What You Need to Know About Seafood

by Jeff Berkowitz on April 19, 2010 · 0 comments

in Culinary Philosopher News

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My wife and I do the family shopping together. On a recent weekly outing, we found ourselves at the seafood counter looking over the offerings when I started on one of my rants. The marketing department of this particular establishment decided that it was important to inform us that the sea scallops they were offering were “Wild”. I ranted about the use of the word wild for species that are only found wild. We all know that salmon can be either farm raised or wild and that the wild stuff is much more expensive. The experts tout wild salmon as being better for you and chefs prize the wild flesh as better tasting too. I should know, I am one of those chefs; I never pass up the opportunity to buy and feature Ivory King Salmon, it is one of my favorites. When we talk about salmon it is important to know if we are eating wild salmon or farm raised salmon; it matters in terms of price, fat content, flavor and texture. The question then becomes should we market species of seafood as “wild” when there is no farm raised version?

Is wild fish better than farm raised fish? Let’s take a step back for a moment and discuss why “farming” fish is important. When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth there was so much cod that it was said that one could literally walk upon them from one side of the harbor to the other. It is said that Cape Cod got its name from the abundance of that fish. We know that is no longer the case, in fact, it has been feared that over fishing would deplete the species to the point of extinction in that area. Fortunately, strict management has helped improve the numbers but the fishermen of the region have to go out to George’s Banks to fish and American and Canadian fishermen have had disputes over fishing rights. Wouldn’t it be great if we could produce the fish we loved the best in designated areas , use that as the food source so that “fishing” would be more efficient, less dependent on luck and less harmful to the natural species? Well that is the idea behind fish farming or aquaculture. So what is wrong with this picture? In a word money. It always comes down to money.

There are several species of fish that have been successfully farmed: Salmon, Char,  Catfish, Trout, Tilapia, Shrimp (not fish, but it is seafood), Oysters, Mussels and Clams. Many of these farm raised fish are in some ways superior to their wild cousins. For example, 20 years ago black tiger shrimp were terrible having little or no flavor and a horrible texture. Tilapia and Catfish were said to have a “muddy” flavor and now I find their taste and texture to be quite mild lending them to many culinary preparations. That all sounds good, right? The down side is that when the fish are kept in close quarters they are more susceptible to disease.  Recently, you might have heard that there was a virus in farmed salmon in Chile. It is a good thing for us that the salmon farms in Norway have been able to keep up with demand, although the price of salmon has jumped over $1.20 per pound over the last six months. We have all heard of possible contaminants in the feed for the farmed fish contaminating both the fish and the water they live in. Many people don’t realize that the fish are always fed more than they can eat and that the excess food drops to the bottom of the “pond” in which they live where bacteria can feast causing possible contamination there too. It is clear that farming done the wrong way can be a disaster, but there are reputable and reliable fish farms out there. The mussel and oyster farming industry has done a magnificent job of providing a safe, great quality product while actually reducing the impact on the environment by not tearing up the ocean floor to harvest their product. If done correctly aquaculture can be the answer we are looking for to provide the seafood that we crave.

Unfortunately, not all species of aquatic life are viable in a farming situation. There are a lot of companies currently trying to raise tuna, for example. It would be great to provide a less expensive sashimi grade tuna to Japanese restaurants. So far no one has been able to do this successfully which brings me to the point of my rant. Tuna, lobster, scallops should not be labeled “wild” because there is no farm raised version. To state that these items are wild is irrelevant and aimed at marketing these items to consumers who might be willing to pay a higher price because of the “wild” label. There are several wild species that we should actually stay away from because their life cycles are too long and we are far too efficient at catching them like orange roughy and Chilean sea bass. These are excellent fish but their numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate. There are ethical companies out there that refuse to buy these stressed species, like Legal Sea Foods. I had the good fortune to work for them for a number of years during which time my understanding of how we use the resources of the oceans developed. Everyday we hear that eating fish provides essential nutrients like no other food and that the countries that consume a lot of seafood have the highest life expectancy. It is certain that conscientious aquaculture is here to stay. The best advice I can give is buy the freshest seafood from the best source you can be it wild or farm raised. Be conscious of what you are eating.

Resources to help you choose sustainable and safe seafood are listed below along with a recipe for the lemon aioli served with the grilled salmon in the picture above.


more resources can also be found on our resource page

Seafood Selector

Download a Pocket Size Seafood Selector Guide : Conveniently folds to fit in your wallet

Download a Pocket Size Sushi Selector Guide : Conveniently folds to fit in your wallet

Download a Pocket Size Seafood Selector by Region

Lemon Aioli:

Consume with caution. Eat at your own risk. This product should be consumed right after it’s made because of the raw egg yolk

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 medium garlic clove
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 oz extra virgin olive oil

Mix everything but the oil in a beaker and with the immersion blender, drizzle the oil in slowly while mixing constantly.

If you don’t have an immersion blender use a whisk or buy one. It’s one of those essential kitchen tools.

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