Tautog, Wolf Fish and Black Cod – A Fine Kettle of Fish
These days one of the hardest things to do is to enjoy a meal without getting all bogged down with rules about food. Which ones to eat, which to avoid. I’m a firm believer in sustainable food choices, supporting local farms, heritage breeds and so forth.
But if it doesn’t taste good, I’m probably not going to play. Likewise, if you go all dogmatic on me, I’m taking my Staub and going home. I mean it. Oh yeah, and I’ll take that Scotch back, too. After all, it didn’t come from within a 100 mile radius of Boston, did it?
“We Buy from Pirates” – What a Mess
So what is Ms. Sustainable Seafood supposed to do when her Mom’s favorite fish store, The Annapolis Seafood Market, proudly displays “Chilean Sea Bass” in their case? Crap! I hate it when this happens. You know me well enough by now; I am NOT going to pretend I didn’t see it.
I tell them they shouldn’t be selling it. They play dumb. I suggest if they’re going to sell endangered fish, the least they can do is to use its correct name: Patagonian Toothfish. Then I let them know that I really do know what I’m talking about and there really is not a justification for selling this fish as it’s nearly extinct from over-fishing. I drop the ol’ Seafood Watch name and guess what? They stop playing dumb.
Leaning toward me conspiratorially hushed towns, the counter staff says, “I know, we’re not supposed to be selling it and we know our supplier gets it from pirates. But, we only by from him, so we’re cool.”
Excuse me? EXCUSE ME?
That makes it better? That you actually KNOW what you’re doing is wrong and willingly admit it is much worse than being ignorant. At least where I come from.
I write a letter to them through their website. In a remarkably repulsive bit of “Greenwashing”, it lists conservation groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Like they care.
No response. I try about three times and finally get someone to acknowledge receipt of my letter which included all sorts of helpful links. But no response. Nope. Nothing. Nada. Zip.
Okay. I tried.
They suck. They sell endangered fish. They buy from pirates.They pretend they’re conservation minded. All I can do is vote with my purchasing power.
A Different School of Fish
My own fishmonger often gets fish that are fresh, delicious and sustainable. Occasionally, there will be another fish in the case which they offer to us as they know we’re adventurous customers. Sometimes one of their guys has something that was bycatch, one fish that got in the way.
These unfortunate fishes sometimes end up on my plate. One such fish was Tautog. I researched it and it’s a fish from Rhode Island (and down the coast some) that belongs to the wrasse family and they are not endangered. They feed on shellfish which may explain their beautiful while flesh. I found some fishermen’s sites with recipes and modified one to do an oven baked recipe.
Another time, they had something called wolf fish. This is a great blog called Stitchin’ Fish, I found with photos of the hideous looking wolf fish.
But look how cute he looks stitched in crochet – gnarly teeth and all.
So it turns out this guy is really not on the “okay to eat list.” I decided to come clean here because I think it’s more important to learn how to handle these situations than it is to hide from difficult discussions. It was, by the way, delicious. Like Patagonian Toothfish, I sincerely hope that conservation of the oceans and these fish will allow them to recover…so we can enjoy them again.
- Here is the address if you care to send Annapolis Seafood Market a little love.
- Seafood Watch can be found here, downloadable pocket guides, even phone-friendly guides can be found.
Don’t forget to mark your calendars now for our event this October – National (Sustainable) Seafood Month.
- Sablefish is one I just cooked for the first time. It’s delicious, mild white flaky fish, similar to Chilean Sea- um , I mean Patagonian Toothfish. But sustainable. Here’s my recipe for Miso-Marinated Sablefish.