find out that, behind all the heart stopping fried baskets and soggy hotdogs, a very delicious resource has gone ignored.  Well, at least, unheralded.  Maryland does crab like no one else, and if you didn't know now you do, scallops too.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Lobster Prices

I want to remind everyone to call their mother this Sunday, as if you didn't remember, it's Mother's Day once again.  Mother's Day in the seafood industry means a lot of lobster sales.  For some reason moms love the delicious crustacean.  Maybe it's the sweet, buttery meat.  Maybe it's because lobster has become so popular that pricing has made this hot item a special occasion food.  Either way, I want to warn you before you even get to the market for fresh lobster: cold water, hard shell lobsters will not be cheap this weekend.

Here's why.

The Canadian lobster season, which was supposed to open April 30th, has been delayed due to ice and severely cold water.  That's right, that winter that just wouldn't go away still haunts us, all the way into May.  It was so brutal up north that the water temperatures have yet to recover, stunting lobster landings.  This means that the initial start of what many call "lobster season" during the spring and summer months will be slow to start.  Expect prices to reflect this dearth in the marketplace, with live lobsters and freshly cooked lobster meat prices up nearly 30% over last year's numbers.

This is unfortunate news, especially for this special weekend.  Supply just won't meet demand.  Moms are special people, the best in the world, and while lobster season is slow to start, Mother Nature has provided some other delicious spring goodies such as king salmon, black cod, halibut, domestic blue crab, and fresh Carolina shrimp.  Did I mention nothing says "I love you mom" like a delicious Maryland Blue Crab Cake?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Don't Call Them Shrimp

According to some, langoustines are the new sign of luxury when it comes to hard to find ingredients.  According to others, there simply isn't a better tasting animal in the sea.  Whether you view them as a gaudy boast of unnecessary spending or an ideal in nature that great chefs aspire to work with, there are two facts about them on which everyone can agree: they are expensive, especially when fresh, and they are unforgettably delicious, especially when fresh.

Langoustines can be sourced from the northeastern Atlantic Ocean region to the western Mediterranean Sea, though almost every discerning chef acknowledges the best, tastiest specimens are found in the icy waters surrounding the Faroe Islands and Norway.  Some want to group langoustines as either lobsters or crayfish, or some want to say they are a Frankenstein mix of the two, but after eating one it's easy to relent they are none of the above.  The notion to compare langoustines to their crawly cousins stems from their outward appearance.  They are long and slender, with a carapace, head, claws, and tail, and are pink to orange in color.  You only eat the tail, discarding the body, leaving lustful diners wanting more.

In the animal kingdom langoustines live more like paupers than rockstars, feeding on crustaceans and worms and making their homes in the mud.  On the white tablecloth restaurants, however, it is a different story.  There they shine with little adornment, usually a simple butter and twist of lemon are all it takes to make these sweetest of delicacies paint the dinner plate with high art and a triumph of flavor.

Most langoustines are trawl-caught and packed frozen, usually treated to maintain shelf life due to their fragile nature.  One reason langoustines remain expensive even when frozen is due to their uncompromising frailty.  They cannot live long out of water, unlike lobsters and crayfish, as they begin to deteriorate rapidly after dying.  This is most noticeable by their color.  Old langoustines will begin to blacken, usually starting at the head, when they are past their prime for consuming.  During the spring and summer months though, fresh and even live langoustines can be sourced, most often from trap or pot caught North Atlantic areas such as Holland and Norway.  This year BlackSalt Fish Market has found a source to bring fresh langoustines to market, just 2 days from harvest.  They will be offered from time to time, but if you definitely want to get your hands on some, a week notice is best.

Langoustine meat is soft and delicate, silk on the tongue, exposing a transcendent fatty sweetness.  When done right, which often means a chef doing little, fresh langoustines offer a chance at dining bliss.  They are an extravagance of cost and flavor, for sure, but one of those meals you can talk about later with a nostalgic twinkle.  A story perhaps, that you could share with friends at the next lobster or crayfish boil.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Crab Inside Your Oyster

If you ever come across an open oyster with a tiny crab-looking critter dwelling comfortably in it, you should eat it.  Though your first thought may be to chuck the oyster and crab and complain to your server that your oyster treat had been invaded and occupied by an unwanted houseguest, avoid the knee-jerk reaction and just consider yourself lucky, one of the chosen few.  Seriously, you have just received one of those rare gifts of nature that not every oyster provides.

The crab that you find wriggling in your oyster is not your typical blue crab.  It's actually a different species entirely.  It's called an oyster crab, or pea crab, and if you speak Latin it goes by the name Zaops Ostreum.  The oyster crab is a tiny animal that is typically found inhabiting oysters harvested from the Chesapeake Bay area.  They range as far south as Brazil, but you won't find any taking residence in oysters from our northern neighbors.  Massachusetts eat your heart out.  It's most often the female crabs that live inside live oysters, feeding on what the oysters eat, while the males are free-swimming wanderers that fend for themselves.  The crabs stunt the oyster's growth, but beyond that live with the oyster in harmony, making a life and reproducing in the oyster until finding themselves under the blade of someone's oyster knife.

To experienced oyster shuckers and gourmands, these small crabs are more than a novelty, they're an absolute delicacy.  The New York Times was reporting on the merits of their flavor as far back as 1913, though today I do not think that many people living in the Chesapeake Bay area even know of their existence.  That's a hard fact to explain since it's the Bay areas oysters in which the crabs call home.  Their flavor has been described as delicate and shrimp-like.  From my own experience I think they taste sweeter than most shrimp, with grassy, mineral notes and a little bit of sea salt.  They offer a nice crunch and a crazy umami flavor, one you might find in a fine broth that took days to make.

Most of the time oyster crabs are removed from the raw oysters by the shucker or chef before they are served to the guest.  I guess it's the industry's way of "protecting" their guests from "undesired" tenants.  The majority of diners wouldn't be too excited to find a tiny, living creature in their freshly shucked oyster.  Two live animals in one shell is two too many.  It's hard to get the word out that these crabs are really delicious.  It's even harder to get people to eat food that is still moving.  Yes, if you had to, you could save the crabs and cook them, but really that's an unnecessary use of energy.  Cooking does nothing to improve on what nature has already provided in this case.  All I know is that I'll take my local oysters with crab, as many as I can get, and consider myself lucky.  This doesn't mean you will be seeing more restaurants leaving the crabs in the oysters.  But now that you know, and if you are lucky enough, it might be a good idea that the next time you settle in at the oyster bar to give the shucker a heads up, that you'll take any oyster found with a crab in it as a packaged deal.    

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Big Benefit Of Eating A Small Fish

Sure the big guys get all the looks.  You stroll past a fish stand and most often what you notice first are the beautiful hues of big fresh fillets: the red tunas, the bright orange salmon, the glistening swordfish, the creamy halibut or the iridescent stripes on a trophy bass.  With all these heavy hitters and mealtime favorites, it's easy to forget or ignore one of the oceans smallest, tastiest, and healthiest "little guys".  People, pay attention to the sardine.

Maybe it's because they are often sold with the head and bones intact, or it could be that some of you are harboring noxious memories of being force fed canned sardines at an early and impressionable age, but either way there are many who never consider fresh sardines for dinner.  How can such a small, delectable fish be so intimidating?

Fresh sardines are delicious on the grill, and with the warmer winds beginning to blow, you won't find a simpler option to cook in the fish market.  Sardines are delicious without the sauce.  They pack a lot
of healthy oils and cook really quickly on a hot grill.  They are best enjoyed grilled whole, with only the scales and guts removed (BlackSalt will do that for you).  Their flesh is smoky and full of umami, that 5th sense of taste that the Japanese refer to as "pleasant savory taste", and the fillets peel from the bone rather easily once cooked.  Add a little salt, pepper and olive oil, toss 'em on the grill, and 5 minutes later you are transported to a better place in which you can hear the waves crash, feel the sun grow bigger, and your mouth and soul rest, sated and content.

Did I mention that sardines are one of the healthiest seafood options available?  Any concerns you may have with bigger fish options are completely null and void when you are considering sardines.  Sardines contain high amounts of omega-3s, vitamin B12, protein, and selenium, and this list is really only scratching the surface.  Sardines are a perfect food.  Even better, they are sustainable when sourced from fisheries like Spain and Portugal.  Though they once thrived on our own West Coast, the fishery is closing early this year due to low stock numbers.

So if you are interested in a food this summer that will make you smarter, leaner, stronger, and generally a better form of yourself, try a sardine or three.  BlackSalt Fish Market will be sourcing Portuguese sardines all summer with deliveries coming twice a week.  Leave the big fish for the next person.  Some of the best gifts come if small packages.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Tasty Striped Trumpeter

There's a new edition to the expanding rotation of fresh seafood at BlackSalt Fish Market: the Striped Trumpeter.  Striped Trumpeter are large members of the trumpeter family and are caught off the coasts of Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand.  They are easily recognizable by their protruding mouths and bold stripes, though the stripes fade as the fish grow larger, especially for fish weighing over 5 pounds.  

During the spring and summer months the fish come closer to shore where they are caught off of rocky bottoms.  They primarily feed on crustaceans, octopus, fish, and squid, so in a world in which you taste like what you eat, trumpeter flesh offers a bouquet of shellfish sweetness with a delicate richness not matched by fish found on our domestic coasts.  These fish are highly prized for their luscious flavor, especially in Tasmania where they are considered the tastiest fish in the sea.  Striped Trumpeter have a good oil content, off-white flesh and a savory flavor.  They are best smoked, sautéed, or grilled due to the firm texture of their meat and most find their flavor accentuated by a good sauvignon blanc.

Due to their high demand, striped trumpeter will not be a mainstay at the market during the spring months, though from time to time we will have them to offer.  Spring brings us quite a selection of fresh options, the trumpeter being one of the more special and hard to find items.  We recommend getting your bite on before the season's end.