Thursday, January 24, 2013

Don't Hold The Anchovies

You will not find anchovies listed on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch and it is very hard to tie down a 'color', whether it be good (green) or bad (red), to the fishery.  Maybe its because the fishery has been known to fluctuate from year to year without any warning.  Maybe its because the fishery has collapsed in many places only to rebound with astounding productivity.  It is even difficult to talk about the anchovy 'fishery' because there are many different areas with differentiating populations, some healthy and some not so much.  Wherever they come from, anchovies make for a healthy, tasty meal, and are invaluable as a food source for other animals.  Most of the catch goes into making other items such as fish oil, fertilizers, and fish meal.  A smaller percentage of the catch is produced for human consumption, which is unfortunate because they really are one of the healthiest 'brain' foods you can eat.

Anchovies are low in mercury and other toxins that exist in the environment due to the fact that they eat very low on the food chain.  They are extremely good sources of omega-3's, calcium, iron, niacin, and the very important selenium.  Basically, the perfect protein.  Most options in the market are going to be fillets packed in vinegar or oil, but occasionally you will find fresh anchovies.  If these are available, jump on them.  There really is no fish out there that packs as much flavor as fresh anchovies.  They are great fried and eaten whole, head and all.  You have to trust me on this, its like eating a salty, savory explosion of ocean goodness.  If you are not so adventurous, try de-boning them with your fingers, the flesh is very delicate so you will not need a knife, and baking or panfrying them with butter and garlic, finishing with fresh herbs and lemon.  The canned and jarred varieties are great on salads and make great additions to sauces (worcestershire sauce is made from anchovies), or can be enjoyed on their own if they are of a high quality.  Just add some cheese and bread and you have a great snack or dinner.

Now that you are dying for some anchovies, lets talk about which fisheries you should be buying from. In 2005 the Bay of Biscay fishery collapsed, only to rebound and rethink their efforts in 2010.  Five years of patience resulted in a turnaround for the fishery and today the anchovy population is healthy and considered sustainable by the MSC.  Argentine anchovies are MSC certified, a good indicator that you are buying a sustainable product.  The Peruvian fishery is one of the largest fisheries in the world.  Water temperatures can result in down years and overfishing has been an issue in the past, but today the fishery is working towards sustainability and populations are stable.  It seems the Peruvians understand what an important resource they have.  Moroccan and Croatian anchovies are not MSC certified, but many independent audits such as Friends of the Sea list those fisheries as sustainable.  Our own North Atlantic and Pacific stocks are healthy and at sustainable levels according to NOAA and other audits.  By-catch is not a major issue for the anchovy fishery due to the fact that trawlers identify large shoals and target their intended species with minimum by-catch.

With educated eating comes healthy eating.  There are plenty of sources to choose from, so finding ocean friendly anchovies should not be an issue.  They are a super food, so there are no health concerns associated with eating anchovies.  So, what's holding you back from partaking in quite possibly the ultimate protein that millions of other fish feed on?  Millions of other fish can't be wrong, can they?  I am not advocating an all anchovy diet, we need to save some for our fish friends in the sea.  What I am advocating is the next time you try a caesar salad, don't be so quick to 'hold' the anchovies.  Julius knew what he was doing when he put them on there.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Scallops 101

The scallop market is about to take a big jump.  Word is that quotas are going to be cut up to 35% in some areas.  What this means is that it is going to get even harder to find high quality dry scallops.  What exactly a 'dry' scallop is, as opposed to divers, refresh, or treated, needs to be addressed first.

There are many different products at all kinds of prices available in the scallop market.  We at BlackSalt buy true dry scallops for our market and restaurants.  A dry scallop is a scallop that has never been frozen and has never been treated.  However, it is legal to sell a 'dry' scallop that has been treated with a saline solution and still call it 'dry' if it has been in the solution less than 24 hours.  The saline solution helps preserve the scallop and also adds water weight to the product.

We do not purchase these scallops at BlackSalt, but instead we look for true dry scallops only caught by day-boats like The Sea Ranger, whose captain is Ger Tonneson.  These scallops are landed in places like Maine and Massachusetts and come to us just hours out of the water.  What day-boat means is that these fishermen are allotted only so many pounds a day and once they hit that quota they return from the water with their harvest the same day that they set out.  This ensures that the scallops we purchase are the freshest product possible.  We pay a little more for this product, but we feel like the quality that is passed on to the customer is worth it.  When purchasing scallops that are labeled 'dry' it might be beneficial to ask whether there is a 24hr treatment on them, or just shop at BlackSalt where you don't have to ask.

Some scallops are packed treated or refreshed.  Treated scallops have a solution on them that increases shelf-life.  This is important for retailers, because the shelf-life on truly dry scallops is very short.  That is why rotation of product at our market is quick; truly dry scallops need to be fresh.  Other markets that sell treated scallops do not have to worry about turnover as much but, in my opinion, you can taste the difference.  A refreshed scallop is a product that has been frozen and then thawed.  Usually the flavor on these will be even less bright than treated or dry scallops and the color is usually a little grayish.  I can't in good faith recommend this product to anyone.  Truly dry scallops will have a fresh, sweet, ocean flavor without any lingering aftertaste.  A truly dry scallop will also give you a nice sear on a hot pan very quickly, where it takes a treated or 'dry' scallop a little longer to get that crispy brown, and in some cases it doesn't happen at all.

Sometimes you may see scallops that are pink or orange.  These to me taste the sweetest and should not be avoided.  The theory is that these scallops were females with red roe sacs.  The different color signals a sweeter scallop.  Stay away from scallops that appear gray, this is a sign of age and freezing.  Scallops naturally release gas so if you come across scallops that have been in a container and the first odor is of gas, do not send them packing into the garbage.  Give them a little air and time and that should go away.  When scallops smell sour or overly gassy, then its time to give up on them and look for new product.  Also, look to purchase scallops that are not broken and greasy.  Fresh scallops should be firm and a little tacky to the touch.

Wherever you decide to purchase scallops, make sure to check them out thoroughly and ask questions.  Scallops are always a good indicator of the quality of the market you are shopping in: the more questions that the fishmonger can answer and more pride they take in answering them, the better the market.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Copper Shoals keeps Red Drum Afloat

In the 70's and 80's the popularity of Paul Prudhomme's blackened redfish dish almost wiped out the native red drum from the coastal waters of Texas and Louisiana.  It was so popular that redfish, formally known as red drum, was listed as a protected species and during this time commercial sell was outlawed.  These restrictions have since eased due to the resurgence of red drum stocks, but it was aquaculture that really emerged as a winning solution to the tasty fish's high demand.  During the same time of the wild redfish restrictions, biologist David Maus built the first commercial redfish farm in Palacios, TX.  Today Palacios is the home of Copper Shoals, a leader in domestic, sustainable red drum aquaculture.

Copper Shoals grows fish from fingerlings to market size without the use of hormones or antibiotics.  The feed comprises of natural grains, vitamins, minerals, and fish protein from well-managed sources.  There is also the added plus that Copper Shoals produces fish free of mercury and other pollutants.  The farms are land based, which reduces the problem of escapees.  Water for the fish is provided by Matagorda Bay and saline aquifiers and is monitored around the clock to ensure that quality is never compromised.  The fish are fresh killed, chilled and sent out to order.  This means that our red drum are delivered to us just hours out of the water.

It's always good to support local fishermen and farmers, especially ones that produce a quality product with an environmental consciousness.  The farmed red drum in Texas come with a sweet, mild flavor and a dense, flaky texture.  They are deliciously healthy and incredibly savory, especially when prepared by Pearl Dive Restaurant, where they are a staple on the menu.