Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Bay's Blues Continue

The Chesapeake needs your help.  Whether you pledge your allegiance to the Virginia or Maryland side doesn't matter.  There is a common enemy to both states that is decimating the natural inhabitants of both state's waterways and it's only going to get worse.  Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the wild blue catfish.

The blue catfish was introduced to the James, Rappahannock and York rivers in Virginia during the 1970's as a recreational fishing option and has since expanded into the Potomac River.  Populations of these catfish have not only flourished but, just recently, exploded.  These bottom dwellers are responsible for eating juvenile and adult rockfish, blue crabs, menhaden, shad, herring, white and yellow perch, and many more important species.  During the spring spawning season, a blue cat's diet consists mainly of fish eggs, so for two months out of the year the blue cat decimates other species by gobbling them up before they even have a chance to hatch.  Right now fishermen searching for rockfish are pulling up nothing but catfish.  In the James River alone, blue cats account for 80% of the biomass, a good indicator that they have devoured everything else in the river.  Wild blue catfish are now found in every tributary in the Chesapeake Bay, leading some scientist to assert that the blue cat invasion could be the greatest threat the Bay has ever faced.

There is a way you can help to change this and, luckily for us, the catfish is it's own enemy.  The next time you are in the mood for seafood, give catfish a try.  Blue catfish are actually quite delicious and, due to their abundance, they are extremely affordable.  Blue catfish is often sold in fillet form, skin and bones removed, and the white flesh is great for sautéing and baking.  A little oil in the pan, salt and pepper on the fish, 3-5 minutes a side on medium high heat and 10 minutes later you have a healthy meal.  Even more satisfying than it's mild, briny flavor is the fact that you have helped save the bay while dining on this savory, troublesome critter.  I usually put brown sugar and cayenne on my catfish or I enjoy it fried po' boy style.  Either way, every time it meets a plate we are one step closer to improving conditions in the Bay with as little effort as picking up a fork.  Eat local, eat sustainable, eat the blue catfish.

Here's a recipe courtesy of BlackSalt chefs:

Cornmeal Crusted Pan Fried Maryland Catfish w/Smoked Veal Sausage and Seafood Gumbo – serves 4-6 ppl

Roux –The single most important step in this process. ALL the flavor is born here.
1lb AP Flour
1lb Bacon Fat, Beef Fat or Clarified Butter

In a heavy bottomed pot at least 8qts in size add fat, then flour and begin to toast flour. Once it smells like biscuit dough transfer the pot to a 350 degree oven for an hour or so. Stirring the roux every 20 minutes until a deep rust or brick color is achieved; it will smell similar to burnt popcorn.  I baby my roux often because the closer you get to over-cooked the deeper the flavor you develop.

Salt + Pepper season and taste as you go
1 T Tomato Paste
1lb Smoked Veal Sausage Small Diced (We make our own but any smoked veal or beef sausage will do)
6 Jalapenos seeded and small diced
4 Anaheim Chiles seeded and small diced
3 Spanish Onions seeded and small diced
1 Head of Celery small diced (Reserve leafs and mince)
12 cloves of Garlic fine minced
1 T Dry Mustard
1 T Cayenne
1 T Red Chili Flake
4 Fresh Bay Leaf, 1 Bunch Thyme tied together with butchers twine
1 Bottle Green Hot Sauce of your choice
2 Bottles of Light Bodied Beer (Your favorite porch drinkin beer)
3 T Gumbo File
4 Qts Beef Stock
1lb Crab Meat
1lb Crawfish Tail Meat
Fresh Lemon Juice
1 Bunch Scallion Sliced

Once the roux is finished you need to start assembly right away. Add the tomato paste to the roux and brown lightly. Add sausage, vegetables, dry spices (but not the file yet), bay leaf and thyme and sweat in the roux over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes until the vegetables soften slightly. Begin to whisk in one bottle of the beer and add the green hot sauce. The mixture will thicken rapidly at this point you can begin adding the beef stock in 1 quart increments. Stir the mixture constantly until it comes to a boil then turn down to a very low simmer. Continue simmering slowly for 1 hour skimming the mixture of any scum that forms. Add crab meat and crawfish and heat through. Lemon juice and more hot sauce to taste.

Wild Maryland Blue Catifish

2 lb Wild Blue Catfish cut into 5-ounce portions
1 Cup Buttermilk
2 Cups Fine Ground Yellow Corn Meal
1 Pinch Cayenne
1 Pinch Ground White Pepper
Fine Sea Salt for Seasoning
Canola Oil for Frying

Pre-Heat your cast iron skillet over medium heat with a ½ inch oil. Season cornmeal with cayenne and white pepper.  Pat catfish dry season on all sides with salt and lightly coat in buttermilk, then cover with the cornmeal mixture shaking off excess. When the oil reaches 350 degrees gently lay the catfish in the pan frying on each side for 2 ½ to 3 minutes. Drain on a cooling rack.

Serve gumbo and catfish with plain or dirty white rice, sliced scallions, celery leafs, remoulade, lemon slices and of course plenty of hot sauce and beer.


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Boston Seafood Show

Members of the BRG team visited the Boston Seafood Show this past weekend courtesy of the great team at Congressional Seafood.  The expanse and variety of products was breathtaking.  Traversing the isles and isles of seafood booths proved a daunting task.  So was finding non-frozen product.

One of Samuels and Son's Display
Importers from around the world were showing their wares, some interesting, some bizarre, but taken as a whole it was eye-opening to understand the great machination that is the seafood business.   Most booths were offering glimpses of frozen-at-sea product of the highest quality.  Products caught by huge vessels and processed by big companies gave one the feeling of smallness, as a pebble cast out into the vast ocean.  BRG deals mostly in fresh, domestic product, and it is even more evident now than before that sadly, these items are but a tiny portion of the global seafood economy.

There were some great highlights of the show, such as the spectacular Samuels and Son seafood display.  Samuels is based out of Philadelphia and was there promoting fresh products with descriptions of where and how their products are sourced.  The terrific team from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources was also present to promote MD seafood, and there were also representatives from Carl's Choice Scallops, Sewansecott Oysters, Barren Island Oysters, Australis Aquaculture, Little River Crab Company, Shooting Point Oysters, Cherrystone Aqua farms, Town Dock Seafood, Chincoteague Aqua Farm, and American Mussel Harvesters, amongst other domestic purveyors.

Another highlight of the trip came in the form of an invitation from Boston Swordfish and Tuna to check out their facilities located on the waterfront.  It was inspiring to see domestically caught tuna and swordfish splayed out for grading.  The fish were of high quality, but the group at Boston Sword still makes sure that this fact is verified with each load.  We also got a glimpse of the largest lobster tank in Boston, and possibly the east coast.  It reminded me of an Olympic sized pool, but with lobsters instead of people doing the laps.  The scallop room was also a treat, or should I say "untreat(ed)" due to the fact that Boston Sword specializes in truly dry scallops caught domestically and sorted by size every day.  As much seafood as they process, the facility was exceptionally clean and smelled like the ocean - a very important fact when considering a seafood purveyor.

We are grateful to Congressional Seafood for inviting us to the Boston Seafood Show.  It was a chance to meet some great purveyors and get a glimpse of the grand scale on which the industry operates.  It's easy to fathom how big business can outgrow the ocean.  There's a lot of product out there and, like I said, at BRG we are just a small pebble.  Hopefully, though, just as a small pebble can make millions of ripples when cast into the water, we hope our model of supporting domestic, fresh, and sustainable seafood resonates in a swelling market.    

Grading Floor at Boston Sword
Opah Looking for a home
Lobster Tank
More Lobster!

Dry Scallops

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fisheries Report Continued Progress

The 2013 Report on the Status of U.S. Fisheries conducted by NOAA Fisheries presents a bright future for wild U.S. fisheries management.  The report highlights the continued progress of ending overfishing and rebuilding the nations oceanic resources.  In 2013, seven fish stocks were removed from the overfishing list and two stocks were rebuilt, bringing the new total of rebuilt stocks to 34 since 2000 and still growing.

These are no small feats.  It wasn't so long ago that U.S. fish stocks were in peril, many to the point of what was thought of as "no return."  Overfishing was occurring at a staggering pace, emptying our natural resources from our surrounding bodies of water and additionally devastating many regional and local communities.  Luckily tides have since turned and through science-based management we have a good shot at reversing the once drastic state of our fisheries.  It's a simple formula: sustainably manage our fish stocks or lose everything.

Sustainable management includes ending overfishing by setting quotas and fishing guidelines, managing current fisheries, and tracking new fisheries.  It's a group effort that includes several cooperating bodies: NOAA Fisheries, Regional Fishery Management Councils, commercial and recreational fishermen, and, importantly, you the consumer.  With a concerted effort, U.S. fisheries management can be a beacon for the world, an example of how resources can be properly managed, protected, and enjoyed in a sustainable way.  The 2014 full report has not yet been posted, but you can look at the map provided here to see the progress of rebuilt stocks during 2014.  It's an exciting time to support domestic seafood.  Reports on the healthy qualities of getting more seafood in your diet abound.  Recent guidelines from the FDA have been updated to encourage more seafood consumption.  Nowhere in the world is more effort being exerted into making the country's seafood not only a healthy option for its diners, but a sustainable one as well.   

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Kings Of Spring

It's subtle, but if you really put your ear to the ground, you may actually be able to hear the soft tip-toeing steps of spring quietly making its way back into our lives.  Ice is beginning to crack under the pressure of a growing warmth and trees are slowly regaining their upright posture.  Heck, even P.E.I. mussels may make an appearance as early as this weekend after spending the last two weeks buried under the freezing avalanche that was February.

The anticipation of sunnier days is so exciting that when I was told that there were a few early spring troll-caught Wild King Salmon available to the highest bidder, well I just couldn't help myself, I had to have them.  When I was told that they were Ivory Kings, I was even more excited.  So, in an effort to assist the ushering in of warmer weather and good vibes, and to get my hands on the earliest batch of Ivory King salmon I have ever seen, I am elated to announce that BlackSalt will be seeing our earliest ever batch of Wild Alaskan Ivory King Salmon.
SPC members the Eliasons represent 4 generations of fishing

Most will have to wait for May to get their hands on Wild King Salmon, which is traditionally when the season gets going, but even then ivory salmon will be hard to find and even harder to acquire.  This early in the season the king salmon are at the pinnacle of their flavor profile.  The salmon are meaty from heavy winter feeding and are far from entering the fresh river waterways in which they will later spawn.  This means their proteins are completely intact and their fat content is at its peak.  Later on in the coming months spawning runs will gradually wear the salmon down physically, muting their flavors and decimating their fat content.  In a sense, these few early fish could be some of the best tasting fish we see all season.

In addition to great flavor, these fish - or should I say fishermen - have great stories.  We have the Seafood Producers Cooperative (SPC) to thank for these beautiful, sustainable early king salmon.  The SPC consists of a group of fishermen who work the water one fish at a time using the hook and line method.  This method produces fish that are of the highest quality, mostly due to the extreme care that goes into the harvesting and handling of the fish.  The cooperative is comprised of 550 members, each individually representing a small boat and small operation, but with an aggregate goal of producing the finest product possible.  Supporting these types of fisheries is important because the money goes back to the actual fishermen, instead of supporting the deep pockets of industrial processors.  It's a win for the guest dining on superior seafood and for the communities that produced the fish.          
One fish at a time!

Winter, especially these last few weeks, has sunk its teeth deep into the earth and is reluctant to let go.  I am ready for the melt to begin, but I am not convinced it's time just yet to bury our heavy coats into the back of our closets.  It might be too early to say that spring is here, but it's never too early to eat great fish.  If you want to wait for the rest of the salmon, they will be here in a few months.  I, for one, am ready for better weather and better meals.