ABOUT SEAFOOD

TO USE THE OCEANS WISELY
The title here is the motto of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute down in Massachusetts. I worked there years ago at the start of my career afloat and I was always impressed at the message those words put across, using the ocean resources wisely through science and understanding. My days at sea came to an end several years ago with my retirement from the fishing industry which meant suddenly I had lots of free time on my hands. What I mean to say is I got really bored so when a friend called me recently and asked me to help out at a newly opened seafood store down in Seabrook, New Hampshire I jumped at the chance to do something constructive in my suddenly “golden years.” Things have gone well there, many happy people going home with fresh locally caught lobsters and fish, but it also has been a learning curve about how uninformed, misinformed even the seacoast public can be about the very product swimming in the ocean not far from their homes. Not everyone is a fisherman, nor should they have to be to have a good knowledge of what fish or clam to serve on the dinner table. The innocence, misinformation, and lack of information about seafood in my opinion come from poor marketing, media, and perhaps a touch of bad government on the fisheries behalf. There has been recently a trend to steer the public towards foreign produced products such as tilapia and Asian shrimp which make no sense to me as there is ample home grown to supply us nicely. The trend also hurts our economy by weakening the income American fishermen and women depend on. That said I thought I might write a little about some of the lesser known and underutilized species that are on the market from the New England commercial and recreational fisheries.
Having run charters/party boats for years I got a firsthand look on how much bad, or lack of information the public has on what they could expect to catch on an average fishing trip out to the Gulf Of Maine. Initially it was one way or the other. The average customer from Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, even New Hampshire either had the mindset that there were no fish left in the ocean or that it was full of giant ones and all you had to do was drive the boat out a ways and plunk down the anchor. Part of the satisfaction was for me to educate people on the fishery so that they could plan their trips better in the future to be more productive to them. Fish, all species that live in the ocean, are seasonal in a way that keeps them moving around a lot. This is due to a wide number of reasons that include water temperature, food sources, spawning, and currents just to mention a few. Marine biologists can tell you many reasons more from the scientific point of view, but the truth is that even from the lifetime of observation from both the fisherman and scientist neither know completely what fish do and why. Another really, really big and little known fact is that there are rises and declines in all marine life populations that fluctuate over time that can last years. It’s the same as some years for deer hunters have great seasons due to a good herd that have benefitted from open winters and abundant food sources, or just the other way around, severe weather and no food can lead to many of the does aborting their fawns due to poor conditions. This is one of the best guesses the folk that earn their living from the ocean have about fish stocks. Unfortunately many misinformed people will see a bad year and run around like Chicken Little crying the sky is falling and start imposing tighter restrictions on an already weakened industry and trying to shove a foreign product down the public’s throat. One way to help both the populations of seafood and the economy has been and should continue to be is to utilize lesser known and often better species. Here are some that have always been around but few have tried due to lack of knowledge or just because of myths like haddock is the best tasting fish in the ocean.
1. About the old feud of cod verses haddock. While it’s like Chevy verses Ford, many will swear the only fish they will eat is haddock. In truth they would be pretty hard pressed to tell the difference from cod providing both were skinless, fresh, and cooked in the same manner. Why do you think markets and processers leave the skin on haddock? It’s for identification purposes so the consumer knows they are getting that species and not something that in reality is similar in both taste and quality. Oh no, cod have worms! Here’s a reality check, all fish that swim in the ocean have parasites. Trust me I’ve cut fish long enough to know. The worms wouldn’t hurt you if you were to accidently eat one, just more protein as we like to say, but we cutters work hard to remove them before putting the product out to market. Did you know that in this country and around the world before the invention of refrigeration most of the haddock caught were discarded by commercial fishermen because cod were better to salt and dry and haddock weren’t? Lobsters also had a bad rap back when the first colonies were springing up along the coast of what would become New England. The puritans must have thought such an ugly looking “bug” that scavenged on the bottom a lesser food source and fed them to the prisoners and later in time the slaves thinking them not fit to eat. The coastal Native Americans must have gotten a good laugh from the new comers ignorance.
2. Pollock has come a long ways recently in desirability. Although it is a semi-dark flesh fish, it has a wonderful flavor, holds together well in chowders and soups and is a little more moist. These qualities along with the lower price tag have become popular with consumers looking for an inexpensive fish dinner.
3. Hake. What the heck is hake?? Well, just for “the hake of it”, hake is a little known variety of white fleshed fish that many chefs are suddenly realizing can bring new dimensions to the menu both in taste and economics. In the contest of best kept secrets hake comes in first hands down. There are several different kinds of hake to choose from, brown, blue and silver, all are a delicate flavorful white flesh fish, the names come from the outside skin coloration. In the old days of salt cod hake was considered a trash fish and mostly discarded or used for fertilizer because it needs to be chilled upon catching to keep it from getting soft and mushy. Bleeding and chilling is a must for all species, but the hake family needs it especially to retain its firmness. Many years ago a popular dish in New England was a “Yankee Boiled Fish Dinner”. Mostly served in coastal settlements, smart fishermen would retain a large blue hake,(blue hake can get up to 30-50 pounds) salt it in a brine for a day to firm it up real good, then boil it with vegetables and cabbage and serve it with fresh bread and fried pork scraps. I’ve made this several times and it truly is wicked good.
4. Redfish or rosefish. Marketed as “ocean perch” this guy gets his name from its brilliant red skin. At one time it was a mainstay in the Gloucester fishing fleet, draggers bringing in hundreds of pounds a day, however due to a very slow growth rate redfish were nearly wiped out from overfishing. Sadly its popularity also declined with less availability and slipped into obscurity until recently revigorated stocks made it marketable. It truly is a sweet perch flesh fish cooked in many different ways.
5. Squid. Ugly, weird, and squirmy, also known as calamari, is as delicious as any other fine fillet to come to the table. I in fact prefer a fried squid dinner over clams. The skinned body as well as the de-beaked head and tentacles can be prepared in a wide numbers of ways to enhance your dinning pleasure.
6. Monkfish. So named by marketers to give the flesh more desirability because it’s real name is goosefish or anglerfish and they figured if anybody ever looked it up in book they would never buy it much less eat it because to be honest anglerfish are downright UGLY. That being said the flavor and firmness of its flesh can attest to the old saying beauty is only skin deep. Chefs in upscale restaurants around the world have prized the ugly bugger for many years due to its popularity among diners.

These little known fish are just a few that are readily available at local most markets and fish monger stores. If you love seafood it would behoove you to search out the underutilized ones to delight your taste buds, lessen the burden on your wallet, and help the local fishermen and women. Let the foreign countries take care of themselves, buy American.

Just a quick note to sign off with and to perhaps enlighten folk on one way to use the ocean wisely, make use of the entire fish, not just the fillet. Most will fillet a cod and discard the rack, the head and skeleton, after the sides come off. OUCH! You’re tossing out some good stuff there and wasting part of the fish. Cod, as well as other species, have fat sweet cheek meat and the head steaks as well. Down on the collar flaps inside the pectoral fins is good chowder or frying tidbits too, don’t overlook these best tasting parts of the fish. Now toss the rack away? Nope, retain the head (minus the gills) and bones to make your fish stock for soup and chowder. The head and left over flesh will bring you strong aromatic flavor, and the bones will render up its gelatin to thicken and smooth out your soup.
Tight lines,
Capt. Don

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