Goodbye to bycatch

October 14, 2009


Image Credit

You may not believe me, but I dislike always being the bearer of bad news; it seems like I’m constantly telling you horror stories and asking you to make tough choices about fish and seafood. Regrettably, today is no exception.

By now most people are aware that making a choice at the fish and seafood counter is much more complicated than deciding what you’d like to eat for dinner. From aquaculture controversies to concerns about certain species becoming extinct, there is a lot to consider before you make a final choice.

And, more confusingly still, while some fish are plentiful and still live up to the adage that there are plenty of fish in the sea, the way that they are caught is harmful to other species. Such is the case with monkfish, a delicious white fish that is caught using bottom trawling (a method that can damage seafloor habitat and often results in high bycatch) or gillnets (which can result in the accidental bycatch and death of sea turtles and other marine mammals).

What’s bycatch you ask? It’s the unintentional harvest of sea, lake or river life, which was not the intended harvest species that results when nets are cast into the water. In some cases, bycatch can be sold as food which is fine if the species involved aren’t endangered or vulnerable; however, often fishermen discard their bycatch which is a terrible waste whether the species involved are vulnerable or not. In fact, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, one in four of all animals caught in as bycatch is discarded.

So, before you make that final purchase choice next time you’re buying fish and seafood, ask the fishmonger about the bycatch associated with your choice. And, if he doesn’t know what the heck you’re talking about, send him here so that he can click on these links to find out more:

Before today, were you aware of the bycatch issue? If so, has it influenced your shopping and restaurant choices?

Topline Trends Tuesday: Get hooked on smaller fish

July 21, 2009


According to experts like the scientists and conservationists who developed Ocean Wise, Seafood Watch and the movie The End of the Line, we would all be doing our oceans a favour by choosing small fish like mackerel and sardines more often.

Studies show that within the past century, we’ve fished about 90% of all the large fish species in the ocean, which means we’re now fishing the last 10%. These large fish take a long time to mature so if we continue to plan menus that feature large fillets of fish as our entrées, it won’t be long until there are no more fish to catch. In fact, one source confided to me that many large fish species could be extinct as soon as 2050!

The good news is that a growing number of restaurant chefs are experimenting with more resilient fish species such as sardines, mackerel and other smaller fish that mature fairly quickly and produce high numbers of offspring.  Regrettably, consumers have yet to embrace these options. In fact, most Canadian fish lovers still prefer to eat salmon, tuna and other large fish while 90% of the sardines caught in North America are sold to Australia to be used as food for farmed tuna.

Have you changed your fish-eating habits because of conservation issues? Or, is this a new idea for you to consider? Likewise, do you think that making choices one meal at a time will make a big difference or is the extinction of blue fin tuna and other big fish inevitable?

Hot weather cooking: easy shellfish salad

June 25, 2009

shellfish salad

It’s so awful, but for me, good food is sometimes a burden. For instance, the other day we needed clams and mussels in a bowl for a photo shoot. They were to serve no other purpose than to be themselves for 5 minutes.

At the end of the day they were up for grabs on our food trolley (we basically do a little grocery shop on our way to our cars each day, taking the food that was made between 9 and 5 home for ourselves or others). No one, including me, wanted the seafood. I’d eaten enough during the day and really, I just couldn’t see myself cooking them up into a chowder. But I felt guilty about wasting these creatures for the sake of a 5-minute TV segment so I took them home, steamed them and shucked the meats from the shells and made this little salad. Then, I packed it into a plastic container and put it in the fridge.

Sabrina and I ate it the next day for lunch and you know what? My efforts were well worth the pay off. And, given how hot it is here in Ontario right now. I can see myself making this salad again late one evening so that I have a cold, yummy, protein dish on reserve for dinner.

Here’s how to make one yourself:

Steam a combination of clams and mussels in a large pot of salted water.
Drain cooked shellfish in a colander and refresh under cold running water
Remove meats from opened shells and discard any unopened shellfish.
Pat the shucked shellfish dry on paper towel.
Combine drained shellfish, diced red pepper and a handful of chopped parsley in a bowl.
Drizzle with lemony-dill dressing; toss and let stand for at least 15 minutes.

What are your hot weather entree favorites?

Perfect weather for grazing

June 24, 2009

I love the extended daylight we have at this time of year. I feel so much more motivated to get out and do things. Unfortunately, it also seems to lead to less impetus to cook a full meal between the hours of 5 and 7 pm. In fact, it’s this time of year when we seem to nibble and nosh pretty much all evening. A yummy salad around 6:30 pm; some grilled Korean short ribs at 7:30 pm (or when Oliver takes a break from shooting hoops in the drive way with his friends); a bowl of strawberries with ice cream at 9 pm…’s an extended meal time pattern that just seems to work at this time of year.

My old friend Julie Van Rosendaal obviously follows a similar pattern. If you read her blog Dinner with Julie, you’ll know that her life is truly hectic.  She has a vibrant media career with crazy hours, a toddler and an abundance of charity commitments that keep her going hither and thither.  Through it all she manages to create, photograph and post some of the yummiest and best recipes in Canada. Besides being part of the new superstar blogger project Good Bite, she’s also just released an updated, newly formated version of one of her books and the timing, for me at least, couldn’t be better. Grazing: A Healthier approach to Snacks and Finger Foods is packed with just the kinds of foods I need for summer. From cheesy black bean dip to hoisin pork lettuce wraps, this collection of snack foods is going to get a lot of use not only next week on Canada Day but all summer long.

I asked Julie what snacks she recommends for this weekend and on Canada Day and she suggestee totally on-trend but still proudly Canadian Dukka Salmon Sticks:

Dukkah Salmon


Dukkah is a fantastic blend of spices and nuts that you could eat out of hand or sprinkle on salads, but its intended serving method is to put it out in a shallow bowl alongside crusty bread and good olive oil; you dip the bread into the oil and then into the dukkah. So since there is dipping action involved, here it is. If there is a snack out there that’s good for your heart, this is it.

3/4 cup hazelnuts or whole almonds
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
2 Tbsp. cumin seed
1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. flaky sea salt

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spread the hazelnuts out on a baking sheet and roast for 5-10 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. Transfer them onto a tea towel, fold the towel over and rub them to remove as much of the skins as you can; set aside to cool. (If you’re using almonds, toast them but don’t worry about removing the skins.)

In a dry skillet, toast the sesame seeds over medium heat, shaking the pan often, until golden and fragrant. Transfer to a bowl. Add the coriander and cumin seeds to the pan and toast until they begin to pop; transfer to a food processor with the hazelnuts and pulse until finely ground, then add to the sesame seeds and stir to combine them. Season with salt and pepper and blend well.

Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

Per tablespoon: 55 calories, 5.1 g total fat (0.5 g saturated fat, 3 g monounsaturated fat, 1.2 g polyunsaturated fat), 1.8 g protein, 1.8 g carbohydrate, 0 mg cholesterol, 0.7 g fiber. 76% calories from fat

Honey, Ginger & Sesame Salmon Sticks

To me, these are like candy on a stick; I’d eat the whole lot if no one was around to fight me for them. Salmon is a fatty fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which fight heart disease by lowering triglyceride levels and seem to have a protective effect against some forms of cancer.

1 1/2 lbs. salmon filet
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp. lime or lemon juice
1 Tbsp. finely grated ginger
Sesame seeds, toasted, for sprinkling

Cut salmon into big bite sized pieces. Combine the honey, soy sauce and lime juice in a bowl or large zip-lock bag. Add the salmon and stir or shake to coat well. Cover (or seal) and refrigerate for 24 hours, or at least one hour if that’s all you have time for.

When you’re ready to cook them, thread each piece of salmon onto a bamboo skewer that has been soaked in water for at least 10 minutes. Grill over high heat for a couple minutes per side, until just cooked through, or broil for 3-4 minutes. Don’t overcook them or the salmon will dry out.

Place the sesame seeds in a shallow dish and dip one side of each skewer in the seeds to coat, or sprinkle them overtop. Serve immediately.

Makes about 1 1/2 dozen salmon sticks.

Per stick: 95 calories, 2.5 g total fat (0.6 g saturated fat, 0.9 g monounsaturated fat, 0.9 g polyunsaturated fat), 9.5 g protein, 9.6 g carbohydrate, 24.6 mg cholesterol, 0 g fiber. 23% calories from fat

Honey-Mustard Salmon Sticks: add 1 Tbsp. grainy Dijon mustard to the marinade mixture instead of the ginger.

Honey, Garlic & Ginger Sesame Chicken Sticks: add 4 crushed cloves of garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes to the marinade, and use skinless chicken breasts or thighs in place of the salmon. (They’ll take a little longer to cook.)

Dukkah Salmon Sticks: don’t marinate the salmon at all, but cube, brush with a little oil and cook it on skewers as directed. Instead of sesame seeds, dip each piece into a shallow dish of dukkah

Recipe, variations and photo reprinted with permission of the author from Grazing: A Healthier approach to Snacks and Finger Foods (Whitecap 2009).

Soft shell crab

June 1, 2009


I spent part of my youth living in Vancouver. On Saturday mornings, my mom and I would often head down to the Steveston docks where the fishermen sold their catch. Among the many wonderful things we’d bring home were long, gangly Alaskan king crab legs that we steamed and ate like lobster with drawn garlic butter. Other times we got saucer-shaped Dungeness crabs that we steamed and shelled before forming the meat into crab cakes that we pan-fried and served with tartar sauce. Delish!

Despite my love of crab, until last weekend I had never tasted soft shell crab. Martin brought some home to serve at a dinner party we hosted and I couldn’t believe how easy they were to prepare – no shells to crack, no cut fingers, no splashy juices on the cupboards!

Here’s what Martin did:

He snipped off the front of each crab behind the eyes. Then he dipped each one into beaten egg before dredging it in flour and seasoning with salt and pepper. Then he tossed the crabs into a shallow pool of canola oil, heated almost until it was smoking. He browned the crabs on both sides and we ate them – shells, guts and all – with sliced watermelon. Easiest. Appetizer. Ever!

Since our party, I’ve done a little investigating and I can tell you a few more facts about soft shell crab:

  • They are usually blue crabs and the season lasts from May to July.
  • As the crabs grow larger at this time of year, their shells cannot expand so they molt their exterior and have a soft covering for a few days as their new shell develops; that’s why you can eat them whole.
  • The best soft shell crab comes from Chesapeake Bay but there are edible soft shell crabs in the Gulf of Mexico, too.
  • The crabs should be kept alive until cooking so buy them packed in straw covered ice so that they are very cold but never frozen.

Although it didn’t bother most of us to eat the entire soft shell crab, eating them innards and all freaked two of our guests out. And I can imagine that some of you are grossed out that we cut into them while still alive. Are we barbarians? Or, could you prepare and eat a soft shell crab, too?

PS: If you’re hungry for more info about soft shell crabs, you can check out this story in last week’s Washington Post; however, you may need a subscription to view it.

Topline Trends Tuesday: Lobster – poised to become the new shrimp

March 31, 2009

img_2583According to a recent CBC news report, Atlantic Canadian lobster is now often a cheaper grocery store choice than bologna: “During the fishing season off the Nova Scotia coast at the end of the year, prices on the wharf fell to $3.50 per pound ($7.70 per kilogram). Sale prices for live lobster in grocery stores over the holidays dropped as low as about $13 per kilogram.” (According to Grocery Gateway, in Ontario bologna is currently 9.98 per lb.)

So, what will the lobster fishermen – an industry already struggling before the economic downturn – do to encourage higher lobster prices?

They have a multi-pronged plan to encourage people to use lobster more often in home cooking and to remind consumers that Canadian Atlantic lobster is a premium choice.

To that I say Bravo! I’d love to see people (in other words me) eating more of this wonderful Canadian seafood.

What about you? Do you think lobster will start turning up in your shopping cart more often if you can start thinking of it in the same category with shrimp?

PS: Pictured above is chef Derek Bendig and the lobster quiche he made for a party I went to a few weeks ago. It was pretty yummy.

Topline Trends Tuesday: Bivalve curious

March 10, 2009


I bet we can all agree that this recession is a bitch, but some good comes even from such pain. As a result of these leaner times, humble foods are getting the attention they deserve. Sure, we all still love Alaska king crab, truffles and foie gras, but we’re also rediscovering less prestigious foods and remembering how fantastic they taste, too.

Case in point: mussels and clams. Not only were these bivalves featured on a recent cover of Waitrose Food Illustrated, they’ve also been front and centre in other publications such as New York Magazine, Nation’s Restaurant News and the Times Online. And out there in real life, I had a very tasty dish of mussels with gnocchi at Butter in New York City last week.

This trend isn’t just for those who don’t want to splurge on the good stuff. No, even gourmets are jonesing for bivalves these days. A couple of weeks ago, I attended Smokerfest ’09, a party held in Pangaea Restaurant sous chef Shaun Edmonstone’s backyard and that dish of shells pictured above is proof that even spoiled chefs are glad to see these sea dwellers enjoying renewed popularity!

Do you enjoy mussels and clams often? If so, how do you like to prepare them? I find myself making classic white wine steamed mussels often but that’s about it. Do you have any other suggestions for me?