Friday, March 25, 2016

Your Holiday Tradition

Easter is a holiday with deep religious roots. It's a holiday with many important familial traditions, bringing families together in the name of hope, love, and gratitude.  In many families, all of these aspects are celebrated in the same way, over a joyous table of good food.  That's why one of the most popular family traditions is the Easter brunch.  For those of you celebrating this year's holiday with seafood, here are some items you should seek out at the market and restaurant.

Soft shell crabs are beginning to pop up now, coming straight out of Florida.  I understand that some Marylanders will balk at the idea of eating softies from anywhere but their home state, yet I also realize that others crave these harbingers of spring so eagerly that they can't wait until the local stuff gets here in May, and they need their fix today!

West coast halibut and sable seasons just started and we should be seeing fish in by the weekend holiday.  King salmon season really doesn't get revved up until May, but we do have beautiful, sustainable, New Zealand farm raised Ora King salmon in house.  These fish are sushi grade flavor pleasures and can be utilized in numerous dishes.

Crab season is underway domestically and, although it's early, we will have beautiful lumps of domestic crab for all your benedicts.  Crabmeat is a terrific accompaniment to any brunch special and dining on crab this time of year really gets you excited for the pleasant weather and spring to come.

Gulf and fresh shrimp will also be on the menu this weekend.  Look for shrimp po'boys and shrimp and grits as go-tos for all members of the family.  Don't get too caught up in the size of your shrimp because, if you see rock shrimp on the menu, it's a must have.  Rock shrimp are tiny, bitesize shrimp that are as sweet as lobster and give the mouth a pleasurable snap when bitten into.

Yellowtail and red snappers are sweet tasting whitefish with crispy skin and should be considered on any Easter menu.  The small yellowtails are especially delicious.  Striped bass, also known as rockfish, will be all around this weekend.  Prices will be at a low, so I advise picking up some local bass.  I expect these prices to climb dramatically over the next coming weeks, with fish disappearing at the end of April due to seasonal closures.

Other delicacies include Mahi Mahi from South America, Rhode Island fluke and black bass, and Massachusetts golden tilefish.  For those with adventurous hearts, I recommend trying invasive species such as snakehead and blue catfish, or even some spring run bluefish and mackerel.  Whatever your holiday tradition may be, however your family normally celebrates, I am certain food will be involved in some capacity.  I recommend choosing food that's not only good for you and your family, but also good for the environment.  Eating better food is a promise for better days to come, it's a way of spreading the hope of a healthier world.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Serving The Snakehead

It has the face of a fearsome python, but with bigger, sharper teeth.  It swims and is considered a fish, but it can also breathe out of water.  It feeds on frogs, fish, reptiles, crustaceans, and sometimes even small mammals and birds.  Meet the snakehead, coming soon to a fish market near you.

Snakeheads have made headlines over the last year as an invasive species bearing down on our local rivers with nightmarish results.  They have no natural predators and outcompete many native species for prey.  There was recently a rallying call from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Chesapeake Bay Program to "eat more snakehead", their flesh being a delectable mix of firm white meat and fatty, rich flavor.  There was an issue, though: Catching the snakehead proved to be an exhaustive and problematic enterprise.  Most went after the fish with bow and arrow or hook and line, meaning that harvesting the fish commercially was a slow, expensive process.  In turn, the market prices for snakehead were often too high for anyone to take a chance on a non-recognizable species.

That is, until now.  Fishermen targeting another invasive species, the wild blue catfish, have been hauling in snakehead with their catch.  Think of it as two very bad birds with one stone, or in this case I should say hoop net.  Hoop nets are stationary nets set to the bottom of a body of water with bait at the tail end of the net.  The fish swim in but don't swim out.  It's an ancient, but efficient, way to catch fish, especially in Maryland.

With the impending influx of snakehead into the market, prices have decreased by over 50%, making this juicy fiend affordable at the restaurant and dinner table.  Their firm meat can be grilled, sautéed, fried, or baked and it has a tendency not to dry out.  You most likely will want to take the skin off and I recommend a curry, creole or spicy flair to your seasoning.

The name and face of these creatures can be unappealing, but I foresee that once the juicy white meat is presented in fillet form, many will have no reservations considering the toothsome snakehead for dinner.  The world of seafood isn't known for its beauty contests.  That's a main reason why you may be hard pressed to see whole fish displays adorning your local market.  However, many of the most delicious bites come from the ugliest sources.  If you are in the market for some healthy, sustainable, delicious seafood, help out your local waters and give snakehead a try.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Marching In

The river is green in Chicago.  Soon, you'll be able to find loose beads from broken, cheaply made necklaces and empty, oversized decorative beer mugs scattered in the gutters of Boston thoroughfares.  We have already lost an hour, but the days are getting longer.  It must be March.  As our social schedules fill faster than the sun becomes brighter, it's a good time to take a look at what's happening in the seafood biz in the next few weeks.

Wild salmon are already appearing sporadically in the market as folks are getting geared up for the oncoming season, which usually gets going in April and then revs up in May.  What's more exciting is that these early fish aren't as cost prohibitive as they have been in the past, so that could be a sign of good things to come.  That's great news considering that the farmed salmon market is about to take a turn for the worse.  Chile, which is the second largest producer of farmed salmon in the world, took a big hit this year when they lost over 24 million fish due to a toxic algal bloom killing over a quarter of their fish.  This hole in the supply chain will cause farmed salmon prices to continue to rise for the rest of the year, especially spiking in the next few weeks as doom and gloom speculation takes hold and Lent draws to an end.

Maryland crab season opens in just a couple of weeks and I think we could be seeing soft-shell crabs from the southern states even sooner.  The Gulf season is underway and domestic meat is beginning to trickle in.  Expect soft-shell crabs to really get going in May and domestic crab meat to be readily available even sooner.

Both halibut and sable (black cod) seasons open this week on the west coast.  Fish should be hitting eastern markets by the weekend.  Get your forks ready, but don't jump on the first fish you see.  Pricing usually starts out strong but relaxes after the first week or so.  Remember, the seasons are open until November, so you have plenty of time.

Our local striped bass season is open, but will be closing soon.  This is a fish you should be gobbling up pronto.  By the end of April you will have a really hard time finding our beloved wild rockfish in any shape or form until the summer months.  You have been warned.

Domestic mahi season opens in May but, in the meantime, there is some really nice fish coming from Central and South America.  Prices will fluctuate until April/May, but this fish should remain affordable for the next couple of months.

Shad roe runs continue to make their way north, going from state to state.  This season has a few more weeks and recently the sets have been coming out of Georgia and South Carolina.  North Carolina product will be here before you know it.

Be on the lookout for some great warm weather selections such as Spanish mackerel, amberjack, fluke, tilefish, snapper, black bass, albacore, wahoo, john dory, bluefish and triggerfish.  These fish should be hitting the ice as waters warm up and the boats drop lines.  Their availability can be sporadic at times, but each offers an excellent opportunity to enjoy a unique experience.  Eat domestically all summer long and get the most out of what our robust waters have to offer.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Fish With Our Chips

BlackSalt restaurant recently switched out the tilapia in our fish n'chips for a fish that swims wild and closer to our home, the Atlantic Pollack.  Our chefs wanted to utilize an underappreciated wild fish that was closer in flavor to the traditionally used cod.  Domestic cod stocks are a far cry from what they once were, so we decided to go with cod's unheralded cousin, the Atlantic Pollack, and it's turned out to be a delicious decision.

Atlantic Pollack were once overexploited, the stocks crashing in 1994, but today they are thriving due to proper management and the fact that, since being rebuilt, their stocks have mostly been ignored.  Curiously the Pollack fishery isn't getting the attention that the flounder, cod, and haddock fisheries are receiving, and it's apparent that today domestic Atlantic Pollack is considered a sustainable, yet underutilized, species.

Pollack are mild but sweet in flavor, and are great sources of protein, vitamin B12, and selenium, all while being low in saturated fat.  Dining on Atlantic Pollack relieves fishing pressure on other taxed species and helps keep our North East fishermen in business.  The next time you visit us at BlackSalt for a quick bite I recommend you try our fish n'chips or fish tacos to get a taste of how delicious the unsung Pollack can be.  It's the perfect way to enjoy a great tasting fish, while being able to walk away knowing what you ate and feeling great about it.