Among the happy memories from our holiday weekend were pounds and pounds of fluke. The fifth weekly installment from our local community supported fishery, Dock to Dish, included fillets of this lovely, local flatfish that we turned into ceviche, a stir-fry with scapes and a meal of hefty, beer-batter fried chunks.
While fluke isn’t as standard a part of Independence Day celebrating as fireworks and grilling, we echo the sentiment of Paul Greenberg in his new book American Catch that eating local fish is among the most patriotic culinary calls we can make.
At a time when 91 percent of our seafood is imported (and we ship some of our best catch overseas), there’s plenty of low-hanging fruit in the sea. Earlier this year, at the New York Restaurant Association’s expo, a panel on local seafood noted that it’s an exciting time to be in the seafood business in New York. More and more people are making seafood a regular part of their diets (it’s a brain food, a heart food, a longevity food). Like locally raised meat, it’s available virtually year round. And the colder the water, the better the fish. West Coast seafood is struggling with various PR crises — from fears of radioactivity to overfishing — while consumer confidence in imported fish, the source of most of America’s seafood, is also wavering. A recent report showed that food safety inspections are few and far between for imported seafood.
While parsnips and kale are now confirmed ingredients in our culinary canon, and we have embraced off-cuts of meat (hanger steak, head cheese, nose to tail butchery), we are still warming to squid ceviche, monkfish cheeks, bluefish tartare, and other to-be-created dishes that feature little-known local fish.
And yet panelists, including me, pointed out that while shoppers are well versed in how to cook salmon, tuna and shrimp — the three most popular seafoods in America — they don’t have a place in their culinary canon for little-known local species like skate, sea bass or even striped bass. A quick search of Allrecipes.com confirmed this. The site returned hundreds of recipes for salmon, tuna and shrimp. But zero for tilefish and porgy, and just a handful for bluefish and whole fish. Clams returned a few hundred.
It’s no surprise that here at Edible we’re very bullish on New York seafood. There are no good reasons chefs, grocers and fishermongers shouldn’t be featuring New York seafood. In particular, we’re big advocates of seeking out little-known species that are actually quite abundant, from farmed oysters to squid. But panelists agreed that many shoppers — whether chefs or home cooks — still don’t know what’s local. Owner Joe Gurrera of Citarella2 said he carries a wide range of local fish, but they are often not the first choice of shoppers. George Maroulis, general manager of the Fulton Fish Market at Hunts Point the largest fish market in the nation, invited chefs to visit the market; it’s the best lesson in what’s coming out of our local waters.
It helps that the places we can find local seafood have multiplied. The New Amsterdam Market, at the old Fulton Fish Market at the southern tip of Manhattan, includes fishmongers and fishers selling only locally caught fish. And just as CSA shares have helped turn eaters on to the pleasures of cooking whatever is coming out the fields, there is a new crop of CSFs (community supported fisheries), including Dock to Dish, Long Island’s first, that deliver same-day, impeccably fresh seafood.
For a wrap-up, I asked panelists local species they’d like to see on more menus and dinner tables. Here are their picks for five unsung fish you should be eating. We predict they will soon become the next “it” fish in and around Gotham.
1. Whole fish
Robert LaValva, founder of the New Amsterdam Market, argued for more whole fish preparations, a particularly efficient and economical way to use local fish. Pro-tip: simmer the heads and bones to make stock or fry thin bones for a finger food that will dazzle any eater.
Jennifer Meadows and Daniel Grimm with their haul of tilefish.
Joe Gurrera, owner of Citarella markets in Manhattan and on Long Island, would like to see more of this golden-skinned white-fleshed fish. In fact, Citarella’s wholesale division apparently sells nearly 90 percent of the tilefish caught in state.
3. Fresh bluefish
Sean Barrett of Dock to Dish wants to see more bluefish on menus, but stressed that the flavorful meat needs to be uber-fresh. The high-oil content in the flesh means it can get fishy fast. But it’s also idea for smoking.
George Maroulis of the New Fulton Fish Market at Hunts Point loves skate, the wing of a ray. It’s economical, tender and delicious when cooked in butter (isn’t everything?) and available nearly year-round.
5. Clams, farmed oysters and seaweed
photo credit: Lindsay Morris
Because the panel didn’t get to speak much about farmed fish, I threw in my vote for eating more farmed shellfish of all kinds. There’s a boom of oyster farming in our region, which is encouraging some very economical and generous happy hours: the Times called the mollusks “loss leaders on the half shell.” And farmed shellfish can help improve water quality since the oysters and clams feed off algae. Farmed salmon and other large species require feed to be added to the water and generate large amounts of water polluting waste. In addition, the first kelp farm was just launched in Long Island Sound, and there’s another in the works. Local seaweed salad anyone?