NosherNotes: Sustainable Seafood

14 Jul

In continuing my culinary expeditions, I’m constantly exposed to different movements that fuel my food education.  Subsequently I have tons of questions floating in my mind: Where does our food come from?  What processes are involved in bringing that food from the field (or the sea) to our plate?  And how do those processes affect our environment?  How do consumer choices affect production method and ultimately our own health?  Food production is on a scale of epic proportions. Just 60 years ago you wouldn’t see the huge array of food products at every store across the country.

Now, I am not a martyr for cause, but when we consider that the world population has exploded from 3.03 billion in 1960 to 6.7 billion in 2008, it’s amazing that production comes even close to the demand.  But according to Bread for the World, there are still 1.02 billion people starving in the world, so there is very much a great need for even more production.  I figure if I’m going to be a foodie, writing about food and eating so much of it, I ought to keep an open mind about the issues behind it and the production that contributes to it.

So, with this approach in mind, I attended the “Savoring Sustainable Seafood” reception at DC’s Natural Museum of History in June, held by the Smithsonian Resident Associate Program. The event helped raise awareness about farming and fishing methods that will allow the source to naturally produce at replacement levels while being eco friendly.  For instance, the shrimp that’s in your shrimp and grits or your shrimp fra diavolo? If it was imported from Latin America or Southeast Asia, then according to the Environmental Defense Fund, it could have been caught by fisheries that do not follow strict environmental regulations; the practices used to fish that shrimp could have adversely affected its ecosystem, including other organisms in it. Overfishing and illegal fishing are also examples of problems that sustainable practices are trying to offset (Love rockfish? That’s one species on its way out).

The folks at Smithsonian and the chefs who cooked for the cause stressed that encouraging sustainable production starts with the consumer.  If people who buy seafood at the grocery store, or eat it in restaurants, at least question the origins of their seafood -if not ask specifically for sustainable seafood- then chefs, restaurant owners and store buyers will be encouraged to meet that demand.

The event showcased how beautiful, delicious dishes can come from farms and fisheries that practice sustainable methods.Here’s a sampling of what I ate at the event. Each dish featured a fish or shellfish that was farmed or fished using sustainable practices:

Atlantic MahiMahi Ceviche by Richard Cook, BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant

This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. It tasted clean and refreshing, and the mahi-mahi mixed beautifully with the citrus fruit and diced vegetables. I especially loved the plantain chip with cream that helped scoop up the ceviche into one bite.

Panko-crusted Tilapia Cakes by Scott Drewno, The Source

The tilapia in these cakes actually came from Martinsville, VA – so it was nice to see that restaurants take full advantage of the local industry. Crab (or fish) cakes, in my opinion, can be heavy and too bready but this one didn’t taste at all weighed down from the panko.

Sauteed Shrimp with English Peas and Fresh Oregon Morel Fricassee, Madras Curry Sauce by Xavier Deshayes, Ronald Reagan Building and Internal Trade Center

This dish particularly tugged at my heartstrings because it very closely resembled a traditional Indian mattar paneer. It was rich and flavorful from the curry sauce, and the peas gave it a good texture, not mushy at all. I actually barely noticed the shrimp in this dish, which I suppose defeats the purpose. But I feel that when you’ve got a great curry going, you just have to let it work its magic.

Louisiana Crawfish Etouffee by Jeff Tunks, Ceiba, Acadiana, DC Coast, PassionFish, and TenPenh

I’m almost as much a fan of Louisiana cuisine as I am of Indian cuisine, so I scarfed this etouffee down. This dish actually managed to highlight the shrimp with its spicy roux and soft tomatoes and onions.

Sunburst Farm Rainbow Trout in Squash Blossom, Green Gazpacho, Young Almonds by Rick Moonen, rm Seafood and Warm Smoked Sturgeon, Braised Bacon, English Pea, Ver Jus by Bryan Voltaggio, VOLT

I admit I got all fangirl upon spotting Rick Moonen and Bryan Voltaggio working side-by-side in one corner of the Rotunda. I had just seen Moonen recently on “Top Chef Masters” and I rooted for Voltaggio on “Top Chef: Las Vegas”. Both served equally simple, light dishes showcasing two different fish. Moonen’s green gazpacho and peas and Voltaggio’s ver jus were lovely compliments to the quality and flavor of the fish, which I felt was a good move in emphasizing the theme of the night.

Mussels Three Ways by Robert Weidmaier, Marcel’s, Brasserie Beck, BRABO and Mussel Bar

Mussels have become a standard on both appetizer and entrée lists in several DC-area restaurants, so I expected it to be featured at least in one dish at the event. I came around to this station fairly late in the evening and they had a good amount of mussels left, so I was treated to a heaping plate. I tried the mussels in a curry broth, which wasn’t too strong against the light flavor of the mussels, which were cooked beautifully with that nice amount of chew in them.

I highly encourage taking advantage of programs like this in your city, and take notice of restaurants that use only sustainable seafood. Grocery stores like Wegmans also adhere to a sustainable seafood policy – so it’s easy for even novice home cooks to eat the right thing.

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One Response to “NosherNotes: Sustainable Seafood”

  1. bk July 15, 2010 at 3:36 pm #

    how likely do you think it is that the ‘sustainable’ food phenomenon is simply a trend that people do not 100% understand, however really like the aristocratic and mysteriously progressive-sounding nature of it? i would guess that a significant number of people will eat ‘sustainably’ for the same reason that they might eat ‘organic’ – because on face value, it sounds like it just has to be better. at the end of the day, i’m inclined to believe that most people can’t even define ‘organic’ or ‘sustainable’ as it pertains to food.

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