Tuesday, July 27, 2010

From Farm or Sea

I recently submitted an article on sustainable seafood to the Good Life Report. I learned about this online magazine through Langdon Cook. His brother, Whitney Cook, a former marketing executive at M. Shanken Communications, publisher of Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado magazines, founded the site and bi-weekly newsletter. While a little less colorful than my typical posts, I thought it might be worth posting here. Please check out the Good Life Report - fans of Langdon will find some of his writing there as well.

From Farm or Sea: When Buying Sustainable Seafood, There are Good Guidelines but No Absolutes

The woman in the light blue shirt is raising her hand and I anticipate her question before the words leave her mouth. “All wild fish are unsustainable, right? So we should eat all farmed fish, yes?” I’m in Edmonds, Washington, teaching a cooking class on sustainable seafood. We’re only three minutes into the class and I’m already poised to clear up some major misconceptions.

I tell the class that I wish there were some hard and fast rules to navigate this new world; a world in which all-you-can-eat sushi bars and 365-day-a-year global fish availability mask issues of dwindling wild stocks and polluting offshore farming operations. The answer to her question is: It depends.

Many species of wild fish are doing quite well. Certain states, such as Alaska, prioritize sound fisheries management to preserve fish for future generations. West coast albacore, Pacific halibut, spot prawns and the five species of Alaskan wild salmon are examples of wild fish that are great choices. Still, other options exist. Squid, wild sardines, pink shrimp, crab and lobster don’t seem to be threatened. Other wild species, such as bluefin and yellowfin tuna, eel, aka unagi and grouper, for example, are, unfortunately, not doing so well. Demand is too high and our tools for catching fish too efficient. Wild fish don’t have a fighting chance, unless we can control our appetites and fisheries managers can prioritize conservation.

The most environmentally sound way of fishing is in smaller, focused quantities. Examples include trolling also known as “hook and line,” which is essentially the commercial version of dipping a fishing pole in the ocean, catching shrimp or crabs in a pot, and small scale purse seining (a net that encloses a school of fish), among other techniques.

Other methods are not as ocean- and fish-friendly: fish caught by trawling and certain kinds of longlining. Trawling harms the ocean floor by dragging heavy weighted nets across it. Trawling also produces a lot of bycatch, which is when species not intended to be caught are accidentally caught and killed, causing their populations to dwindle. Longlining drags a multitude of lines and hooks, often for miles on end. The worst way to longline is on the top of the ocean column. The lines sit on the surface of the ocean and unintended species get hooked (turtles, birds, etc.) in the process. After so much time on the line much of what’s caught can be dead when it’s finally hauled in. Alas, not all longlining is the same and major exceptions exist. Longlining along the bottom of the ocean, such as in Alaska’s sustainable halibut and black cod fishery, has a much better track record of catching intended species.

But what about farm-raised fish? Is this an option for environmentally conscious consumers? Some types of farmed seafood are extremely sustainable. Farmed shellfish do not require wild fish feed to grow so there is no negative drawing of species (protein loss) from the oceans to convert to feed to run a shellfish farm. The same can’t be said for carnivorous fish farms. Farmed shellfish, just like wild shellfish, filter feed, contributing to better water quality. Few decisions are this simple: shellfish, like oysters, clams, and mussels, make the oceans cleaner.

Not all farmed fish are sustainable, however. Offshore farming operations, such as most Atlantic salmon farms, cause huge problems. Think of it this way: if there was an outbreak of disease among a group of people on an island where no ferries and no bridge existed, the disease would be self-limiting and contained. Compare this to a disease breaking out in the middle of New York City. Pretty limitless how far that disease could spread, yes? Mixing and mingling high-density fish farms right in the middle of wild fish ocean migration routes carries with it all sorts of environmental consequences including escapement, pollution and the spread of disease. The ocean is an extremely efficient distribution medium. Closed containment a.k.a. land-based farms are a lot less environmentally risky. Opt for rainbow trout and arctic char farms.

The important questions to ask when buying fish are: what is the species, where was it caught and how was it caught? Resources such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program and sustainablesushi.net are invaluable. A good rule of thumb is to buy domestic as we have far stricter environmental laws when compared to most other countries (Thailand, China, the Philippines, etc.) that export fish to the United States.

Sustainable seafood is a hot topic and American consumers are looking for simple answers and guidance around an extremely complicated subject. Many supermarkets, fishmongers, fishermen, chefs and restaurants are making the future of our oceans a priority. Find them, support them.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I'm all out of words

pologies for the lack of posting. This month marks the conclusion of work on my 2nd cookbook entitled Good Fish, on track for an April 2011 pub date. The last 6 months have been the hardest I've ever worked on any project. Ever.

I'd like to show you a few of my favorite pics taken by my incredibly talented friend and photographer Clare Barboza. Clare is like a missing limb - I have both arms and legs but I don't have her vision. I don't have her vision and I don't have her camera.

I want her vision. I want her camera.

We are trying to go for a Japanese-ish meets Northwest-ish, rustic, clean look. Iron, wood, and white all came up at meetings where we discussed the theme of the book. I adore this pic of skillet trout with chanterelles, bacon and sage.

Which doesn't mean there can't be color, like with these local spot prawns on mango "crack" salad.

Some of the recipes in the book are more challenging, like these seared scallops with carrot cream and pickled carrots.

But the majority of the recipes are easy to prepare, like these halibut tacos with tequila. Especially the tequila part, which you just drink (notice my form - I've done this before).

I appreciate all the support I've gotten while working on the book. You know who you are - but I especially want to thank (grovel to) the wine goddess who has put up with my sloppiness, crankiness, tiredness and lack of availability-ness.

(I told you I was all out of words.)

Next on track is work on a series of fish cooking videos. I've always wanted to do some fun cooking videos and I thought it would be nice to accompany the publication of the book with some associated educational videos for all of you out there who may be intimidated by fish or even for the chefs out there who've never worked with fresh sardines or geoduck or whole albacore. I've learned many techniques on YouTube. I've learned various filleting techniques from shouting guys on moving boats with shaking cameras. It's always entertaining, but I thought you might also want to see the techniques up close, with good sound and video quality.

That's where Luuvu Hoang comes in.

I met him through mutual friends and loved what he did with Lorna Yee's book promo video (see my last post). He agreed to my plan (mu-hahahahahahah) and now he's stuck with me as we prepare to film 15 fish technique videos - everything from removing pin bones from a salmon to "dealing" with a randy geoduck.

Give him some props please because our first project together was filming the intro sequence. I had this idea to make goldfish crackers swim into the letters of the book title. The poor guy was standing on a table for 2 and 1/2 hours while I incrementally advanced the crackers like some slow motion game of Risk where no one got Kamchatka and everyone was hungry and tired and couldn't eat any of the goldfish pieces. Here it is set to my brother Jesse Selengut's music. Jesse donated a sample of his great jazz straight from NYC.

Good Fish from LuuvuH on Vimeo.

I'll be back to more regular posts now. I've missed my blog. I've missed you. I've missed daily showers.

Writing a book can sure blow your proverbial literary load.


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