Friday, February 24, 2012

How much to eat? Buying by the portion

Working the fish market, one of the most common questions you will get is: how much do I need for ____ people? (insert the number of people you are feeding here)  Figuring out how much seafood you need to feed a person can be a foreign concept to many people, especially when you walk into a fish market and all you see in front of you is whole fish looking back at you and beautiful fillets splayed out on ice.  (at least, that's the case at BlackSalt Fish Market)  Well I am going to try and help all of you out there who are shopping for great seafood, but are just not sure how much you will need to feed your guests.

The typical recommended entree portion size for most fillets is 5oz to 8oz per person.  In most restaurants the fish portions tend to be 5oz to 6oz.  The 5oz to 6oz portion will feed the average person, assuming that there are side dishes with the meal.  If you feel that you eat less than the average person or have other courses for your meal, then a 4oz portion should do.  If you feel that you eat more than the average person then you should go for the 8oz portion.  If you are like myself and just love fish, then I would go for the 10oz portion - just a warning, this size is for the heavy eaters(myself included).

Appetizer portions tend to be much smaller, for obvious reasons.  The typical appetizer portion should be between 2oz to 3oz.  Any more and you might just spoil your dinner.

Determining how much shrimp you may need is a just a little more complicated.  When buying shell-on shrimp you usually have to factor in waste because most of us do not enjoy eating the shells.  There is about an 80% yield with shell on shrimp, so when buying shrimp for the average person I recommend 8oz.  This is figuring that you will end up with a 6oz entree portion when the shells are removed.  So that means about a pound of shell-on shrimp will feed two average eaters for their entree.  The heavy hitters, such as myself, can feel comfortable getting about 12oz of shrimp per person for entrees.

Lets throw a wrench in there and say you are doing a pasta with your seafood.  Well with the addition of pasta I would reduce your portion sizes to 3oz to 4oz per person.  This will feed the average person comfortably.  Heavy eaters might want to go to 5oz to 6oz portions for their pasta, but realize that's a hefty protein addition to pasta.  If you decide you want shrimp for your pasta, use the same base portion sizes, just factor in the 20% loss due to shell.

When buying whole fish you have to factor in the loss due to bone, head, and guts.  The typical plate size fish for one is 1lb to 1.25lb whole fish.  Most fish will yield you about 40% of usable protein (meat) once it has been cut or picked through.  If you are a heavy eater look for fish in the 1.5lb range.  When buying one large fish for many it is often a good rule to buy 1lb per person that you are feeding.  So, lets say you are feeding 10 people one big fish.  I would buy a fish in the 9lb to 11lb range.  Remember, you are going to lose 60% of that weight to discards.  As always, these weights might need to be altered if you are serving other courses.  All of these weights are based on the typical meal of one entree course and two side dishes.

If all these measurements seem to bogle your brain down and you just do not feel any more certain of how much seafood to purchase, then you do have another tried and true option that has been around long before the scale system.  That is, you can always just eyeball the fillet and let the fish monger know where to cut.  Just keep in mind that when serving great fish one thing is for sure, you always leave the table wanting more.  Happy dining.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Wild Alaskan Salmon and the MSC issue

Recently Wild Alaskan Salmon Fisheries opted out of it's renewal of the MSC brand.  What this means is that Wild Alaskan salmon will no longer carry that little blue seal of approval from the MSC, the same blue seal that assures customers that the fish they are buying is considered sustainable.  Questions arose immediately after the news was released and everyone wants to know why this happened and what it means for the fishery and the customer.

The Alaskan fishery spokesmen cited the costs and complications of the renewal as reasons for backing out of the program.  They also noted that the fishery has 50 years of proper management experience and finds that the fishery brand can stand alone as it's own confirmation of sustainable practice.  I do not think this move makes the MSC brand obsolete.  Some purveyors, notably a major seafood company in Japan, have threatened to pull Alaskan salmon from their shelves in response to the missing MSC label.  They cautioned that they would sell only MSC certified fish and that they did not want to confuse their customers with many different labels.  Can the Alaskan fishery police themselves and meet the environmental and customer expectations of a sustainable fishery?  History is on their side.

I believe people will still search out wild Alaskan salmon and feel good when they buy it.  The brand has presented itself as the par excellence of well managed fisheries for many years and has now come to terms with the important fact that as customers become more knowledgeable about quality and responsibly harvested products the need for third party labels is not required for established brands.  As long as the fishery keeps to their ideals of being great stewards of their waters and environments, they should not feel forced to acquire a third party approval.  A MSC brand verifies a sustainably managed fishery but it does not make a fishery sustainable.  A fishery is made sustainable by its practices, policies, and efforts.  If Alaska intends to keep its wild stocks at sustainable levels and its waters healthy then it will do so because of a shared and implemented philosophy and not because of a label.