Most authorities agree that eating more seafood and shellfish and less red and processed meat is a choice that’s good for your health and much better for the environment. Unfortunately, with many seafood choices, there are three other important considerations: omega-3s, mercury and sustainability which sometimes do, but don’t always align as we might like them to. Let’s take on sustainability for this article.
Sustainable seafood is a vast, controversial, and complicated discussion. We have all heard how our oceans are in trouble (they are), how farmed fish and shellfish are problematical and shouldn’t be consumed (not true for the most part), how water quality and habitat are being irretrievably degraded (absolutely true).
A few facts:
- 90% of the world’s wild fisheries are either fully fished or overfished. Its why farmed seafood is becoming more important. It’s estimated that at least 50% of seafood that we consume comes from farmed sources.
- Unregulated pollution (especially oil drillers as well as our beloved farmers) are wreaking havoc with our ocean and fresh water sources. One particularly picturesque nightmare is that by 2050 there will be more plastic (micro and otherwise) in our oceans than fish (see www.passportocean.com for more details)
- Protective habitats are being destroyed at an alarming rate, from coral reefs to mangroves which provide important breeding grounds for the next generations of our delicious fish and shellfish
So, what to do? We can help turn the tide; I hope. Clearly one thing we can all do is to support consuming sustainable seafood. So, what is that? Probably the simplest way to think of it is that it is seafood that is managed and fished using practices that ensures there will always be more to catch in the future.
It begins with using seafood that that is constantly monitored by transparent sources. Luckily, we have many resources to choose from. For me, the gold standard is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch initiative which I’ve been involved with since its inception. Many of you are no doubt familiar with its pocket guides and app with it’s simple to follow green/yellow/red recommendations. It’s a valuable resource for both professionals and home cooks and its advice is backed by extensive science-based research, www.seafoodwatch.org.
A few other resources that I support and follow (this is not a complete list by any means) include:
- Seafood from Alaska boasts having one of the world’s few governments that is
truly dedicated to sustainability. It’s a commitment that dates all the way back to
Alaska becoming a state in 1959, when Alaskans wrote sustainability into their
Constitution which calls for all its fisheries to be sustainably managed and
protected forever, www.alaskaseafood.org.
- Smart Catch, a James Beard Foundation program. This program provides training and support to chefs so they can serve seafood fished or farmed in environmentally responsible ways. By becoming a Smart Catch Leader and earning the Smart Catch seal, chefs give consumers a simple way to identify and support their restaurants, www.jamesbeard.org/smart-catch
- Marine Stewardship Council whose guides are equally as important as those from Seafood Watch. They are certifiers for sustainable fisheries, www.msc.org.
- Fish Choice which has a comprehensive guide for a broad range of species and includes data from many other sustainable guides including those above, www.fishchoice.com
- I also like the Ocean Wise Seafood Program from the Vancouver B.C. Aquarium which includes recommendations and discussions of seafood related issues, www.seafood.ocean.org
Bottom line . . . don’t buy or consume seafood that doesn’t have one or more recommendations/certifications from these sources. It’s OK to be a little obnoxious when you are in the market or at a restaurant or a taco stand or wherever seafood is offered and ask for proof of sustainability. If they can’t supply that proof, then go somewhere else. I’ll be there with ya!
Here are some of my favorite recipes that use sustainable fish and shellfish.
DEVILED DUNGENESS CRAB
Serves 4 – 6
A simple dish to prepare and delicious. Since I live in Northern California my crab of choice is Dungeness. Use whatever fresh or pasteurized crab is available to you. Dungeness was endangered because of overfishing but made an amazing comeback. Recently however Seafood Watch, tells me that they have moved Dungeness from the green to the yellow list recently due to issues around crab trap rope entanglements with humpback whales.
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, preferably white
1 teaspoon bottled hot sauce of your choice, or to taste
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup piquillo or roasted red peppers, seeded and diced
1 pound cooked Dungeness crabmeat, carefully picked over
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup coarse dry bread crumbs, Panko preferred
4 tablespoons melted butter
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl mix the mayonnaise, cilantro, mustard, lime juice, Worcestershire, and hot sauce together. Stir in the green onions and piquillos and then add the crab and toss gently to mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more of any flavoring you like and salt and pepper to taste.
Divide the crab mixture among small gratin dishes or shells. Top evenly with the breadcrumbs. Drizzle with the melted butter. Bake 15 minutes or until the topping is crisp and browned and the crab mixture is bubbly.
SHRIMP COURTBOUILLON WITH RICE
Serves 4 – 6
This is not the flavorful cooking stock from classic French cooking (court bouillon) but rather a New Orleans gumbo-style preparation to celebrate Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) or any day! You could add okra or file powder which is traditional in gumbo as well as spicy sausage, crab, and other shellfish. Note the use of shrimp shells which make for wonderful stock.
Shrimp is no doubt the most popular seafood in America and it is why we have so many sources for it here. Most shrimp are farm raised and there is some concern about foreign sources. Best bet is to choose American farm raised or wild which are closely monitored. Make sure they are sustainably certified.
6 cups chicken or fish stock
1 1/4 pounds medium shrimp in shell (26 to 30 per pound), peeled and deveined, shells reserved
Sea salt, divided
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped poblano chile or green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon fennel seed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups (one 15-ounce can) petite diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup fragrant long-grain white rice such as jasmine or basmati
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced scallion greens, both white and green parts
In a 4 quart sauce pan bring stock and shrimp shells to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, 15 minutes. Strain stock discarding shells and reserve.
Halve shrimp lengthwise and toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Chill, covered, until ready to use.
Melt butter in a 6- to 7-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the color of peanut butter, 15 to 20 minutes. Add onion, poblano, celery, garlic and fennel seed and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, tomatoes, reserved stock, and cayenne and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered for 15 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to your taste. Meanwhile in a separate small saucepan add rice and 1-1/2 cups simmering water, season lightly with salt and pepper and cook covered over moderately low heat until water is absorbed, and rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Let stand off heat for about minutes, then fluff with a fork.
Add shrimp to courtbouillon stock and simmer, uncovered, stirring, until shrimp are just cooked through, 1 – 2 minutes. Stir in scallion greens. Divide rice among soup plates, ladle the courtbouillion over and serve immediately.
THAI STYLE TOMATO SOUP WITH MUSSELS AND CELLOPHANE NOODLES
Serves 6 – 8
A simple soup, which uses cellophane or mung bean noodles, which are readily available in any Asian markets and increasingly in large supermarkets with ethnic food sections, as is the bottled fish sauce and chile-garlic sauce. I like Lee Kum Kee brand from Hong Kong which is widely distributed. You can also certainly substitute other noodles like Japanese Soba or Somen, etc. Since these can take longer to cook, prepare ahead (follow package directions) and add to the soup just as you serve it.
All the mussels we get in the market have been farm raised using pole or basket techniques. A caution: Do not gather your own in the wild. Unmonitored waters can contain parasites, toxins, chemicals, etc. which obviously we don’t want to consume. Farmed mussels are clean, without seabed mud and grit, safer since they are grown in controlled waters plus most agree that they taste better.
Mussels are one of the cheapest and tastiest forms of animal protein available, and their environmental resume is impressive. They require no feed, as they filter plankton and other microscopic nutrients from the water. Diseases are few, making the use of antibiotics unnecessary and the fact that mussel shells are made of calcium carbonate means they absorb carbon from the environment.
1 two-ounce packet of cellophane (mung bean) or thin rice noodles (labeled vermicelli)
1 cup dry white wine
5 cups low salt chicken stock
3 pounds black mussels, well washed and debearded
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (or to taste)
1 tablespoon Asian chile-garlic sauce (or to taste)
3 cups canned diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup green onions, sliced diagonally and thinly
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil (or to taste)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons finely sliced garlic, crisply fried in vegetable oil*, optional
Place the noodles in a bowl and cover with hot water and soak until softened, 20-25 minutes. Drain the noodles and dump in a tangle on a cutting board and cut through crosswise and lengthwise to form roughly 4-inch lengths.
Add the wine, stock and mussels to a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Cover and cook until mussels open, about 4 minutes. Discard any that haven’t opened. Strain, returning the broth to the pot. Remove the meat from most of the mussels reserving 3 or 4 in the shell for each serving and set aside. Stir the fish sauce, chile-garlic sauce, tomatoes with their juice, green onions, lime juice and hot sesame oil into the broth and bring to a boil.
To serve: Divide the mussel meat, mussels in the shell and noodles into warm soup bowls. Ladle hot broth over and top with cilantro and crisp garlic. Serve immediately.
*Garlic can be fried up to a day ahead and stored airtight. To fry garlic, heat 1/4 inch or so of oil over moderate heat. Add garlic and slowly cook until golden brown. It will take 3 minutes or so. If oil is too hot garlic will burn and become bitter.
“RED SNAPPER” VERACRUZ STYLE
Makes 4 servings
This is one of the classic and simple dishes of Mexico that gets its name from the important seacoast town of Vera Cruz. Note: True red snapper (an endangered species) only comes from Gulf and Atlantic waters. On our west coast, what is generally sold as “Pacific Red Snapper” is actually rockfish. There are more than a dozen varieties of rockfish sold here that come in a rainbow of beautiful colors. Flesh of all is similar and delicately mild in flavor. They are relatively inexpensive and a good choice for all kinds of dishes. Because of this, chefs sometimes refer to rockfish as the “hamburger of fish”. You can also make this recipe with any firm-fleshed sustainable white fish such as halibut, Pacific cod, sea bass, tilapia, etc.
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (preferably fire roasted) drained with juices reserved
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup finely chopped white onion
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon pure smoked hot paprika or other chile powder, or to taste
2 small bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/4 cup chopped pitted green olives
2 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons drained capers
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 limes cut into wedges
4 5-ounce Pacific rockfish fillets
3 pickled jalapeño chiles, sliced into rounds (optional)
Cooked medium shrimp and cilantro sprigs to garnish if desired
Place drained tomatoes in medium bowl. Using potato masher or your hands, crush tomatoes to a coarse puree.
Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until softened a lightly browned. Add garlic and chile powder and stir for one minute. Add tomato puree, bay leaves, parsley, and oregano. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 3 minutes. Add olives, raisins, capers, and reserved tomato juices. Simmer until sauce thickens again, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt, pepper and additional chile heat if desired. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.
Preheat oven to 425°F. Spread 1/3 cup sauce in bottom of glass baking dish. Arrange fish in a single layer on top. Season generously with salt, pepper, and drops of lime juice. Spoon remaining sauce over. Bake uncovered until fish is just opaque in center, about 10 minutes depending on thickness of fish. Transfer fish with sauce to warm plates. Garnish with pickled jalapeño halves, shrimp, and cilantro. Serve with remaining lime wedges.
OYSTERS WITH JALAPEÑO SALSA
Makes 12 serving 4 as a starter (Fewer if you are an oyster hog like me!!)
Oysters on the half shell are one of my favorite things. This recipe has an obvious Mexican twist. Oysters are widely available in Mexico on the eastern Gulf as well as in the west off Baja. Mexico is counted as the sixth largest producer of oysters after China, South Korea, Japan, the United States and France.
Oysters are incredibly important for the marine environment. They are natural water filterers. Adult oysters filter up to 2.5 gallons of water per hour, which can dramatically improve water quality. They also build reefs in the wild which provide habitat for fish, shrimp, crabs, and other animals. These reefs are also natural breakwaters that help protect shorelines and control erosion.
12 very fresh half shell oysters
Jalapeño salsa (recipe follows)
Shuck the oysters leaving meat on the half shell. Place on a bed of salt to prevent the oysters from tipping. Top oysters with a teaspoon or so of the salsa. Slurp!
Makes about 1 cup
Jalapenos can vary in their heat. Suggest putting in half of what is called for in the recipe and taste after it has rested for at least one hour. Add more to your taste.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 teaspoons agave syrup or honey
1 tablespoon stemmed and seeded Jalapeño pepper, finely diced or sliced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup finely diced sweet red onion
1/2 cup diced fresh mango
2 teaspoons chopped cilantro leaves
Sea salt to taste
Whisk olive oil, lime juice and agave together. Stir in remaining ingredients adjusting flavors to your own taste. Allow to sit for an hour or so for flavors to develop. Can be made and stored refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Makes 4 to 6 servings for dinner: 8 to 10 as an appetizer
The word poke (pronounced (poh-KAY and rhymes with okay) simply means “chunk or cubed” in Hawaiian. Poke can be any meat or seafood that is cut into small chunks and marinated. If you go to a local grocery store in Hawaii, poke is a staple, and there are endless varieties including octopus and other fish/shellfish. All kinds of garnishes are used including kimchi, seaweed, or wasabi (Yes, I’ve seen Spam poke too!), reflecting the strong influences of Japanese and Korean cuisines in Hawaii. Today we generally think of poke as seafood based, typically tuna.
Wild Scallops are often dredged from in-shore waters which can cause significant habitat destruction not only for the scallops but also for a wide range of other inhabitants of the sea. They historically have been overfished and depleted in many areas. However, they are increasingly successfully and sustainably farmed in the Canada and the U.S. There are several species but the one most of us are familiar with is the large Atlantic. Note also that I have suggested “day boat” scallops below. Also known as “Diver” or “Dry Pack” scallops, they are never put in a brine solution to preserve them. The texture is meatier, and they sear, or grill beautifully, as opposed to those that have been soaking in a solution laced with tripolyphosphate, a preservative that also encourages the scallop to soak up water. These are the only ones you should buy and are widely available. Order ahead if necessary!
1-1/2 pounds sushi-quality day boat or diver scallops
1/3 cup sweet red onion, peeled and sliced very thin
4 scallions, trimmed and both green and white sections thinly sliced
3 tablespoons soy sauce (preferably white)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
1/2 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce, or to taste
Big pinch of sugar
1 tablespoon furikake* or toasted sesame seeds
Prepared seaweed salad, optional
Remove and discard side muscle from scallops and then cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Place cubes into a large bowl and add the onion and scallions.
Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, mirin, chile-garlic sauce, and sugar in a small bowl. Whisk together to dissolve sugar and adjust seasonings to your taste.
Pour the sauce mixture over the fish and toss gently to combine. Sprinkle the furikake or sesame seeds over the fish, toss again gently, then cover and place in the refrigerator for an hour or so to chill. Serve with a little seaweed salad if desired.
*Furikake is a Japanese rice seasoning mixture made of seaweed, sesame seeds, salt, and sugar. Many variations are available including additions of dried fish, dried egg yolk, etc. Readily available in Asian markets and on-line.
Makes about 16 fritters
This recipe is based on one from Craig Claiborne, longtime food editor of the New York Times. He was a great believer and supporter of authentic American cooking and in 1976 called this recipe “Americana, pure and simple.”
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1⁄3 cup clam juice (reserved from clams)
1⁄4 cup milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
4 dozen littleneck or manila clams, shucked, drained, and coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for frying
Dipping sauce of your choice
Sift flour, baking soda, and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Whisk in eggs, lemon juice, clam juice, milk, butter, and cayenne, whisking until batter is smooth. Add parsley and clams, and then season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
Add vegetable oil to a heavy, deep skillet, to a depth of 1⁄8", and heat over medium heat. When the oil is hot (350 degrees) but not smoking, spoon about 2 tablespoons. of clam batter for each fritter into the hot oil. (Work in batches and avoid crowding the pan.) Fry until golden on one side, then turn fritters and continue frying about 2 minutes more. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce.
Note: Clams can be steamed open if you aren’t good with a clam knife.
John Ash © 2020