Think I've mentioned before that I have an issue with seafood. Not a good thing for a chef, kind of like being an engineer who doesn't like all that math stuff.
I can't, just can't, stand anything but the freshest seafood. Growing up in the midwest during the last century, fresh seafood only came when you caught it yourself. At my grandparent's cottage, or going out ice fishing with The Dad, we'd get beautiful perch or walleye with clear glassy eyes, red gills, and firm filets. But, there was only so much fish you could catch and freeze. And when we were out The Parents would, every once in a while, take us all out to eat. More often than not, we went to places that served seafood. The strong desire for the fresh fish they loved allowed them to eat the not-so-fresh stuff served in restaurants. I've seen this lots over the years, people who will eat out of season fruit, all frozen vegetables, sushi made from Krab. My clearest example was the last morning I was in Prague. I took my hosts and a few of their friends out for a very American brunch at Red, White, and Blues. These ex-pats had all been living in the city, on economy, for over a year and the thought of brunch was very nostalgic for them Everyone was giddy when I ordered a round of mimosas. A worse beverage you've never had. Canned Israeli orange juice with Romanian champagne. Around the table my friends all drifted away to happy brunches in their history, tasting some homesick fantasy rather than the fizzy bile in their glasses.
Another reason The Parents probably ordered seafood was, get this kiddies, it used to be cheap. So, at Lums and Red Lobster they'd order thier plates and I would sit there with a ham steak or somesuch blanching at the smells around me. If they'd gotten fried stuff, it wasn't so bad- I could always manage to eat fried shrimp with enough cocktail sauce. Then I'd only have to deal with the smell of over used, fishy shortening. But, the occassional piece of fish or lobsteer would get me on the verge of gacking. The stuff just wasn't fresh.
Of all the fish and fish related food The Family ate, nothing was worse than the salmon cakes. Tinned sockeye with breadcrumbs, dried herbs, and mayo pan fried until the awful smell left me running outta the house. If we ever have an I am Legend/Omega Man situation, I will starve rather than survive eating the anchovies, oysters, sardines, and salmon that people insist on putting into cans. To this day I strugle with Salmon because of those awful, stinking canned salmon cakes*.
*Being totally fair here, The Mom and The Sister would run the same way when The Dad fried up some Kishka for the two of us.
Do you know why you get that little lemon wedge with your fish? It's so the acid in the lemon juice covers and breaks down the decomposing fish that you are eating. My first real cooking job was at a Hyatt and I learned everything that you, dear consummer, learned 20 years later in Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. Actually, it was worse for us in the middle of the country- our seafood was already two days older than his after shipping from the coast. The first day you got the fish, it was already three days old. So you had to rinse it. The leftovers were iced down over night and the second day, like a college student's t-shirt off the floor, it was sniffed for another use. And then, if there was still some around at the end of the night it was doused with lemon juice to hold one more day. Of course, I watched sides of cod eventually become stinking, probably toxic, amateur ceviche because you never through out fish.
Now, I live on a coast. The one on the left of the map, the bit of America that will be left after the next great earthquake when everything else slides into the Atlantic. By 6am every morning I'm on the phone finding out what fresh catch is available. Sometimes I have to wait while the fish monger cells the boat to find out when that Petrale Sole is coming in. Thanks to a supply of the most beautiful, freshest local fish, I've over come my gag tendency and now enjoy the sea's bounty on a regular basis. Even salmon.
All of this new found pleasure just in time to watch it all come crashing around me.
The fisheries are in big trouble. Blame over fishing, blame global warming, blame the damming of rivers and even blame Costco- doesn't matter. The game is over. This year only 90,000 King Salmon made their way up the Sacramento river, down from over 800,000 just five years ago. The last three years we've had limited seasons for harvesting Kings, this year I doubt there'll be any season at all. In Alaska and Washington, where runs are still a bit healthy, the prices will sky-rocket and you'll get over fishing as they kill the salmon for the golden roe*. Fish used to be cheap compared to meat. Now it's the other way round. I'll buy a New York Strip loin for $8.59 a pound whereas wild king salmon last year averaged over $16. Even local ground fish like Sand Dabs and Petrale have almost tripled in price during the last decade. Thanks to Whole Foods, Costco, and others- America began to expect that fresh fish should be available no matter where you live. Well, there just ain't enough fish for everyone.
*This is a failed joke. Kind of like the goose and the golden egg, but for fish they call it roe. Sorry, read on.
On the East Coast the cod fisheries are devastated. Tuna is becoming very scarce thanks to the popularity of wasabi and soy (the only thing you really taste on most American's doctored sushi- which is totally unfair to the Tuna- there's plenty of wasabi and soy). We all know about Chilean Sea Bass but how many know about Orange Roughie? Remember all those Red Lobster TV ads for Orange Roughie in the 80's? It was a large, good tasting fish with low waste and slow decomposition. Perfect. Of course, nobody figured that it took 40 years for the buggers to get that size and they were fished out in less than a decade. For the environmentalists, a cautionary tale; for the fishing industry it became a business model. Have your tried branzini yet?
So, this is my rant. Two weeks ago I nailed a dish. Mustard Crusted Steelhead on Braised Green Letils with Onion Jus. It's lovely, using the wild caught spring run steelhead. In the future, if I'm lucky, it will be made with ocean farmed, organic, steroid free salmon. A good product, one I'm okay with using, but it's just not the same.
Go in Peace