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Fish tales: Tracing local ocean connections
If you're floundering about what to have for dinner, consider digging into some tasty and healthful seafood tonight. With expertly managed systems of logistics in place, area markets and restaurants provide fresh-from-the-water catches abundant enough to rival any shoreline destination.
As a third generation family business, Peterson's Seafood has had decades to perfect its state-of-the-art supply chain. Ted Heeps, manager of Peterson's and vice president of K. Heeps, Inc., makes purchases directly from seafood markets in Boston, dealing both with fisherman and independent buyers. "You don't know what's on the boats that day," he says. "There might be rough weather that affects availability."
Typical summer hauls include steak fish, such as tuna, swordfish and halibut, and fin fish like flounder, haddock and cod.
"The U.S. has strict standards, more than Asia, so that waters won't be over fished," Heeps says. By 1 p.m. the catch du jour hits the road whole fish packed in specially designed wax boxes that are buried in ice and transported in refrigerated trucks and is ready for Peterson's customers the next day. Fillets are processed on site for commercial accounts, such as Morgan's Restaurant, and for retail sales. In addition to fresh products, Peterson's offers a wide selection of prepared seafood dishes and salads, and premise-smoked seafood, including scallops.
Lee Billy, owner of Northampton Seafood Market, reports that blue claw crabs are a seasonal favorite. "They're also called Maryland crabs, though a lot of them actually come from Virginia waters," Billy says. "Soft shell crabs are also blue claws, caught after shedding their hard shells."
For customers with gourmet tastes, Billy stocks sushi grade tuna, a term that refers not to cut or quality, but to controlled temperature storage sufficient to destroy parasites making it safe to eat raw. A graduate of culinary school, Billy also prepares an assortment of seafood soups, salads and oven-ready entrees for gastronomes pressed for time.
On the other hand, Lopes Seafood, owned by brothers Albano and Fernando Lopes, caters to ethnic cuisine demands for whole fish.
Brightly colored red snapper, porgies, tile fish, octopus, squid and more are sought by a diverse clientele that includes customers of Portuguese, Greek, Italian, Asian and Hispanic heritage.
Dried salt cod (also known as baccala or bacalao), sold in thin strips and thick slabs, presents an excellent alternative to fresh fish. "Salt cod must be soaked in water overnight to remove the salt," explains Albano. "It has no bones, and you can use it to make soups or salads."
Kristofor Sandholm, who became the executive chef-owner of Starfish Brasserie earlier this year, keeps the emphasis of his restaurant on 100% sustainable, eco-friendly seafood. Sea to Table (www.sea2table.com), a family-run company co-founded by a former Starfish employee, connects Sandholm and other chefs with sustainably managed wild fisheries in Trinidad, Tobago, Florida and Alaska. "The fish is packed in ice and sent FedEx overnight," Sandholm says. The menu, which changes daily, might include wahoo, amberjack, salmon or Brazilian Tiger Fish.
In steamy weather, Sandholm recommends ceviche as a refreshing dish that will impress guests. This chilled seafood salad, which originated in Spain, "cooks" fish with acidity rather than heat.
"And it's not intimidating to make," he says.