Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Bay's Blues Continue

The Chesapeake needs your help.  Whether you pledge your allegiance to the Virginia or Maryland side doesn't matter.  There is a common enemy to both states that is decimating the natural inhabitants of both state's waterways and it's only going to get worse.  Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the wild blue catfish.

The blue catfish was introduced to the James, Rappahannock and York rivers in Virginia during the 1970's as a recreational fishing option and has since expanded into the Potomac River.  Populations of these catfish have not only flourished but, just recently, exploded.  These bottom dwellers are responsible for eating juvenile and adult rockfish, blue crabs, menhaden, shad, herring, white and yellow perch, and many more important species.  During the spring spawning season, a blue cat's diet consists mainly of fish eggs, so for two months out of the year the blue cat decimates other species by gobbling them up before they even have a chance to hatch.  Right now fishermen searching for rockfish are pulling up nothing but catfish.  In the James River alone, blue cats account for 80% of the biomass, a good indicator that they have devoured everything else in the river.  Wild blue catfish are now found in every tributary in the Chesapeake Bay, leading some scientist to assert that the blue cat invasion could be the greatest threat the Bay has ever faced.

There is a way you can help to change this and, luckily for us, the catfish is it's own enemy.  The next time you are in the mood for seafood, give catfish a try.  Blue catfish are actually quite delicious and, due to their abundance, they are extremely affordable.  Blue catfish is often sold in fillet form, skin and bones removed, and the white flesh is great for sautéing and baking.  A little oil in the pan, salt and pepper on the fish, 3-5 minutes a side on medium high heat and 10 minutes later you have a healthy meal.  Even more satisfying than it's mild, briny flavor is the fact that you have helped save the bay while dining on this savory, troublesome critter.  I usually put brown sugar and cayenne on my catfish or I enjoy it fried po' boy style.  Either way, every time it meets a plate we are one step closer to improving conditions in the Bay with as little effort as picking up a fork.  Eat local, eat sustainable, eat the blue catfish.

Here's a recipe courtesy of BlackSalt chefs:

Cornmeal Crusted Pan Fried Maryland Catfish w/Smoked Veal Sausage and Seafood Gumbo – serves 4-6 ppl

Roux –The single most important step in this process. ALL the flavor is born here.
1lb AP Flour
1lb Bacon Fat, Beef Fat or Clarified Butter

In a heavy bottomed pot at least 8qts in size add fat, then flour and begin to toast flour. Once it smells like biscuit dough transfer the pot to a 350 degree oven for an hour or so. Stirring the roux every 20 minutes until a deep rust or brick color is achieved; it will smell similar to burnt popcorn.  I baby my roux often because the closer you get to over-cooked the deeper the flavor you develop.

Salt + Pepper season and taste as you go
1 T Tomato Paste
1lb Smoked Veal Sausage Small Diced (We make our own but any smoked veal or beef sausage will do)
6 Jalapenos seeded and small diced
4 Anaheim Chiles seeded and small diced
3 Spanish Onions seeded and small diced
1 Head of Celery small diced (Reserve leafs and mince)
12 cloves of Garlic fine minced
1 T Dry Mustard
1 T Cayenne
1 T Red Chili Flake
4 Fresh Bay Leaf, 1 Bunch Thyme tied together with butchers twine
1 Bottle Green Hot Sauce of your choice
2 Bottles of Light Bodied Beer (Your favorite porch drinkin beer)
3 T Gumbo File
4 Qts Beef Stock
1lb Crab Meat
1lb Crawfish Tail Meat
Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Bunch Scallion Sliced

Once the roux is finished you need to start assembly right away. Add the tomato paste to the roux and brown lightly. Add sausage, vegetables, dry spices (but not the file yet), bay leaf and thyme and sweat in the roux over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes until the vegetables soften slightly. Begin to whisk in one bottle of the beer and add the green hot sauce. The mixture will thicken rapidly at this point you can begin adding the beef stock in 1 quart increments. Stir the mixture constantly until it comes to a boil then turn down to a very low simmer. Continue simmering slowly for 1 hour skimming the mixture of any scum that forms. Add crab meat and crawfish and heat through. Lemon juice and more hot sauce to taste.

Wild Maryland Blue Catifish

2 lb Wild Blue Catfish cut into 5-ounce portions
1 Cup Buttermilk
2 Cups Fine Ground Yellow Corn Meal
1 Pinch Cayenne
1 Pinch Ground White Pepper
Fine Sea Salt for Seasoning
Canola Oil for Frying

Pre-Heat your cast iron skillet over medium heat with a ½ inch oil. Season cornmeal with cayenne and white pepper.  Pat catfish dry season on all sides with salt and lightly coat in buttermilk, then cover with the cornmeal mixture shaking off excess. When the oil reaches 350 degrees gently lay the catfish in the pan frying on each side for 2 ½ to 3 minutes. Drain on a cooling rack.

Serve gumbo and catfish with plain or dirty white rice, sliced scallions, celery leafs, remoulade, lemon slices and of course plenty of hot sauce and beer.


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Boston Seafood Show

Members of the BRG team visited the Boston Seafood Show this past weekend courtesy of the great team at Congressional Seafood.  The expanse and variety of products was breathtaking.  Traversing the isles and isles of seafood booths proved a daunting task.  So was finding non-frozen product.

One of Samuels and Son's Display
Importers from around the world were showing their wares, some interesting, some bizarre, but taken as a whole it was eye-opening to understand the great machination that is the seafood business.   Most booths were offering glimpses of frozen-at-sea product of the highest quality.  Products caught by huge vessels and processed by big companies gave one the feeling of smallness, as a pebble cast out into the vast ocean.  BRG deals mostly in fresh, domestic product, and it is even more evident now than before that sadly, these items are but a tiny portion of the global seafood economy.

There were some great highlights of the show, such as the spectacular Samuels and Son seafood display.  Samuels is based out of Philadelphia and was there promoting fresh products with descriptions of where and how their products are sourced.  The terrific team from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources was also present to promote MD seafood, and there were also representatives from Carl's Choice Scallops, Sewansecott Oysters, Barren Island Oysters, Australis Aquaculture, Little River Crab Company, Shooting Point Oysters, Cherrystone Aqua farms, Town Dock Seafood, Chincoteague Aqua Farm, and American Mussel Harvesters, amongst other domestic purveyors.

Another highlight of the trip came in the form of an invitation from Boston Swordfish and Tuna to check out their facilities located on the waterfront.  It was inspiring to see domestically caught tuna and swordfish splayed out for grading.  The fish were of high quality, but the group at Boston Sword still makes sure that this fact is verified with each load.  We also got a glimpse of the largest lobster tank in Boston, and possibly the east coast.  It reminded me of an Olympic sized pool, but with lobsters instead of people doing the laps.  The scallop room was also a treat, or should I say "untreat(ed)" due to the fact that Boston Sword specializes in truly dry scallops caught domestically and sorted by size every day.  As much seafood as they process, the facility was exceptionally clean and smelled like the ocean - a very important fact when considering a seafood purveyor.

We are grateful to Congressional Seafood for inviting us to the Boston Seafood Show.  It was a chance to meet some great purveyors and get a glimpse of the grand scale on which the industry operates.  It's easy to fathom how big business can outgrow the ocean.  There's a lot of product out there and, like I said, at BRG we are just a small pebble.  Hopefully, though, just as a small pebble can make millions of ripples when cast into the water, we hope our model of supporting domestic, fresh, and sustainable seafood resonates in a swelling market.    

Grading Floor at Boston Sword
Opah Looking for a home
Lobster Tank
More Lobster!

Dry Scallops

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fisheries Report Continued Progress

The 2013 Report on the Status of U.S. Fisheries conducted by NOAA Fisheries presents a bright future for wild U.S. fisheries management.  The report highlights the continued progress of ending overfishing and rebuilding the nations oceanic resources.  In 2013, seven fish stocks were removed from the overfishing list and two stocks were rebuilt, bringing the new total of rebuilt stocks to 34 since 2000 and still growing.

These are no small feats.  It wasn't so long ago that U.S. fish stocks were in peril, many to the point of what was thought of as "no return."  Overfishing was occurring at a staggering pace, emptying our natural resources from our surrounding bodies of water and additionally devastating many regional and local communities.  Luckily tides have since turned and through science-based management we have a good shot at reversing the once drastic state of our fisheries.  It's a simple formula: sustainably manage our fish stocks or lose everything.

Sustainable management includes ending overfishing by setting quotas and fishing guidelines, managing current fisheries, and tracking new fisheries.  It's a group effort that includes several cooperating bodies: NOAA Fisheries, Regional Fishery Management Councils, commercial and recreational fishermen, and, importantly, you the consumer.  With a concerted effort, U.S. fisheries management can be a beacon for the world, an example of how resources can be properly managed, protected, and enjoyed in a sustainable way.  The 2014 full report has not yet been posted, but you can look at the map provided here to see the progress of rebuilt stocks during 2014.  It's an exciting time to support domestic seafood.  Reports on the healthy qualities of getting more seafood in your diet abound.  Recent guidelines from the FDA have been updated to encourage more seafood consumption.  Nowhere in the world is more effort being exerted into making the country's seafood not only a healthy option for its diners, but a sustainable one as well.   

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Kings Of Spring

It's subtle, but if you really put your ear to the ground, you may actually be able to hear the soft tip-toeing steps of spring quietly making its way back into our lives.  Ice is beginning to crack under the pressure of a growing warmth and trees are slowly regaining their upright posture.  Heck, even P.E.I. mussels may make an appearance as early as this weekend after spending the last two weeks buried under the freezing avalanche that was February.

The anticipation of sunnier days is so exciting that when I was told that there were a few early spring troll-caught Wild King Salmon available to the highest bidder, well I just couldn't help myself, I had to have them.  When I was told that they were Ivory Kings, I was even more excited.  So, in an effort to assist the ushering in of warmer weather and good vibes, and to get my hands on the earliest batch of Ivory King salmon I have ever seen, I am elated to announce that BlackSalt will be seeing our earliest ever batch of Wild Alaskan Ivory King Salmon.
SPC members the Eliasons represent 4 generations of fishing

Most will have to wait for May to get their hands on Wild King Salmon, which is traditionally when the season gets going, but even then ivory salmon will be hard to find and even harder to acquire.  This early in the season the king salmon are at the pinnacle of their flavor profile.  The salmon are meaty from heavy winter feeding and are far from entering the fresh river waterways in which they will later spawn.  This means their proteins are completely intact and their fat content is at its peak.  Later on in the coming months spawning runs will gradually wear the salmon down physically, muting their flavors and decimating their fat content.  In a sense, these few early fish could be some of the best tasting fish we see all season.

In addition to great flavor, these fish - or should I say fishermen - have great stories.  We have the Seafood Producers Cooperative (SPC) to thank for these beautiful, sustainable early king salmon.  The SPC consists of a group of fishermen who work the water one fish at a time using the hook and line method.  This method produces fish that are of the highest quality, mostly due to the extreme care that goes into the harvesting and handling of the fish.  The cooperative is comprised of 550 members, each individually representing a small boat and small operation, but with an aggregate goal of producing the finest product possible.  Supporting these types of fisheries is important because the money goes back to the actual fishermen, instead of supporting the deep pockets of industrial processors.  It's a win for the guest dining on superior seafood and for the communities that produced the fish.          
One fish at a time!

Winter, especially these last few weeks, has sunk its teeth deep into the earth and is reluctant to let go.  I am ready for the melt to begin, but I am not convinced it's time just yet to bury our heavy coats into the back of our closets.  It might be too early to say that spring is here, but it's never too early to eat great fish.  If you want to wait for the rest of the salmon, they will be here in a few months.  I, for one, am ready for better weather and better meals.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Raw Bar Has Frozen Over

It is cold.  Well...that's an understatement.  It's so cold that I am pretty sure that you-know-where has frozen over, and that is not good for our East Coast shellfish.  We haven't seen conditions like these in the Chesapeake Bay area since 1977.  Boats cannot get out on any of the rivers, and oystering and clamming have become impossible.  The Bay is frozen solid between the eastern and western shores and if you look north conditions get much worse.

So what happens to our oysters, clams, and mussels when everything is frozen solid?  Well, to put it simply, production stops.  We will not be seeing much product coming from the Chesapeake Bay area to Prince Edward Island, Canada in the next week.  Shellfish of all varieties are either buried under feet of ice or, even if they are accessible, die in the freezing temperatures above once pulled out of the water.  These temperatures and conditions are making it impossible to source shellfish on the East Coast.

Local oysters will be nearly impossible to get in the next few days, except for some wild product, so don't expect your local oyster bars to have a broad variety.  If you don't see any little neck, top neck, or cherrystone clams at your local raw bar this weekend don't make too much of a fuss.  Clamming operations are at a standstill and will be until some thawing action happens.  More bad news:  Mussels will likely not be on the menu next week.  P.E.I. is frozen over and many harvest locations have become inaccessible due to extreme weather.

When the conditions are right, large bodies of water can freeze pretty quickly.  Such cold can freeze the Bay for miles in just a few minutes.  Unfortunately it will take a couple of days to thaw.  When Mother Nature wants to, she can put a big damper on your raw bar selection.  We all, shellfish lovers included, just have to suck it up and wait.  Remember that the oyster farmers are doing their best to harvest what they can, and accomplishing this in weather that would have most of us running for our homes and space heaters.  If you think it's brutal walking the 25 feet from your car to the house, imagine being on the water for hours at a time, where the wind is multiplied by a hundred and the cold just doesn't quit.  So if you find yourself in front of a few bi-valves in the next week, take a moment to appreciate what it took to get them there and be thankful you didn't have to do it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Why Seafood Is Sexy

Valentine's Day is next weekend and if you are a truly romantic person you most likely already have the what's and where's planned for your one and only sweetheart.  If you are one of those people who likes to wait, or just doesn't put much thought into the whole ordeal, then you still need to pay some heed and get on the ball.

Flowers are great, but don't have staying power.  Diamonds are beautiful, but you know eventually they can lose their luster, significance or, as often happens, can even get lost themselves.  Dinner, now that's an idea.  When you take your loved one out, or stay in, for dinner, you are creating an experience, a memory.  Staring into each other's eyes over a delightful meal creates a moment shared in time that can't be undone.  Food brings people together.  It's that necessary adhesive that can all at once soothe, enliven, transform, and translate all of life's importance with a single taste.  If you are still with me on this and agree, here's my argument why seafood should be on your Valentine's Day menu.

Seafood represents life and vitality.  The ocean is the source of all life and seafood embodies this idea of magnitude and mystery on the plate like nothing on hooves can.   Instead of the heavy thud meat and poultry leave in your bellies, ocean fare will not weigh the rest of your night down.  Your romantic trysts will not get stuck in the mud with seafood, leaving you free to experience the moments beyond the plate.

You can eat seafood in the raw, undressed and unburdened of the heaviness of preparation.  Open up an oyster and experience the excitement and pulsation of naked flavor.  You can feel the transformation of life and taste how slippery such great moments can be.  Raw fish can dress a plate so seductively that food becomes a show, its contorting essence encapsulating the tension between art and function.  Food can feed more than just our mouths, particularly seafood.  Seafood, especially when eaten crudo, can reveal natural flavors exotic and foreign to our tongues.  Some meals are just to get us to the next one and some are events in our lives.

Though healthy for your body, seafood is often seen as an extravagance reserved for special occasions, especially when dining out.  So it only makes sense that if you are catering to the heart of your loved one, you want to go all out for them. Dining on seafood will make you both feel luxurious and special.

Seafood is sexy.  It's unfamiliar, it's alluring, it's a portal into the great mystery of the deep.  This Valentine's Day, don't be landlocked with the familiar dishes that garnish your plate weekly.  If you are looking for a memory, or at least the excitement of making one, I urge you to set the table with something from the ocean.  Allow the fascinating flavors to erase the boredom from your palate, and the night will follow suit.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Superbowl Super Food

This Sunday's Super Bowl gives many of us a reason to undo our belts, dig into a well cushioned couch and gorge ourselves on fat-filled, high carb, processed foods like there's no such thing as Monday.  It's a guilty pleasure we all share.  Nothing screams football like nacho cheese and messy wings, and even I can't help myself overindulging on what has become an official holiday in many households.  

I must advise you though, spring is right around the corner and the more belly you add to your waist, the harder it is to remove it before the bathing suit weather comes.  This doesn't mean you have to cut out delicious foods for the big party.  Why not try seafood this year as a healthier snack for the big game?

If you think about it, seafood is a major theme of this year's Super Bowl.  Both teams are from cities that boast great seafood.  Boston and Seattle are known to have some of the best and freshest seafood in the U.S., so it only makes sense that seafood can feel right at home at your Super Bowl buffet.  You'll be giving your guests appetizing, yet healthier options without skimping on flavor.

Here are some ideas and options you can find at Black Salt Market:

Black Salt has shrimp three ways; traditional cocktail shrimp, grilled shrimp with a sweet glaze, and Chesapeake Bay spiced peel and eat shrimp.  We also offer a shrimp salad that is great for you dippers out there.  You can also purchase raw shrimp from the market and make your own peel and eat shrimp, fried shrimp, or shrimp skewers.  I prefer mine grilled on skewers with garlic and lime with a sprinkle of parmesan before serving.

Everyone loves bacon wrapped scallops, need I say more?  The preparation is quite simple and when you are using high quality dry scallops from Black Salt the result will be a winner.

The market can poach or smoke portions of salmon for your party.  A poached salmon platter can really make a beautiful focal point of your party spread.  Our house cured salmon is also a good bet with tons of flavor.  I would serve it with creme fraiche or cream cheese, mini bagels, chopped onion, and sliced tomato.

Who doesn't love a great crab dip?  Using seasonings like Worcestershire, Old Bay, garlic and onion, great crab dips are a cinch to make, especially when using fresh domestic crab meat.  You can also purchase crab cakes from the market or make your own using your family's recipe.  Blue crab soup on a cold day of football is also a great option.  The market also offers snow crab legs, king crab legs, and stone crab claws when available.  Your guests will know you went all out when the crab appears.

Want to really impress without cooking a thing?  Make tuna tartar using number #1 grade tuna from our market.  Just dice the tuna, add some avocado, sesame oil, wasabi, and tamari or soy sauce.  Rice crackers usually make the perfect vehicle for the perfect bite.

Oysters and Clams
You can dress up your party with oysters and clams on the half shell, or if you want to stick with warm food you can always stuff them.  Oysters Rockefeller is a simple and incredibly delicious dish to make, especially when you have Black Salt prep them for you.  Steaming or stuffing clams is a cost effective way to offer your guests a healthy alternative to all things fried.  Then again, if you just have to use that new fryer, you can do much worse than frying oysters and clams.

Fried calamari?  Anyone?  You bet you can put me down for that.  There are also great recipes online for stuffing squid tubes with treats ranging from chorizo to spinach.

You can also prepare fish stews using tile fish, monk fish, cod, hake, black bass, mussels, clams, shrimp and rockfish, making magic in the crockpot without breaking a sweat.

Black Salt will have available items such as smoked trout salad, shrimp spring rolls, shrimp remoulade, smoked salmon salad, tuna tapenade, salmon cakes, fish cakes, crab cakes and an array of soups and sauces that are perfect for whatever your dish may call for.  Just because the Super Bowl seems like a good reason to binge on bad food, it doesn't mean you have to.  Build a better buffet for your party with great seafood, your guests and their collective waistlines will thank you.