Beyond Bouillabaisse – A Guide to Eating Fresh Fish in a Landlocked State
The French coast gets some fantastic seafood, as you might imagine. Mussels, oysters, fish – all part of quintessential French cuisine. But if you’ve ever tried to replicate a traditional bouillabaisse recipe, you’ve come across something like this:
2.25kg or 5lb of mixed fish, whatever is fresh
In my home town of Santa Monica, I got how this worked. You walk down to the ocean or a nearby farmer’s market and the fish monger tells you what he caught that day. You inspect the fish, ask the monger to clean it, and off you go with “whatever is fresh.”
But it doesn’t always work like that.
Here in Colorado, your fish usually has to travel to get to a market and so often, locals will advise you to stay away from the unknown or perhaps seafood in general. But it’s not 1920 anymore. We have high speed planes capable of transporting fresh fish safely, so what’s the catch?
At an educational session with Seattle Fish Company at Il Posto, the fish distributor debunked a lot of fishy myths as we started to explore the greater sea-scape of what is available to chefs – even the landlocked ones:
Rule #1: Fresh is Fresh
There is certainly some controversy over what exactly “fresh” means when it comes to fish. Because fresh fish can still be frozen, many seafood distributors have taken to labeling fish “fresh never frozen” to distinguish them.
And while you might cringe at the idea of your fish in a landlocked state coming either frozen or questionably “fresh,” Seattle Fish Company reminds us that in order to serve a “far away” market, fishermen will send their freshest catch for transport.
Additionally, we so often forget that fish are incredibly regional. So while your buddy might live on one coast, chances are a good chunk of his seafood is traveling from another. Which means that when it comes to a wide selection of fish, we’re all in the same boat.
In Paris, for example, a new wave of oyster and lobster-focused restaurants has emerged, despite the region’s distance from those markets (you don’t see tourists lobster fishing off the Seine, do you?). So why not fresh oysters in Denver?
Le Grand Bistro and Epernay Lounge have already started to test the waters, and now Chef Jennifer Jasinski (of Top Chef Masters and Bistro Vendôme) is looking to open up a seafood hub at Union Station…
Rule #2: Discards are a Fisherman’s Reject, Not a Chef’s
A “discard” is a fish that was not the intended target of a catch, but got caught in the net anyway. Typically, fishermen will discard these fish, giving them their name in the industry, but they aren’t bad fish at all. In fact, discards can be quite tasty if prepared well.
Chefs like Andrea Frizzi of Denver’s Il Posto can benefit from using discards because they come to the chef at a much lower price than the intended catch, but they’re also just as fresh. See a bizarre fish on a menu as the day’s special? This might be a sign that a chef has been playing around with a discard to offer a unique dish at a more reasonable price.
Just look at what Chef Frizzi has done with blue fish, one of Seattle Fish Company’s discard offerings.
Rule #3: Trust a Chef, Play Fish Roulette
So with so many different types of fresh fish available to us with the faster transport and distribution of discards nowadays, how do you know if a certain type of fish is going to be good?
You don’t really ever know, but you can trust some chefs to be your guide. Unlike going to the fish market yourself and picking out something you’ve never worked with before, a trained chef has experimented with his fresh catch before deciding on his final preparation.
Is the fish naturally salty? Dry? Light? You don’t really know until you play around with it, but a good chef will be able to discern the qualities of the fish with a few experiments and pick a preparation and sides that compliment it.
Check out the vastly different preparation on this Porgi, for example:
Even for the confident home-cook, it’s a great idea to go out to a few restaurants that change their menu regularly to see how they work with certain types of fish available in your area. You might get inspiration or just become better acquainted with a wider variety of seafood.
Try finding a place like Il Posto, where the menu changes regularly but the Chef-chosen purveyors offer consistent quality diners can count on.
Rule #4: Sustainability is Good Business
“This fish came from a sustainable…” yeah yeah yeah. We’ve all eyerolled at the word “sustainable” a few times now that it’s become the ever trendy way to market proteins in the food industry.
But Seattle Fish Company reminded us that sustainability isn’t just a green initiative with good marketing juju, it’s also incredibly good business. You see, the oceans aren’t endlessly deep and fish aren’t unlimited. It’s certainly possible to over-fish a species and it’s definitely been done.
So if your industry is based on your access to sea-resources, isn’t it in your best interest to keep all species afloat?
Both chefs and distributors are committed to keeping their business and their resources thriving for quite some time, but that doesn’t mean certain types of fish are entirely off limits.
Rule #5: Farmed Fish is Still Good Fish
New technology and farming techniques have made it possible to dramatically improve fish farming over the years. You probably don’t even know it, but farmed fish are accounting for a greater and greater portion of consumed seafood each year.
And it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time as demand for seafood is on the rise.
The age old myth that farmed seafood is somehow sub-par is simply not true anymore, say the Seattle Fish Company reps who enjoy hosting blind tastings each year to see if someone can pick out the farmed Salmon from the wild Alaskan (spoiler: they usually can’t).
When it comes to farmed fish, it’s just like any other farm – you’ve got to trust your farmer. Know how the fish is raised, where it’s coming from, and how it’s handled.
So explore a little bit. Step out of your seafood comfort zone and enjoy fresh mussels while they’re in season at Denver’s Corner House. Order that weird fish special at your trusted restaurant. Make the Bouillabaisse with something different.
What’s your perception of seafood in a landlocked state? Do you feel like you’re more adventurous with your seafood tastes or more conservative? Let me know in the comments!