Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fresh Sable, Farmed

Sablefish, also sold as Black Cod, is revered for its silky, exquisite taste and buttery texture.  Most of the wild harvest is sold to the Asian market for premium prices.  The Alaskan wild sable season makes up the bulk of the fish harvested and usually runs from March to November, but even during these months product is hard to find stateside.  Most sablefish is frozen immediately, and some even gets re-sold to U.S. companies from Asian markets.  This is a premium seafood item, harvested sustainably, and demand currently overwhelms supply.

That could all change very soon, however.  Companies in British Columbia have been experimenting with aqua-raisng sablefish for many years now, and as their technology improves, so does the quality and volume of their production.  Growing sablefish is quickly becoming a sustainable model, especially with the efforts in place from companies like Totem Sea Farm .  Totem is a small, family-run sea farm that produces organically-fed sablefish.  The fish are raised in pristine waters, stocked at very low densities, and their feed is certified organic.  Fish trimmings from herring factories are used to provide the bulk of protein in the feed and no antibiotics, coloring, or hormones are incorporated.  The fish are harvested to order, meaning they are delivered extremely fresh, and there have been no incidences of disease in the breeding stock.  Unlike wild fish that can carry parasites, farm raised sable are parasite free, making them suitable for the sashimi market.  Some parasites found in wild sable can cause the fish to liquefy while cooking. Though there is no danger to humans if consumed, when this happens it can still ruin the texture of the fish, making it inedible.  You can avoid this by eating Totem's raised sablefish.  The flavor and texture of farmed sablefish is very similar to its wild counterpart, and I would prefer fresh Totem sablefish to previously frozen wild.

That being said, I am all for fresh, wild sablefish.  It is sustainable and quite frankly one of the best tasting and easiest to cook fish varieties out there.  Sable can make even the novice cook look like a chef: it's just that good.  That's why there's not enough of it to go around.  That's why you have to pay a premium to get it, even when it's previously frozen.  Fish farming is a good thing when it's done right.  Farming can help take pressure off of wild stocks and lower the price of the plate, making healthy proteins available to a wider demographic of people.  Totem Sea Farm produces great tasting fish in a sustainable manner.  This summer I will definitely be supporting wild fisheries and buying fresh wild sable when offered, but I will also be purchasing fresh, farmed sable.  The goal is always to offer the freshest, tastiest, and most sustainable seafood possible at the best price possible and companies like Totem Sea Farm are only helping us reach that goal.
Black Cod seared over trumpet mushrooms,
braised cabbage, and a tomato, herb butter sauce.

Totem Sablefish will be available at BlackSalt Fish Market all through the spring and summer months.  Wild Alaskan sablefish season opens the second week of March and BlackSalt will be carrying this product throughout the summer months, availability pending.  The season closes the second week of November.      

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