Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Ocean Wise Cookbook

First there are two truths about me you should know.
1. I love to support local farmers, fishermen and artisan bread, cheese and condiment makers, so I shop at local farmers markets as often as I can;

2. I like to eat as healthily (is that a word?) as I can... organic, or at least home-grown, and I've heard the "sustainability" term enough times to make me feel guilty when I buy things without thinking about it (and, unfortunately, that's often).

So when I heard about The Ocean Wise Cookbook - seafood recipes that are good for the planet, how could I resist. That and the fact that it's produced by Ocean Wise, a nationwide conservation program aimed at educating chefs, and consumers about the issues surrounding sustainable seafood. Their headquarters are in Vancouver, BC so much of the focus is on West Coast catches and the restaurant chefs who prepare some awesome dishes with their catches.

Admittedly, much of the information made my head spin... wild vs. farmed; closed container land-based farms vs. pens in the ocean; fresh vs. frozen; FAS (frozen at sea); PF (previously frozen) ... but the book, along with charts and tips does a good job of helping you make sense of it all.

There are great tutorials from what to look for when you buy:
  • fresh ocean/lake scent - in other words, they should not smell "fishy";
  • eyes (of whole fish, naturally) should be clear and slightly bulging;
  • flesh should feel firm and bounce back when touched;
  • gills should be wet and bright red or pink;
  • flesh should be translucent;
  • avoid fish with any discolouration - brown or yellow edges or drying out around the edges.
Tips on how to skin a fillet or a whole fish, prepare squid, scallops, abalone, crab, oyster shucking... - with drawings and lots of great details for the novice fish chef. Probably most important is a list of alternatives to fish you should avoid, substitutions that are found in your neck of the woods (or waters) and of course... the best ways to cook each type.

But let's get serious for a moment, knowing all that is important, but what you DO with your fish/seafood when you get it home is what really counts. There are many beautiful photographs of dishes to whet your appetite and help you cook fish and seafood that are out of your comfort zone. I love that each recipe is introduced with a small photo of the type of fish, the city, restaurant & chef that feature it.

True, most chefs are out west, but there is representation from PEI ( a few recipes from one of my favorite Canadian chefs - Michael Smith); Montreal (where I grew up and tasted my first oyster, shrimp & lobster... albeit, none of them local); Nova Scotia and, Calgary - which surprised me most, given it's a land locked city.

Armed with my new-found knowledge, I went to a few supermarkets and high end food shops, looking for the labels (or knowledgeable servers) that would tell me whether fish was fresh or previously frozen and if frozen - FAS or later; whether the boats were day boats or out at sea for 2-3 weeks at a time... info that would help me make informed decisions. Not as easy as you might think. No label, no insights from servers... I thought I was going to have stick to steak!

But a visit to my favorite Halifax fishmonger - Peter Boudreau, former chef and owner of The Fish Shop at the Seaport Farmers Market, and a long chat about it all, made me more comfortable. I chose a lovely fresh halibut fillet. The fish was line caught yesterday and I bought it at 7am this morning.

Lemon Pepper Crusted Halibut Fillets

I guess the real message is... know your supplier. Trust in what he tells you is the best option of the day and then get busy cooking it up... after all, what is the point of getting the freshest fish you can find, if you leave it in your fridge for a few days.

Bottom line - book-wise: It's very insightful and informative. That said, it really is a challenge to fine sustainable fish & seafood.

1 comment:

luvsclassics said...

Hello Ruth,

Very informational post; perhaps on your facebook status, you could write that It's an article about smart shopping for fish, and a great cookbook, just saying.

Here, I buy my fish at the regular grocery store, it may be previously frozen, farmed Salmon or the Wild-caught Salmon, as long as I know I'm getting Omega-3's.
Alas, here in central Jersey, we do not have a "fishmonger", however I think these can be found an hour or more away which is by the shore.