There were a lot of startling statistics that came out of the seafood discussions at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sustainable Foods Institute last week. Did you know that more than 90% of the fish we eat is imported? How about the fact that more than half of it is aquacultured? But the most startling to me was the fact that more than half of the fish consumed in the United States comes from just three groups – shrimp, tuna and salmon.
You can look it up. But what are we going to do about that? One answer would be to eat more of different kinds of fish. So I poked around with some of the chefs who were participating and asked them what one fish they would recommend to cooks who were trying to break out of that seafood rut.
British television food activist Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall has come out strong for mackerel. In fact, a big part of his Fish Fight campaign was encouraging mackerel consumption by asking fish 'n' chip shops to add something he called a "mackerel bap" – basically, mackerel fried with a light batter and served on a bun with tartar sauce. Sounds wonderful.
Art Smith, Oprah's favorite chef and owner of four restaurants across the country, went in a more populist direction. "I still don't think we've done enough for catfish," he said. "It's a great fish that we still don't use enough. The best thing is it's very affordable and that's a big part of my philosophy – making good food available for everybody."
Border Grill's Mary Sue Milliken said, "My choices would probably be the same as every other chef's – sardines, mackerel, anchovies. Those are all fish with amazing flavor. They do have bone structure that makes them a problem for some people, but I think we as chefs need to find way to get past that. What about serving anchovy hamburgers? With the flesh chopped fine?"
Paul Greenberg, author of the splendid "Four Fish", which addresses the problems of sustainable seafood, and the upcoming "Fish on Your Plate: Why We Eat What We Eat from the Sea," proposed in one panel that we should eat more lionfish – an invasive species that is not only taking over the Caribbean, but is also quite delicious.
Later he added another fish to his wish list: sea robin, kind of like a sculpin. "It's a fish you always catch when you're fishing for something else," he said. "There's not a lot of meat on it, and it's all back toward the tail, but it's really delicious. It's like the rascasse they use in bouillabaisse in France."
Chris Cosentino, the Bay Area's "Offal Chef" at Incanto in San Francisco and PIGG at Umamicatessen in Los Angeles, opted for the most intimidating choice of all -- giant squid. "When it comes to underutilized fish, I wish the public wasn't so afraid of different shapes and sizes outside of the standard fillet," he said.
"I think the giant squid is a perfect example of an undervalued ocean creature. Everyone isn't afraid of squid but the size and flavor of the giant squid scares people because it has a very intense flavor but it is quite delicious."