Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Shellfish Status

The fall and winter season is known for being THE TIME to devour shellfish of all kinds.  This is when the waters cool and bi-valves and crustaceans alike begin to feed heavily and fatten to their fullest.  This fattening induces a tremendous amount of added flavor to these delicacies, which provides an added amount of satisfaction to our collective palates.  That being said, here is a forecast of what is to come.  

Soft shell crabs are usually going out of season around October, but right now cooler water temperatures and predation are causing some supply PROBLEMS.  Hard shell crabs are usually best in the cooler months of September and October. It is during this time that crabs begin to fatten up for the winter and the meat is at its sweetest.  Just don't expect prices to be in line with last year's deals.  This crab year has been "one of the worst" according to many watermen who have worked in this business for more than 30 years.  It does not bode well for the fall months if the crabs don't start roaring in soon. There is a small opening of fresh Alaskan king crab in October and November.  This opening is usually very short and product is quite costly.  Stone crab season really gets going in October and November in FL, and they will be available thorough December.  Look for some of the sweetest jonah crab meat available starting in October through the winter.

Shellfish...well, shellfish begin to thrive during the fall months.  In fact, this is the best time to enjoy oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops.  This is when they are feeding heavily in order to create stores that will get them through the long winter.  If I were you I would make a bee-line to the oyster bar and not get up from my seat until I've done my part to replenish the Bay with empty oyster shells.  This summer has been one of the worst for West Coast oysters.  High temperatures and rainfall have caused many beds to close and supply has been very limited.  Once waters start to cool the west will again start producing the sweet varieties we are used to seeing.  Mussels and clams will begin to get plumper meats and better flavor.  Unfortunately this winter scallop season is not looking ideal.  The scallops will be at their tastiest, but PRICES may not be what they have been in the past.  I probably don't have to tell you, but everyone's favorite bi-valve comes into season in November - Nantucket Bay Scallops.  For this delicacy, there is no equal.

Shrimp season has started and not a minute too soon.  Delays to the GULF SEASON have caused prices to sky rocket.  Couple that with imported shrimp facing a disease crisis, and you have a very unstable shrimp market.  Luckily there is hope as the season is under way.  Some of the best domestic shrimp is being landed right now and prices usually come back into this stratosphere during the fall months.  Also be on the lookout for fresh NC white shrimp and keep your fingers crossed for the Maine  shrimp season.  Last year was a complete bust, this year will be a wait-and-see.

Fall lobster pots are going into the water shortly and hard shell lobsters should become readily available soon.  Hard shells are known for their superior meat ratio and full, sweet/briny flavor.  These beauties will be available through December, but supply usually tightens shortly after the new year.

There's the fall update, now you are fully equipped to know what's in with FISH and shellfish.  Its up to you to make sure you get out to the market and restaurants to get your fill of brain food.  Keep in mind a lot of this is wild product and as always, its all up to Mother Nature.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fishy Status

The summer hasn't really hit for some of us on the East Coast. Well, not much of one anyway as temperatures have kept relatively cool.  There are those on the West Coast, though, who would argue that this is one of the worst summers on record.  Temperatures on our West Coast have been so hot that many oyster beds have been shut down and as of right now there is very little, if anything, coming out of the west oyster wise.  Either way, August is turning auburn as September is creeping around the corner, which means that once again I will give my seafood forecast for fall.  There's certainly some guesswork that goes into making forecasts, which are always vulnerable to the reality of natural forces, so you can guarantee any of this about as much as you can guarantee to catch a fish on a fishing trip. 

August through November usually sees a plethora of fresh, day-boat North American swordfish.  This year fish showed up early and prices remained comparable to last year.  Big, beautiful fish were once again readily available and I see this as a direct result of some great effort put forth by governing agencies and fishermen alike to keep the species sustainable.  HARPOON swordfish season is open, most are coming out of Canada and we should see these fish for at least a few more weeks.  Harpoon swordfish is of the highest quality, boats usually go out to sea and return the same day.  As far as sustainability goes, swordfish stocks are looking great and the by-catch off of these boats is negligible.  

Fall with its cooler weather also stimulates fish to begin 'fattening' up.  This time of year you see great mackerel, black sea bass, grey mullet, trigger fish, albacore, golden tilefish, fluke, striped bass, and grey tilefish.  Mackerel especially get a great fat content during these months, making their flavor stand out.  As far as eating a fish raw, I can't say that there are many better choices during these months, except for bonito.  The southern states, like VA, NC, and FL will begin producing black bass, fluke, mullet, trigger, and tilefish.  Black Bass usually opens in the south in October and MA fish are available now for a short period of time.  NC Fluke season opens in late September and VA season opens in December.  Winter striped bass is one of the best eating fish around town, and the hook and line fish season will open soon.  Striped Bass is usually available locally throughout the winter, closing month to month as quotas are met.  They are always more plentiful during the early weeks of each month.  Triggers, tilefish, and many snappers are fished every week and should start showing up soon and availability usually lasts through the winter.  These fish don't get the notoriety they deserve, so you should definitely give them a try.  The meat is delicious, the stocks are great and its always good to take some of the fishing pressure off of tuna, salmon, and halibut.

Though tuna is available year round, fatty big eye usually spikes around August and September, when quality fish seems to be landed daily.  Yellowfin will usually get better as colder months like November and December roll through.  We can't neglect mentioning the little fish either:  Fresh sardines and fresh anchovies are at their best during the fall months.  This is the time of the year when these smaller feeder fish are exquisite in flavor and offer a small package packed with intense flavor.  It is also important to mention that they are sustainable and are one of the healthiest seafood options out there.

Sockeye season has definitely not panned out like we thought it would back in June.  Landings are way DOWN from the 5 year average.  King salmon and coho are available though, and prices have been relatively good.  Supplies for wild salmon will dry up by the end of October.  Fresh sable has been M.I.A. for a while due to a high overseas demand.  Japan is notorious for paying much more for the fish than our domestic markets will offer and supply is not keeping up with our fresh demands on the East Coast.  Halibut is a surprise hit this year though, as Canadian fish become sustainable expect great halibut options throughout the winter.  The West Coast season will end in November, but the East Coast fish will be a viable option this year.  Also Icelandic cod will open in September, so expect sustainable cod - a traditional wintertime fish - to be available and great quality. 

Fall is a great time for eating seafood.  The summer runs of wild fish are all but over, but with fall a variety of fish begin fattening up, which for us means getting tastier.  As vacations end, school starts back in session and dreams of a pennant fade, keep heart, its not all bad news.  Cooler weather brings new, exciting wardrobes for the city in the form of fall leaves, and delicious, nutrient and flavor-packed meals to our plates in the form of great seafood.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Scallop Prices On The Rise

I am a self-confessed scallop fanatic.  I love a great scallop.  I have stated in the past that you can judge a fish market by the scallops they sell, and there are a lot of choices out there.  There's the frozen product, the heavy, 4-6 day dipped, the 24 hour dip and the fresh, never dipped, and all are offered in different establishments across the country.  If you shop at our market, Black Salt, you will only find true, 'dry' day-boat scallops that have never seen a saline solution dip (this is the dip I reference above which adds water weight to the scallop).  Whether you are also a like-minded scallop connoisseur or just a plain ole' non-discerning scallop eater, I have some unfortunate news for you; you could be paying more for all types of scallop products for the rest of 2013.

The reason for the price increase this year is because days that the fishermen are allowed to harvest have been cut by 30% and the allowable landing per boat has been cut from 18,000 pounds to 13,000 pounds.  Couple this with last year's days' fishing cut of 20%, and you have fewer and fewer scallops available in the market.  Overseas demand has done nothing but spike.  Countries such as China, Taiwan, Australia, and UAE have increased their demand for our succulent scallop stocks and are also willing to pay higher prices for the best tasting scallops in the world.  This all bodes horribly for the rest of 2013, as demand will only increase and the cuts will not subside.

After talking to many suppliers, the only positive I can offer is that the Maine scallop season opens December 1st and it is projected to be a very successful one.  Maine scallops are decidedly delicious and when eaten only a few days out of the water are one of the better scallop experiences one can look forward to having.  Right now most scallops are being harvested from Canada and Massachusetts, with limited production.

Be careful though, just because prices are higher, it doesn't necessarily mean you are getting a better product.  When supply is tight like right now, many companies have big incentives to dip scallops longer to add more water weight.  This means that customers are paying the extra money for water, not scallop.  Be careful and take into consideration where you buy your fish.  Prices are going to increase, not just on the fresh, dry product, but on the frozen and dipped as well.  If you are going to be paying more money, shouldn't it be for fresh, delicious scallops, not water?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Oysters And Their Importance

I would like to share a LINK written by a good friend, Tim Sughrue, about how oysters can save the Chesapeake Bay.  I know this topic has reached the masses and everyone is aware that oysters are a keystone species for our waters.  This article from the Restaurant Association may help to explain why this is the case, and really, I don't believe these points can be stressed enough.  Hopefully its reach goes beyond the already knowledgeable, concerned citizens, to those still unaware of the situation.  To those not already in the 'know', the importance of supporting our local oystermen to help solve the Bay's problems is an issue that affects everyone in the community, not just oyster eaters.  'It takes a village' is a saying that is quite familiar.  In the case of saving the Bay, I would go as far as to say it takes a few cities and their Capital.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

This Just In, California Tuna Still OK To Eat

Recently a chef asked me what were my concerns with fish, specifically tuna, coming off of the California Coast in regards to contamination due to radiation.  My answer surprised him.  None.  That's right, as of right now I have not read or heard anything that would lead me to think on the contrary.  Evidently this particular chef still had his doubts about how safe fish from our Pacific Coast was and whether or not the after-effects of the Fukushima disaster were causing contamination in fish being harvested in our waters.

I think its a good time to revisit the situation and this somewhat recent ARTICLE should help shed some light and information on the subject.  It is important to remember that initial reports of harmfully high amounts of radiation in fish were taken from sample animals swimming in waters immediately surrounding the defunct plant.  To this day I am not sure that these waters have been deemed safe enough to harvest from, but I do know that migratory and non-migratory species on our own coast and places located as close as South Korea are providing seafood that has been deemed perfectly safe to eat.  It is also important to note that immediately after the incident the U.S. government boosted the security and rigorous testing on imported (especially Japanese) seafood and to my knowledge not one case of radiation poisoning from tainted seafood has occurred in the U.S. since.  As far as U.S. Pacific coast seafood is concerned, I have no concerns but one.  I am not sure we are eating enough, especially when it comes to wild salmon, sable, halibut, and albacore, which are all in season.