Saturday, May 28, 2016

Seafood Highlight: The Spot Prawn

We are receiving our first shipment of live Spot Prawns today and are very excited.  We don't often offer these delicious sea treats due to their prohibitive cost and extremely volatile shelf-life.  This holiday weekend though, we decided to take the risk and bring some into BlackSalt to share the exquisite sweetness and silky texture of these rare prawns.  They come to us live, which is important because they taste best when prepared from this state.  The window of their availability will be very short because we can't keep them alive for long, so if you are interested in tasting one the West Coast's most desirable delicacies, I encourage you to get to BlackSalt right away.  Here is a link to the fishermen that harvest our prawns and more information on that process and what the species is about.  California Spot Prawn

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Get To The Hopper

Summer shrimping is a thing, if you didn't know, because some of the best tasting, sweetest, freshest shrimp can be had during the summer.  You've got white, brown, red, and pink shrimp seasons all opening at one time or another and there just isn't a better time of the year to get your fill of one of the nation's favorite seafood treat.  This week I would like to highlight the Florida Pink Shrimp, also known as Hoppers, Spots, or Key West Pinks.

Pink hopper shrimp are some of the best tasting and sweetest shrimp available, especially when fresh.  Most of the supply comes from Florida, where both the Atlantic and Gulf sides combine to produce about 80% of the nation's supply.  They do not have a distinct color, but are actually similar to chameleons in that they conform to match the color patterns of their surroundings.  This is the reason that they are known in Key West for their extremely pink shells; their color matches the corals found there.

Though their color can differ from location to location, a pink hopper can easily be identified by the spot it has located in the center of its body.  All hoppers have this spot, no matter if they're caught off the Dry Tortugas or hauled in at St. Joe's Bay.  Hoppers always cook to a beautiful pink color and have a distinctively sweet, saccharine flavor.  Their meats are firm and give a crisp snap when bitten into.  They are famous for making the best tasting peel n' eat shrimp.

The only drawback to this beautiful and delicious species is that it is often very difficult to get them delivered fresh, even during the season.  Most of these goodies get gobbled up in-state, so there is only a small amount of fresh product that makes it out of Florida.  We have managed to get a few pounds this week, so I suggest you "hop" on down to the market to get a taste of this delectable fare.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Fish For Mom

Moms are the best.  And I understand many will scoff at "Hallmark" holidays as corporate ploys to get us to spend our hard earned money on sappy cards but, when it comes to special occasions, no group of people deserve a day of appreciation and acknowledgement more than mothers.  I would argue that most moms deserve a whole month of gratitude, let alone a single day.  So, in the spirit of giving back to those who have sacrificed so much, I encourage you all to get out there show mom just how special she is, and if you are going to do it with great seafood, this blog is to help guide you to that special meal.

This week is a great week for eating lobster.  Prices are trending downwards as three new areas open up in Northeast Canada.  These lobsters are known for being succulent and hard-shelled, so they are packed full of tasty meat.

Domestic crabmeat is starting to roll in and that is great news because nothing makes mom happier than a delicious crab cake.  Fresh domestic, especially local Maryland, crabmeat makes the best cakes and this week the market should be stocked with U.S. blue crab offerings.  Speaking of crab, soft shell crab season is underway and this weekend looks like we will have crabs available through Mother's Day.  Get your pre-orders in for the softies because they go quickly.

Looking for scallops?  Go no further than your own backyard.  Ocean city scallops are being harvested right now and arriving to us just 24 hours out of the water.  Sometimes they come in still pulsing, and you can't get any fresher than that.  The sizing is on the smaller side, but the flavor packs a sweetness bigger scallops can not match.  They will be plentiful all week.

What's more, early shipments of wild king salmon are beginning to trickle in and BlackSalt will have a limited amount available for mom this weekend.  These beautiful troll-caught fish are coming from Sitka, Alaska and will be very limited, I advise you to pre-order if salmon is what your mom is pining for.

Also coming from the west coast, we will have decadent sablefish, also known as black cod, fresh day boat halibut, and live California urchin and uni.  These specials will light up your table and mom's face with delight.

Make this weekend memorable for the ones you love by sourcing the highest quality seafood.  Moms are special people and deserve only the best.  So, no matter whether you are cooking at home for them or treating them out to a fine meal, make sure that you procure the finest ingredients the ocean has to offer.

Friday, April 29, 2016

I'll Take The Puffer, Hold The Poison

Things are getting pretty interesting at the market this weekend.  We aren't necessarily playing Russian roulette, but it is always exciting to take on a poisonous species like the pufferfish and come out sated and elated...and alive. 

This weekend we decided to try Smooth Back Pufferfish, also known in Florida as Rabbitfish.  Rabbitfish aren't commercially targeted, they are a by-catch product from snapper, grouper and other fisheries. Properly cleaning this species before sale is very important.  The dorsal fins located on the top of the fish and the poisonous sac located in the belly must be removed to prevent the flesh from being contaminated and potentially dangerous.  The bladder and organs are also typically removed before shipment.

Once the poisonous parts are removed for safety, the succulent flesh can be enjoyed sauted, baked, or grilled.  It presents gorgeously on a plate and its flavor is sweet and firm, much similar to that of monkfish, but more tender.  These fish were brought to us from the fishing vessel Honey Bee and harvested out of John's Pass, located in the Gulf of Mexico.  They were a byproduct of the long-line grouper fishery working in the same area.    

We have a limited availability of Rabbitfish this weekend so, if you are game, swing by the market to get a glimpse and taste of this delightful fish.  Its flavor is distinctive, toothsome, and almost worth dying for...but, of course, you have nothing to worry about.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Tasty Shade Of Blue

Hand harvested fish
I received a call last week from a supplier exclaiming about this brilliant blue fish found only in New Zealand that we "just had to try".  They call it blue cod, although it isn't a cod at all but a member of the sandperch family, but nothing new there, colloquial names for fish are often derived from species people are familiar with.  My interest was piqued, but I wondered, how blue are we talking here?  I mean, there's blue and then there's blue.  "You just have to taste it and see it to believe it," he responded coyly.  Well, we are always game for something new, delicious, and sustainable, and since this fish checked all the boxes, we decided to give it a go this week.

The result: the Kiwi aren't exaggerating when they say it's blue and it's delicious.  The fish came in pristine, with glistening bright blue skin, the color of light sapphires.  If fish could blink, I feel like I would have gotten a cheeky wink, as the blue cod were so fresh that their eyes seemed to sparkle with life.  The blue cod's ideal condition can be attributed to the artisans who man the fishing vessels Equinox and Fishheads.  Both vessels harvest the blue cod by trapping it with cages.  This means the fish are brought aboard still alive where they can be handled with care and shipped immediately to preserve the upmost freshness.  Fishing this way also eliminates bycatch and the risk of killing juveniles.

Behind their cerulean exterior lies a succulent white flesh that tastes sweet like shellfish and cooks firm, yet silky, like tautog or triggerfish.  Blue cod feed on the bottom of the ocean, mainly consuming small fish, abalone and other small crustaceans.  It is this diet that gives the fish their sweet, heavenly flavor.  They are harvested around New Zealand's Chatham Island and are endemic to the country, so it's impossible to get them confused with any other species.

I encourage you to stop by the market this week to get a look at these beautiful, one-of-a-kind fish.  Even if you choose to dine on another species, getting a glimpse of these show stoppers is worth the visit.  Blue cod are treasured in New Zealand for their great flavor and beauty, and we are excited to get these sapphires of the sea in our market amongst our local jewels, even if it's
only for a short visit.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Congressional Seafood Gets New Digs

Visiting your seafood suppliers is very important to the process of procuring the best product.  Meeting the people, checking out the facilities and processes, and understanding the supply chain is key to demystifying the cloud of traceability.  So when Congressional Seafood, one of our long time wholesale suppliers, invited us to visit their brand new state-of-the-art warehouse, we jumped at the chance.
Renderings that greet you
 Located in Jessup, MD, Congressional serves a big portion of the Mid-Atlantic, including the D.C. metro area, with an emphasis on quality seafood that is both sustainable and traceable.  They have promoted these philosophies with efforts focused on paving the way for a more transparent supply chain, and are also major advocates for environmental programs such as the Oyster Recovery Project.  

When you first walk into their new facility, you are greeted with exposed brick and beautiful renditions of old school fish market scenes that evoke feelings of nostalgia for the once-open Fulton Fish Market, which has since been uprooted to a warehouse in the Bronx.  The paintings are beautifully done and give visitors the impression that they have just been transported a few hundred miles up the coast to some New Bedford maritime museum, where the history of the seafood industry is about to unfold right around the corner.

Instead, it is the future that greets them in the form of hairnets, boots, gloves, and slickers in a sterile changing room.  Before going onto the production floor, we changed into the industrial garb in order to protect the sanitation of the environment.  The duds aren't for our protection; they are for the protection of the integrity of the warehouse.

We entered the production floor and were greeted with a myriad of workers cleaning and putting fish away for the day.  Morning deliveries, including those headed to Jeff Black restaurants, had just gone out the door.  It was nice to see how clean the facility was, top to bottom.  Passing from room to room there was a sanitizing spray coming from the doorway entrances so that you couldn't track in any unwanted hitchhikers.

Each area of seafood is separated from the other.  There is a large state-of-the-art lobster tank filtering hundreds of gallons of "sea water" daily, though most of its inhabitants' stays last less than 48 hours.  There is a room just for tuna, where whole fish are broken down and graded to customers specifications.  There are walls of crabmeat, a shellfish room full with bi-valves of all kinds.  In the fin-fish room boxes sit quietly, concealing their delicious contents.  Upon opening, one is greeted with glistening, pristine fish gleaming as if at this facility it is Christmas.
Lobster tank
Two of the most impressive contraptions we saw were the giant ice machines and the catfish conveyor.  The ice machines' enormity surpasses all my expectations, producing giant mountains of ice to secure temperatures for hundreds of customers' deliveries daily.  I guess if you are going to deliver fresh fish, and take care of it properly, you're going to need a lot of ice.  The catfish conveyor is a filleting system consisting of fish cutters who hand-cut the invasive wild blue catfish as they come down one end of the conveyor and send the fillets and waste separately on two other conveyors, each reaching their proper destinations.  It was awesome to witness how much wild blue catfish Congressional helps take out of our local waters.  Even with this tremendous amount, there's still more work to be done.
The Ice House, there's two of them

We ended our tour with trips to the offices, where both buyers and sellers are closely situated to one another so that information is easily passed between departments.  There is an adequate kitchen set up for testing products, exotic and familiar alike, and an area where chefs and customers can be hosted and well fed.

 We thank the great people at Congressional for hosting us and opening the doors to their beautiful facility for us to get an idea of the hard work that goes into getting our properly chilled and immaculate fish to us.  We are proud to buy seafood from companies like Congressional, who are on the cutting edge of providing seafood in a traceable, safe and sustainable way.

Fresh scallops, Ocean City, MD

Grading tunas; part aesthetics, part science, all expertise

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Scaling, Gutting, The Whole Fish Story

Most seafood purchases consist of a nicely wrapped, pre-portioned, de-boned, ready to cook piece of fish.  It makes sense to buy this way, as it cuts down prep time and leaves the home chef with much less clean up.  But what happens when you decide to buy the whole fish and bring it home, scales and all?  What do you do with a fish you catch when you want to throw it on the grill?  Here's a step-by-step process on how to prepare a whole fish for the grill.  We are going to use a sheepshead as an example due to the fact that it is one of the harder fish to scale because of its armor-like exterior.

So you caught a sheepshead, or some other delicious scaly fish, that you want to prepare at home, whole fish style.  Go ahead, give your best primitive YAWLP! and get the fire going.  Begin by setting up your station.   If you are in the kitchen, it's best to place a perforated pan under the fish or line the sink with an open plastic bag to catch the scales.  Doing this task beach side is even better, as long as you have a fresh water source handy.  Scales go everywhere, and when I say everywhere I mean it.  You could be finding scales weeks later in places you didn't know existed (just ask my wife) and they don't easily go down the drain.  Sometimes doing this task outside makes for a much cleaner kitchen.

You're also going to need a scaler, you can pick these up in most big box stores or local tackle joints, although a heavy duty serrated knife will work in a pinch.  It's also good to have a sharp fillet knife and scissors handy, as well as a trashcan.

Place the fish in the sink or table you are using, holding on tightly to the head with your opposing hand.  With your strong hand, use the scaler, teeth on the fish with a firm force, and work it going against the scales horizontally.  They should "pop" off like little kernels of popcorn.  This works for most scaled fish, but for sheepshead and other larger scaled fish, you actually have to work the scaler vertically, slowly, moving across the fish's body.  Picture going down the fish, row by row, like a farmer pulling weeds.  When working with a sheepshead, it's important to remember that going across the sheepshead's body with the scaler like you would most fish will get you nowhere fast.

Once most of the scales have been removed, rinse the fish and go back over the spots you missed, since there will always be some.  Also, now is a good time to get the underside of the fish.  This task is more tedious as you do not want to puncture the belly, so you have to be a tad more delicate with your movements in this area.  Now flip the fish and repeat, until the fish is clear of scales.  Rinse.

Now we gill.  With strong hands, lift the gill flaps so that the gills present themselves in all their bloody glory.  Fresh blood is a great sign, it means fresh fish.  Dig your fingers to the base of the red gills and remove them from the fish.  If you can't quite get in there, feel free to take the scissors and cut them out, using the tips.  After they are removed, you want to slide your finger tips in the area where the gills once were and scrape any remaining residue.  To get a better grip on the fish, you might want to use a towel to hold the back of the fish.  Be careful of the back spines of the fish, they are very sharp and can teach you a valuable lesson very quickly.  Some people cut these spines and fins off before working with the fish to avoid getting stabbed.  I recommend doing what's best for you, and being safe is always better than being sorry.

Onto the guts, our favorite part.  Here is where we are going to find out whether or not you scaled properly on the belly side, because if you didn't, it's going to be difficult to get that knife going.  Turn your fish over so that the belly is facing you.  You will notice a small opening on the bottom of the fish.  This is where we start.  With the tip of the knife, and without going too deep, run the blade up to the collar - you will know when you get there by the presence of two fins.  You don't want to goo too deep.  If you do you will puncture the belly and send all that bile into the flesh of the fish.  It won't ruin the fish if you do this, but it may cause some off flavors in the belly meat.  It's not the end of the world or your meal if this happens.

 Once you've made the incision, squeeze your fingers into the cavity and, starting towards the front of the fish, grip and pull the guts away from the fish.  You are going to want to get your fingers around the base of where they start, so make sure your fingers are right against the top of the collar when you grip.  Try to pull everything out in one motion.  Be on the lookout for roe, as this can be a tasty dinner snack or a really good breakfast when fried.  Roe is usually contained in orangish to yellowish sacks with small, visible veins.  

All that is left is to make sure that you scrape the cavity to rid the fish of any gut remnants with your fingers, then rinse the cavity and fish thoroughly with fresh water.  Score each side of the fish by lightly breaking the skin with your blade.  Season both sides generally with oil and seasonings and feel free to stuff the cavity with lemon, fresh herbs, and garlic.  Get your YAWLP! ready, fishing season is on!