Whole Living (April 2012)
We consider ourselves conscientious consumers. Struggling conscientious consumers, but still.
We try to support local farmers through our farmers market and CSA. We try to cut down the amount of waste we produce -- we've eliminated most of our paper towel use (it takes us a couple months to go through one roll now), and we wash and reuse resealable plastic bags. We buy very few processed foods and, for the most part, we care about where we're spending our money.
That's not to say that we're perfect. Far from it. Being a conscientious consumer can be equal parts overwhelming and exhausting. You think you're doing a good job in your little corner of the world, and then it's pointed out just how little you actually know.
That was the case in January, when we made Swordfish Puttanesca. Unable to find swordfish steaks at the time, we bought monkfish without a second thought. After we wrote about it, however, a few readers pointed out that both swordfish and monkfish are on the Monterrey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch List. According to the watch list, some swordfish is acceptable, but all monkfish should be avoided. Lesson learned.
Are we kept up at night, unable to sleep, because of our errant monkfish purchase? Well, no. But if we'd known then what we know now, we likely would have chosen a different fish. Hey, you don't know what you don't know.
So we were happy to see that the April issue of Whole Living features a spread on sustainable seafood choices. It features Barton Seaver, a D.C. chef whose recent cook book, For Cod and Country, is all about sustainable seafood options. (It's a beautiful book, lovingly photographed by the lovely Ms. Katie Stoops, who, coincidentally, was our wedding photographer. Small world!)
In the magazine, this recipe features barramundi, not cod. We'd never heard of barramundi (have you?), but we headed down to D.C.'s Maine Avenue Fish Market to try to find it. (Fun fact: the Maine Avenue Fish Market is the oldest continuously operated seafood market in the United States. You can tell that at your next dinner party.)
D.C.'s Maine Avenue Fish Market, the oldest in the U.S. (Take that, Fulton Fish Market!)
Anyway, the fishmongers at Maine Avenue hadn't heard of barramundi, either. Turns out it's sometimes referred to as Asian seabass, though we didn't have that piece of information when we were at the market. While writing this piece, we called a nearby Whole Foods to ask if they carry barramundi, and the gentleman at the seafood counter told us it's available frozen. Good to know.
The recipe recommends using striped bass if you can't find barramundi. We didn't know that at the time, so we purchased cod instead.
Was cod a sustainable choice? We have no idea! Cod itself is hit-and-miss on the seafood watch list. And while we know we purchased Atlantic cod, we don't know how it was fished. But even if cod is overfished, is it better to eat an overfished species that's closer to home, or a sustainable option like barramundi, which has to be shipped from the South Pacific? Our heads are hurting.
Anyway, we took the cod home and started cooking. This a simple fish preparation. The fish itself goes into the oven while you purée broccoli and make a "salsa" with raisins, pecans, lemon zest, garlic and olive oil. The fish is then served on a bed of the broccoli purée, with the salsa spooned on top.
"Light" is the first word we'd use to describe this dish. The whole thing is very "let's gear up for swimsuit season!!!" The fish is flaky, the purée is airy, but our favorite component was the pecan-raisin salsa: It's definitely an accompaniment to fish that we'll riff on again. We both thought the broccoli purée, while tasty, was a slightly odd match for the fish and salsa. If we were to make this dish a second time, we'd opt for brown rice in place of the broccoli puree (and just have steamed broccoli on the side).
We've walked away from this experience a tiny bit more knowledgeable about smart seafood choices, and a bit more curious about trying other sustainable fish varieties. And that seems like a success to us.
How knowledgeable are you about the seafood you buy? Are you a watch list hawk, or trying not to think about it? Let us know in the comments!
Notes from Zach and Clay of The Bitten Word:
- Though our broccoli was tender after boiling, we had difficulty getting it a good consistency using a wooden spoon. We remedied this by pulsing it in an upright blender.
- To save time, we toasted our pecans in a dry skillet on the stove top, rather than in the oven as the recipe suggests.
½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
¼ cup raisins
½ clove garlic, finely grated (using a zester)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for pan
1 lb broccoli, stalks peeled and thinly sliced and florets cut into ½-inch pieces
4 5-oz skinless barramundi fillets
Heat oven to 375º. Spread pecans on a baking sheet and toast until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Immediately transfer to a medium bowl and stir in raisins, garlic, lemon zest, and 2 Tbsp oil.
Season with salt and set aside.
Place broccoli in a pot just large enough to hold it and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook until broccoli is falling apart and stalks are very tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, reserving ¼ cup cooking liquid, and return to pot. Stir in remaining 3 Tbsp oil. Gently mash broccoli with a wooden spoon, adding reserved water until creamy. Season with salt and keep warm.
Reduce oven to 275º. On a lightly oiled baking sheet, season fillets with salt and cook, depending on thickness, about 15 minutes (or until just opaque).
To serve, divide purée among plates, top with fillets, and garnish with salsa.