Eating more fish is healthy. Finding good fish is hard work.

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That’s what I call a beautiful piece of fresh tuna. Good fat marbling for flavor and nutrition. Drills down to fatty acids including omega-3 fatty acids. Beautiful color. Pan fried with just a little salt and pepper and we’ll be good to go.

My fishmonger assured me it was caught off Montauk point Long Island. And I have no reason to doubt him.  There’s good reason to find folks you trust and buy from them. Yes I know it’s a gut response but I believe it’s the best way to source.

My first experience shopping for fresh fish was the local farmer’s market was in Garches, a suburb outside of Paris. The men did the fishing, wives and daughters did the selling, and my French was good enough to establish myself as a serious customer. I learned how fresh fish smells and tastes. And what it looks like. And I experienced firsthand the value of relationship building.

It’s been a couple of years now that I have been cultivating my relationship with the fishmonger at the farmers market. At one market I buy from the fisherman himself. At the other I buy from the fisherman’s wife. Sometimes they make fun of my curiosity but most of the time I seem to be able to get answers my questions. More important, over the last couple of years that I have been cultivating relationships.

Trust is not something you can build with just any old person or any old supplier. Building a good relationship happens on a personal level. Building trust is important with any person you buy from, but to my way of looking at the world it is especially important to establish trust with the person who sells you fish because there are so many issues out there. Mislabeling. Adulteration. Sustainability. Toxicity. And exactly how long ago was that fish was caught and exactly how has it been handled. I can count on one hand the places I have enough faith in to feel comfortable buying or eating fish.

So during the summer farmer’s market season, Wednesday is fish day and we are eating very well.

Delicious, nutritious, sustainable mussels.

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Never tried mussels before but I’m always game for new things. They look delicious.

Adventurous eaters like you deserve a gold star. So go for it. And trust me, mussels are delicious no matter how you serve them.

A good place to start would be with a mussels and pasta dish for supper this evening. Proportions are for two people. Not hard either once you get the hang of it. Here is what you will need to get started:

• 1 kg (2 pounds) farm raised mussels, rinsed and sorted

• 100 ml (1/2 cup) white wine or dry vermouth

• 40 grams (3 tablespoons) olive oil

• 70 grams (2 1/2 ounces) linguine, measured dry ** See Carbohydrates below

• couple cloves smashed garlic

• handful chopped parsley

As you read through the instructions, keep in mind the method requires multi-tasking. Rinse mussels and check each one, removing any that do not close when tapped. Add dry vermouth or white wine to 3 liter pot, pour in mussels, raise heat to high, cover, and steam mussels until they open. Discard any that do not open. As mussels begin to open, remove the meat from the shell being careful to catch every drop of cooking liquid, a delicious combination of “mussel liquor” and wine. Discard shells.

Meanwhile, start pasta water to boil. Add olive oil to a sauté pan and gentle sweat crushed garlic. Add chopped parsley. Set aside until mussels are cooked and shells discarded. Then add mussels along with the cooking liquid to the olive oil mixture. Add salt to boiling water and cook pasta al dente. Combine with mussels, olive oil, garlic herb mixture, and serve.

Taste always comes first. That’s the delicious part and it’s easy to like these tender little mussels sweet like the sea, steamed in wine, steeped in olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, and served over linguine.

Some of us are adventurous eaters and some of us just want good taste. And that’s okay. Next step for folks like you is to go out, get yourself some very fresh recently harvested mussels, start cooking up a storm, and have fun.

 

Wait a minute! What about nutritious and sustainable?

 

Curious eaters like you deserve transparency and full disclosure. You expect more from the plate and have the patience to dig a little deeper. An ingredient audit, nutrient analysis, and allergen alert provided below.

INGREDIENT AUDIT

Mussels – Mussels grow wild in shallow waters along the east coast from Long Island to Newfoundland and are sustainably farmed in Canada.

The mussels I used for the recipe were farm raised from Prince Edward Island. The mussel seed is collected from the wild, not hatcheries, and mussels are harvested from collector ropes suspended in the ocean. Mussels feed on natural food particles, which are present in the water column and do not require feed. They get all their nourishment naturally, from the pristine ocean waters that surround them while they grow.

My preference is farmed from an environmental perspective and from a convenience perspective. Farmed mussels aren’t muddy or covered in silt and usually don’t have “beards” those pesky little hairy outgrowths found frequently on wild mussels.

Linguine – Refined durum wheat slow dried bronze cut imported from Italy.

Olive Oil – Extra virgin olive oil from California. Harvest date October – November 2015.

Dry Vermouth – Good quality imported from France. White wine is a good substitute.

NUTRIENT ANALYSIS

Per serving (1/2 recipe about 1 cup):   520 CALORIES

25g fat, 470mg sodium, 35g carb, 28g protein.

Job one when running numbers is to be as accurate as possible.

The challenge for this dish is the mussels. There is good data on both raw mussels and steamed mussels in my database, but none to tell me the ratio of raw in shell mussels to steamed mussels on the plate. Further investigation reveals the problem. The amount of “mussel liquor” another name for the seawater trapped inside the mussel shell, is too variable for weight based calculation.

So I ran the numbers with steamed mussels using my rule of thumb 20% cooked yield for mussels as purchased in shell. However, if I were doing this calculation for a restaurant menu label, I would recommend laboratory analysis to capture the addition sodium in that trapped seawater.

Calories – the metric of choice for portion sizing.

Restaurant portions of course are large and 1000 calories or more per plate is routine. More relevant is to browse through recipes developed for home cooks so I examined about a dozen from various online sites. Results reflect a range from 470 to 1200 with most clustered between 600 to 800 calories per serving. Putting my recipe into context, a 520 calorie portion size is moderate.

Fats – Olive oil, considered a healthy fat, is the primary source, but a smaller fraction come from the mussels. Like all seafood, mussels are a source of omega 3 fatty acids (1 mg per 100 grams cooked).

Salt – The respectable level of 470mg sodium per serving is probably an under-estimate because as noted above the “mussel liquor” is not included in the calculation.

Mussels also bring minerals like manganese, selenium, iodine, iron, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, copper, potassium. Sodium is just part of the total mineral package.

** Carbohydrates – My recipe calls for a small serving of linguine. The usual amount found in most recipes is 2 ounces (56 grams) per person. However many classic recipes specify larger amounts, probably because up until recently the standard rule of thumb for recipe from Italy was 100 grams (3 ½ ounces) per serving.

Refined grain has the fiber removed. The linguine is deliciously chewy when cooked al dente, but had I used whole wheat linguine, the fiber count would have been significantly higher.

Protein – Mussels are an excellent source of protein (24 grams per 100 grams steamed). Smaller fraction of plant protein from the linguine.

 

 

 

Healthy versus Healthy.

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Most of us agree now that healthy eating is important. This is new. Just a few years ago, labeling something healthy was the kiss of death. But times have changed.

Is it a seismic shift? Time will tell on that one, but observers agree that it’s big and important and requires attention.

The good news is we all want to eat healthy. The bad news is we can’t agree on what exactly healthy is.

Take supermarkets. The average supermarket has 45,000 individual items. At least that was what the Food Marketing Institute estimated when they did the count for 2013. And every one of those products has a label and many have additional certifications.

Or farmer’s markets. Plenty of good stuff to buy at least in the summer. But the produce is dirty and untrimmed and needs to be stored correctly and cooked. Not easy tasks without a good kitchen set up and lots of time to shop.

Or restaurants. Cooking not required. But you still have to make choices and decide what to order.

Now imagine how much harder all this is if you never took a home economics course or learned cooking skills? Or if you had never seen a farm or had a home garden? Or if you never met anyone who stocked a root cellar or made cheese or baked bread? We have a situation where one to two generations comes to the marketplace without these basic skills.

What to eat is a tough decision. And sometimes all you have to go on is an image or a label.

People may know the words they want but they need help translating the words to the table. Now this is good for those of us in the translation business. We can plate healthy to fit what the person says they want. And that’s good for business.

But labels are like metaphors. They stand for something in the real world. Think about it this way. In Ireland, grass-fed isn’t used as a marketing label. It’s simply the way it’s done. At least for now.

Accessible, normal things don’t need labels. But today’s consumers don’t bring basic cooking and food skills to the table and so they depend on labels.  Healthy is defined by so many different labels today that I could not find room to fit them all in the infograph. Like I say, it’s good for those of us in the translation business.

Confusion continues and labels sell products and marketing works.

And the bright shiny silver lining to the dark cloud of confusion is most people may actually really be eating healthier today. The competition between contenders for the best healthy diet is fierce, but as long as it uses real food and more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, at least the essentials will be in place.

The brutal business of steaming clams.

Long Island little neck clams
Long Island little neck clams

I have a lot of culinary respect for Chef Dan Barber. Never been to the restaurant, but I have read his recent book The Third Plate. It’s a good read.

Earlier this summer, Dan Barber did an interview with Eater New York

“Why Farm-to-Table King Dan Barber Believes Meat Is Hyper-Seasonal”. Here is the response to a question posed by the interviewer: “Do you believe people who eat meat should see an animal being slaughtered at least once to gain appreciation for what’s on their plate? If so, why?”

Intuitively I subscribe to that, but I don’t know that you need to see the sacrifice to be worthy of eating meat. There’s a part of me that believes that all cooks should, which is what we do here at Blue Hill. We make them part of slaughter because they’re working with these animals, with a ton of meat throughout the course of a week. I feel that it’s pretty important that they get that kind of side.

If you’re eating meat and you’re knowing the farmer and you’re supporting the right kind of ecology I think that’s enough. Or I’ll put it to you another way, if I were to demand everyone who eats meat thoughtfully should also slaughter or be a part of a slaughter of meat I would say the same thing about the harvest of a plant of kale or the harvesting of a tomato. You need to be there for the harvest.

Now you may be asking what in the world does a carniferous celebrity chef have to do with me learning how to steam clams? Let me explain.

I have always believed that people who eat meat should be prepared to slaughter and butcher the animal. Or the chicken. Or the fish. So to find someone of Dan Barber’s statue actually saying this out loud is notable. To me at least.

Would I actually be able to do it? Slaughter and eat an animal? I don’t know. I’ve never had a chance to try. But that is the connection with clams and this is the rest of the story.

Linguine and clam sauce is a truly delectable dish. One of the first restaurant meals I had after arriving in New York and it was love at first bite.

Being a California girl, the only clams I had ever heard of before moving to Long Island were Pismo clams. Pismos grew big up to seven inches and I think folks made chowder with them. I had never seen a small delicate clam before I arrived in New York.

We all tend to feel comfortable doing the things we are used to. So the first time I saw a native Long Islander dig up a clam, break it open, and eat it raw, my stomach wretched. It was way out of my comfort zone. Still can’t do it to this day.

But love is a powerful motivator and I really love linguine and clam sauce. So a couple of years ago, I took action. My analytic left brain knew if I ate clams someone had to get them from the shell onto the plate and logic demanded either I forgo the pleasure or I be prepared to do the job myself. Mind over matter is easier said then done. So for almost a year I just looked. Then one beautiful summer day I took the plunge and purchased a dozen little neck clams.

And yes the linguine and clam sauce was delicious. Been making variations ever since.

So I say thank you Casey, my greenmarket fishmonger, for picking out the smallest ones just for me. And I say thank you Dan Barber for giving me the courage to say out loud something I have felt in my heart but have been reluctant to say before.

Here is one healthy sustainable fish.

Porte or Scup | photo from NOAA fishwatch.gov
Porgy or Scup | photo from NOAA fishwatch.gov

Stenotomus chrysops, more commonly called porgy or scup, is one of my favorite whole fishes. I didn’t know how to call the fish the first time I bought one, but it was love a first sight. The right size and so fresh I could smell the sea. I like my fish whole. Grilled, steamed, broiled, pan fried. Just give me a whole fish.

I lived on the south shore when I first moved to New York, so I had good access to fresh fish. My curiosity and sense of culinary adventure have always been my best teacher, so although I never heard of a fish called a porgy or a scup before, it was the right size and the right price and I bought a couple on the spot.

Living on the South Shore of Long Island provided good access to fishmongers and local catch and we ate a lot of scup. The fish is just the right size for two modest portions or one big e.g. generous restaurant size portion.

Calculations for whole fish are easy. Count 50% edible and 50% for bones, skin, cooking loss, and all that other stuff. A fish that weighs 1 1/3 pounds (600 grams) as purchased means about 10 ounces (300 grams) cooked. The nutrition nerd in me really diggs those kind of calculations. I prefer using the gram amounts because I can do the arithmetic in my head.

My scup was a resounding success. They do have bones, but practice makes perfect and my daughter learned to tackle whole fish by the age of 12 with skill and gusto.

I no longer live so close to the shore and I have discovered that scup is not easy to come by. Greeks are fish eaters and whole scup or porgy is often served in Greek restaurants. And I also know there have been periods of intense regulation due to over fishing which has periodically limited the catch.

But my favorite Greenmarket fishmonger was the person who told me the real reason. Although scup is plentiful now, they just don’t sell.

“I bring them but no one buys them so I am stuck with the whole lot.” Next question of course is why don’t your other customers like them as much as I do. “Probably because they are sold whole.”

Since early 2013, an national organization called Chefs Collaborative has been holding Trash Fish Dinners around the country to bring attention to undervalued and underutilized species of fish. The goal is to encourage chefs and diners to focus on fish that have historically been left off menus to help to take pressure off of overfished species and help support our fishing communities

Sounds to me like scup fits that description well. It’s plentiful, sustainable, local and underused. Personally I like it much better than tilapia, another popular inexpensive mild flavored fish. The flavor profile is more interesting to my palate and because it’s local I can buy the fish whole. And serving it whole means the filet gets cooked protected by the skin so moisture and flavor are better retained.

So there you have it. For you fish eaters who live on the east coast and are looking for an underutilized “trash” fish to cook whole, give scup a try. Healthy. Sustainable. Delicious. Who can ask for more?

My favorite sustainable seafood linguine.

clams, scallops, shrimp, linguine | photo gourmet-metrics
clams, scallops, shrimp, linguine | photo gourmet-metrics

Sustainability is not technically a nutrition issue or a health issue, but it’s a noble goal. So why not eat more sustainably when we can?

As with many noble goals, what is and is not sustainable is not always easy to decipher, so I am starting with something really obvious. Local fish and shellfish. Fish that are locally sourced and responsibly gathered so as to maintain the population. Living as close to the Atlantic Ocean as I do, seems logical to me.

And since I was in Long Beach, I visited one of my trusted fishmongers and picked up some clams, scallops, and shrimp. Ooooooooops! Clams and scallops are local. Shrimp is not. Baby steps.

My recipe is my own version of that classic dish linguine and clam sauce. My method is really straightforward. Get everything ready to go, prepare any side dishes before you start, decide the time you need to serve, and be prepared to multi-task like crazy!

1 dozen small littleneck clams / 540 grams
2 – 3 dry sea scallops / 100 grams
4 large wild caught domestic shrimp / 100 grams
7/8 cup dry white vermouth / 200 ml
Couple cloves smashed garlic
fresh parsley or basil
2 ounces Italian linguine / 60 grams

Assemble and prep all ingredients before starting. De-sand clams if necessary. You will need a 3 liter covered pot for steaming the clams, a sauté pan large enough to hold cooked pasta, a 2 liter pot for cooking pasta, and a couple of small bowls.

Remove shell, devein shrimp, cut lengthwise, and set aside. Cut scallops in half and set aside. Scrub clams and place in bottom of large pot. Add vermouth, raise heat, cover pot, and steam open. As clams start to open, remove each one to a bowl carefully retaining any cooking liquid. As the shells cool, remove clams from shell, cut in half, and set aside. Strain remaining liquid to remove any sand or grit and set aside.

As clams steam open, add olive oil to sauté pan, sweat garlic, and sauté shrimp and scallops removing each piece as it finishes cooking. Then add reserved clam juice to pan, increase heat, and reduce volume if necessary.

As clam steam open, start pasta cooking water. Do not salt pasta water. Start to cook pasta about 10 minutes prior to serve time. Cook al dente and add to reduced clam juice / vermouth. Add herbs of choice, the clams, shrimp, and scallops back into pasta. Drizzle with good olive oil and serve immediately.

The proportions above serve two people. Those bits of red you see in my photo are the plum tomato I added at the last minute, part of this weeks CSA pickup. Not part of my usual recipe but a delicious addition.

Now this is exciting. I have arranged to get a Porgy at the market next week. Porgies are a locally caught, wonderfully flavorful fish that is not easy to filet because of the bone structure. According to my fishmonger, most of his customers are unwilling to tackle a whole fish so I had to put in a special order. I have no problem cooking the whole fish. In fact, I find it’s the best way to preserve delicate flavor.

So far sustainable fish looks like a good way to go.

Clams & Linguine

Fresh, local, and in season depends on where you live and what is accessible.  During the summer, I have easy access to clams because my local greenmarket is on the south shore of Long Island and offers a constant supply of fresh, local fish and shellfish.  All last summer I cooked flounder, bluefish, porgies, tuna, even a swordfish caught off Montauk Point.  And all last year I kept looking at those delicate Long Island little neck clams.  I never bought them because I’m just not used to clams.  Love to eat them and never cooked them.  So this year I decided to do it.  How else can you keep on learning if you don’t try new things?  I pulled out my best reference sources, put together a starting structure, and am ready to share the results.  Steaming little neck clams open is easy once you get the hang of it.  I used a 3 liter pot (actually the bottom of my steamer) as you can see in the picture below.  White wine or dry vermouth can be substituted for all or part of the water needed to steam the clams.  100 grams linguine gripped firmly in the hand measures about ¾ inches or 2 cm in diameter.  You will also need a medium sized sauté pan and a 2 liter saucepan to cook the pasta.  Proportions listed below are for 2 modest servings.

Linguine and Clam Sauce

makes 2 cups

cost $11

serves 2

440 calories per serving

RECIPE

2 dozen little neck clams (about 900g measured raw in shell), scrubbed and de-sanded as required

1 cup water (¼ liter) for steaming

4 robust cloves fresh garlic (25g), peeled and smashed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (30ml)

⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon oregano

3 ½ ounces dry linguine (100g), made with 100% hard durum wheat or semolina flour

½ cup chopped parsley (15g)

Assemble all ingredients before starting.

Bring water to boil in the bottom of a large pot.  When the water is boiling, add the clams.  As the clams open, remove each one carefully to a bowl retaining every drop of the flavorful liquid.   Steaming the clams open takes about 5 minutes.  As soon as the shells are cool, remove clams from shells.  Keep clams in a small bowl and strain the remaining liquid to remove any remaining sand or grit.  Put aside keeping clams and juice separate.  As the clams are steaming, add olive oil to the sauté pan and slowly soften garlic over low heat.  Add crushed red pepper and oregano to garlic oil, letting the mixture steep for about five minutes.  Add reserved clam juice, increase heat, and reduce volume to about half.  Keep sauce warm.

Cook linguine al dente in salted water.  Remove with a pasta fork and transfer to the sauté pan.  Retain cooking water.  Stir in clams and parsley.  If more liquid is required, add some from the pasta cooking water.  Serve immediately.

METRICS

Clams are a significant source of protein as well as many essential vitamins and minerals.  Olive oil is a natural source of oleic acid.

Total fat exceeds “healthy” limits, but please remember to put this disclaimer in the context of the great fat debate.  Saturated fats are within “healthy” range.  Your may be asking where does the saturated fat come from?  It is the olive oil.  Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, olive also contains a fraction (14%) saturated fatty acid so a couple tablespoons adds up.  Sodium is within the current standard of less than 480mg per serving and 140mg per 100 grams.   Now let’s step back a moment and consider carbohydrate metrics.    My favorite Italian recipe source, Le Reccette Regionali Italiane, lists 100 grams dry pasta per person.    My version reduces that amount by half to 50 grams per person.    My preference is less pasta and more clams.  But that’s the joy of cooking!  It is completely up to you.

References:  Le Riccette Regionali Italiane (La Cucina Italiana, Quart edizione: settembre 1976), Fish without a doubt, Rick Moonen (Houghton Mifflin Company 2008)

 

Pper Serving (255g):  440 Calories, Fat 17g, Saturated Fat  2.5g, Sodium  240mg, Carbohydrate  45g, Fiber 3g, Protein  25g.
Excellent  Source:  Protein, Vitamin A,  Vitamins B1,  B2, B3, B12, Vitamin C, Folate, Iron. 
Good Source: Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc.  

Sardine Sandwich with Horseradish Mayonnaise

I love sardine sandwiches.  Always have.  I learned how to make them from my mom.  She used red onion, some mustard, some lettuce, and always a robust whole grain wheat bread.  So I was pleased to see two version of the sandwich honored recently in The Sandwich Issue of SAVEUR Magazine and delighted to fine both versions were provided by Michael Colameco, an engaging and knowledgeable New York City food writer and broadcaster.

The moment was right and the version with the horseradish mayonnaise caught my eye.  A can of slightly smoked Portuguese sardines packed in extra virgin olive oil was sitting in my cupboard ready to go.  Next to the sardines was a jar of imported roasted red peppers from Italy.  With some improvisation in the making of the horseradish cream and a quick switch from lettuce to arugula, I put together my amateur’s version.  But I stayed with the whole wheat bread.  We never used rye bread when I was growing up in California.  And it is heresy to admit this, but I have never really developed a taste for rye despite the great selection that is now available to me living in New York.

My amateur version is detailed below.  For Chef Mike’s version, check out SAVEUR #137 The Sandwich Issue for his Sardine Sandwich with Horseradish Cream.

 

makes 2 open faced sandwiches

cost $7.00

calories 660

serves 2

330 calories per serving

RECIPE

2 to 4 pieces thinly sliced red onion (30g)

2 tablespoons (30g) mayonnaise

1 teaspoon (1.6g) horseradish powder dissolved in 1 teaspoon water

2 large pieces (100g) multi grain or whole grain wheat bread

10  arugula leaves (20g), trimmed and washed

4 ¼ ounce tin sardines (120g), packed in oil and drained

1 piece roasted red pepper (85g) cut into slices

Incorporate the horseradish powder into the mayonnaise about 20 minutes before assembling the sandwich and keep refrigerated.  Assemble the rest of the ingredients.  Toast the bread.  Start by spreading the horseradish sauce on the toasted bread.  Place the arugula leaves and sliced onion on next.  Remove the sardines from the tin, divide in half, and arrange on top of the onion slices.  Now garnish with the slices of roasted red pepper.  Finish with some black pepper and an optional dash of salt.

METRICS

There are many good nutrition based reasons to enjoy this sardine sandwich.  In return for slightly “unhealthy” levels of fat and sodium, you get exceptionally “healthy” levels protein and fiber, an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, and a respectable amount of omega-3 fatty acids.  This one really needs to be put in a manageable context.  When going out to a diner or a deli, comparatively speaking the sardine sandwich is one of the healthiest items on the menu.   When deciding between a tuna sandwich or a sardine sandwich, the sardine sandwich definitely has the edge.

How to determine when the risks out way the benefits continues to be a raging debate.  There is a saying I heard first in the business world but which, I have just discovered, can actually be attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire:  The perfect is the enemy of the good.   I am beginning to wish the nutrition experts were better read in Enlightenment philosophy.

 

Per Serving (162g):  Calories 320, Fat 19g, Saturated Fat  2.5g, Sodium  630mg, Carbohydrate  18g, Fiber  5g, Protein  17g.  
Excellent Source:  protein, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, Vitamin D, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B12.
Good Source:  iron, niacin.