Friday, May 22, 2015

Mahi Are Back

The Mahi Mahi are coming, so get ready.  It’s that time of year again when these beautiful, brightly colored, migratory fish make their long journey from the already hot waters of South America to the cooler, more comfortable climes off the coast of our southern and mid-Atlantic states.  The fishermen are gearing up and for a few weeks we will see some of the freshest, tastiest Mahi Mahi available. 

I understand it’s easy to get lost in the shadows of popular, seasonal powerhouses such as wild salmon and halibut, but this East Coast specialty should not be overlooked, especially considering the savings it gives at the register.  Right now the bite is on, specifically off the coast of North Carolina in areas such as Cape Hatteras and Oregon Inlet.  Fishermen there are landing Mahi caught with rod and reel, day-boat operations, ensuring that fish make it to market not only fresh, but also well handled.  We all benefit from fishing operations such as these.  The fish come to market just hours out of the water and are sustainably managed to boot.

Mahi means “strong” in Hawaiian, which is very appropriate since they are incredible swimmers with the ability to make trips that are thousands of miles long.  Each summer for a short window they migrate to our East Coast waters to spawn.  Mahi are a very fecund species, reaching sexual maturity after only a few months and then spawn several times every few weeks after that.  This enables the species to thrive even under intense fishing pressure. 

Mahi meat is firm with large flakes, having a texture similar to that of chicken thighs.  Bite in and you’ll experience a succulent mouth feel, moist, with citrus notes like that of clementine, but starchy.  With the fish coming in this fresh, you can use the fillets for ceviche or crudo.  The meatiness of the fillets make Mahi perfect for these applications.  It also performs great on the grill and can hold up to savory or sweet marinades.

Don’t wait too long to get your Mahi on, though, as the season usually ends abruptly, most often so quickly that it feels like the fish headed for deeper water overnight.  Expect the fish to be around for a couple more weeks, but after that it’s over until the fall.  One more thing: Mahi have also gone by the name “dolphin fish.”  Have no worry though, you can eat in good conscience: they’re all fish and not a bit dolphin.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Maryland: Crab Cakes And Football...And Scallops?

If you are from the MD area, the name Ocean City conjures up images of sandy beaches, cold beverages, and probably some hazy memories of youthful stupor.  It most likely doesn't at all say fresh, gourmet scallops, but since you are probably past the age of overindulging in the nectar of the gods, it might be time you looked to the local summer stomping ground as the source of your next great meal.  For a short time during the next month, some of the freshest, finest quality scallops will be coming out of Ocean City Maryland.

Okay, so the scallops are not harvested from beaches of bathing beauties with rigs working between boogie boarders and popsicle vendors, but they are harvested pretty close.  These local bivalves are actually wild harvested in an area called "Elephant's Trunk" which is located 45 miles due east of Ocean City.  Catching them is up to Captain Derrick of the 45 foot fishing vessel "Second To None".  To accomplish this he drags a 12 foot turtle dredge on the sea floor in water that is about 200 to 300 feet deep.  He does this for about 30 minutes, then dumps his load on board and shucks and ices the product right away.  Each scallop is plump and meaty and there are about 13 shucked scallops in a pound.  He may do another one or two 30 minute run before he is done for the day.  The scallops are unloaded in West Ocean City, MD and make it to the market less than 24 hours out of the water.  If you are still doing the math, that's fresh, dry scallops on your plate in less than 36 hours.  I am not sure you could catch them yourself and have them ready for dinner in that amount of time.

These scallops will be one of the freshest local ingredients you will get your hands on this summer.  They are unadulterated, completely dry, completely fresh and are some of the sweetest meats you will ever taste out of the ocean.  As with all good things, though, these scallops will be limited.  The season is set by quota and each vessel can only harvest 600 lbs a trip.  Most likely the total quota will be met by the end of this month or early June.  If you are at a restaurant and they are offered on the menu, order them.  You might be surprised by what's been hiding in plain sight.  You think you know a place like Ocean City, and then you find out that, behind all the heart stopping fried baskets and soggy hotdogs, a very delicious resource has gone ignored.  Well, at least, unheralded.  Maryland does crab like no one else, and if you didn't know now you do, scallops too.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Lobster Prices

I want to remind everyone to call their mother this Sunday, as if you didn't remember, it's Mother's Day once again.  Mother's Day in the seafood industry means a lot of lobster sales.  For some reason moms love the delicious crustacean.  Maybe it's the sweet, buttery meat.  Maybe it's because lobster has become so popular that pricing has made this hot item a special occasion food.  Either way, I want to warn you before you even get to the market for fresh lobster: cold water, hard shell lobsters will not be cheap this weekend.

Here's why.

The Canadian lobster season, which was supposed to open April 30th, has been delayed due to ice and severely cold water.  That's right, that winter that just wouldn't go away still haunts us, all the way into May.  It was so brutal up north that the water temperatures have yet to recover, stunting lobster landings.  This means that the initial start of what many call "lobster season" during the spring and summer months will be slow to start.  Expect prices to reflect this dearth in the marketplace, with live lobsters and freshly cooked lobster meat prices up nearly 30% over last year's numbers.

This is unfortunate news, especially for this special weekend.  Supply just won't meet demand.  Moms are special people, the best in the world, and while lobster season is slow to start, Mother Nature has provided some other delicious spring goodies such as king salmon, black cod, halibut, domestic blue crab, and fresh Carolina shrimp.  Did I mention nothing says "I love you mom" like a delicious Maryland Blue Crab Cake?