Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Going Beyond The Tuna Casserole

My wife grew up eating (and loving) tuna noodle casserole.  It was a staple in her house and to this day she looks upon the dish with a dreamy nostalgia often credited to excellent past dining experiences.  I on the other hand probably ate my weight in tuna salad sandwiches every month from the years of 17 to 23.  I looked at them as the ultimate superfood, protein packed and lean.  Both dishes share one main component: canned albacore tuna.  It's no surprise then that for most of us when we think of albacore tuna we think about canned tuna.  We think of sandwiches, casseroles, spreads, quick meals, utilitarian nutrition and not much else.  Albacore has its place and it's not really considered by many to be worthy of white tablecloth establishments.  I beg to differ.
Not your mom's usual albacore

Going beyond the can, fresh albacore tuna can offer diners a unique and flavorful tuna experience.  Albacore, also known as "the real white tuna", are caught in waters throughout the world and are a highly migratory species.  The best albacore are caught in the waters along our Pacific Coast, the Southern Atlantic Ocean, and Hawaii.  When buying albacore at the local fish market, look for gleaming, moist, pinkish-to-white flesh with no odor.  Avoid fillets with brown discoloring, odor, or dried, hardened flesh around the edges of the fillet.  Albacore flesh, when fresh, offers a citrus-sweetness and a light, subtle creaminess that other tuna species can't match.  Bigger tuna species like big eye and yellowfin can be much more metallic tasting and strong flavored, but albacore does not have these off-putting qualities.  You can purchase sushi quality albacore and prepare it in the same manner as you would other sushi quality tunas.  In fact, I recommend eating albacore raw or slightly seared, leaving the inside rare in order to take advantage of the delicious, delicately rich oils found in the succulent flesh.  It's an easy fish to dry out, so it's in your best interest to buy high quality fish and to use a light touch when preparing.

Albacore dishes have recently been popping up at our Republic, Pearl Dive, Blacks Bar, and BlackSalt locations.  The season picks up in the spring and carries on throughout the fall, usually when the fattiest and most delicious fish are caught.  It's a sustainable species and one that I think is very underutilized, and, frankly, under-appreciated.  When fresh, its flavor rivals any of the more recognized tunas and I believe that it does, in fact, have a place at the table of the finest restaurants.  The next time you are at the market, I highly recommend that you think outside of the can.            

Friday, June 20, 2014

Why I Don't Sell Shark

Sharks get a bad wrap.  Despite living on this earth for millions of years and being one of the most elegant, almost supernatural, creatures in the ocean, they also provide a very important role in the marine food web as apex predators.  Unfortunately for them though, their fins are considered a delicacy in some cultures.  Couple this with the sad fact that many recreational fishermen see it as a right of passage into manhood to snag a shark on their "boys" outing and it's easy to understand why several species of sharks are considered overfished or even worse, endangered.  We need to take action very soon on to protect many species of shark.  Their plight is not unlike the favorable swordfish, whose stocks were at all time lows only twenty years ago.  In the 1990's chefs got behind "Give Swordfish A Break", a movement to halt the overfishing of swordfish in domestic waters, and everyone else followed suit.  Since then, the moratorium has been lifted and domestic swordfish stocks have blossomed.  Today U.S. swordfish is considered a sustainable option at the dinner table.

So why can't we get behind sharks?  It's not like the meat is some irresistible delicacy favored by the masses.  The flesh is sweet, but the flavor is not on par with the likes of other seafood options such as halibut, snapper, or salmon.  Is there some fear imbedded deep into the fabric of our culture, put there thousands of years ago when man first ventured into the water, that sets the tone for our relationship with the graceful killers as a simple equation: it's either us or them?  Must we overcome our fear, overcome sharks really, by slaughtering them by the millions every year?  It's not an exaggeration ; about 11,000 sharks are killed every hour.  I understand there are many other hunted animals out there, such as dolphins and seals, that are PR friendly and easier to support (they definitely make better cuddly toys and logos for tee-shirts), but realistically shark populations are in much more danger.

Sharks are responsible for about 1 human death per year in the U.S.  In that same year:

  • Bees will kill 54 people    
  • Lightning will kill 90 people
  • Cows will kill 22 people
  • Deer will kill 130 people
  • Dogs will kill 31 people
  • Horses will kill 20 people
  • We will kill about 15,500 of each other

Sharks need a break from the dinner table and trophy photo op.  Commercial and recreational fishing needs to get better about leaving them alone and releasing them safely when hooked.  We all need to realize that maybe instead of fearing sharks, we should try respecting them.  They've been around a lot longer than we have.  They serve a purpose in this world and I don't think its in the form of a fillet at the local fish market.  There are arguably more likable, friendlier species to protect, but I don't think there are any that are more important.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Ugly Oysters With Beautiful Flavor

Barren Island Oyster Company, affectionately referred to as BIO by adoring fans, has released a new oyster to accompany its namesake, Barren Island Oysters.  World, meet the Ugly Oyster.  Owner of BIO Tim Devine gets very excited when talking about the Uglies and I think it's because they go against the industry cookie-cutter standard of what an oyster should look like.  This is very much in line with how Tim thinks.  Knowing him personally, I can honestly say there is not a moment of the day when he is not trying something new on the farm in order to produce a better oyster.  Right now he is working with incorporating ultraviolet rays in order to make oysters safer to eat without compromising flavor.  Genius!

Ugly oysters will be harvested from Tim's water leases located around Barren Island which is located in Hoopers Island, MD.  The area is very close to where the Barren Island Oysters are harvested, so the the flavor profiles are very similar.  Ugly oysters are very balanced, with a buttery southern oyster sweetness, light traces of brine, and a tickle of mineral citrus that hints at limestone but goes no further.  The reason they are called Ugly is due to their outward appearance.  In today's oyster race where competitors manicure away trying to cultivate oysters that are identical in size and shape, Uglies take a page out of nature's playbook and offer a smorgasbord of different patterns, more akin to the natural order of things.  Though there is a bit of shaping (the Uglies get tumbled three times in their lifespan) it is minimal when compared to other oysters, including Barren Islands.  When ordering your Uglies you can expect a mishmash pattern on the plate and a delicious performance on your palate.      

Black Restaurant Group (BRG) appreciates honest hard work and people dedicated to their craft.  So we are excited to say that we are now offering Ugly Oysters as our official Happy Hour oyster selection at our BlackSalt, Blacks Bar, Pearl Dive and Republic locations.  Happy Hour constitutes those few hours of the day when the headaches of long workdays dissolve in the gluttonous consumption of icy cold oysters and mistakes are washed away with delicious beverages, all at friendly prices.  It's that time period that can really salvage a day or get a night started.  So drop by any BRG establishment during Happy Hour and you will be sure to be greeted by a gracious smile, a cold beverage, and a heavenly, unique Ugly Oyster.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mercury Warnings Get Makeover

Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the FDA, recently told the Associated Press that the government is planning an update to its guidelines about seafood consumption by pregnant women considering seafood mercury levels.  The subject of mercury levels in seafood still remains a hotly debated topic for both expecting mothers as well as the general public.  However, much of the data we reference today come from studies that occurred over 50 years ago in specific areas.

There is still much ignorance on the science behind the dangers of trace levels of mercury in seafood proteins, especially considering that there are often also traces of selenium in the same proteins.  Selenium has been proven to bind to mercury molecules, which enables the body to expel the harmful pollutants.  There is much hope within the seafood industry that the FDA's new advisory will bring updated, more science-based assessments of seafood to light, including the benefits of selenium, omega-3s, and vitamins found in seafood as well as the harmful effects that seafood deficiencies can have on developing children and adults alike.  

If you would like to read further on the matter you can click here.  I hope the forthcoming FDA announcement provides a more balanced view of seafood consumption and sheds light on a misunderstood and often over-dramatized issue.