Features An Update on Sustainable Seafood: Recipes from our Sustainable Seafood Expert Chefs
An Update on Sustainable Seafood: Recipes from our Sustainable Seafood Expert Chefs
November 2009

There’s a ton of information out there about sustainable seafood. Some of it’s outdated, some of it’s overly scientific, and the rest is overwhelming—how do you know what’s really sustainable when even the experts disagree with each other?

It’s a controversial subject no matter how you approach it, but we thought we’d help simplify things a little by talking to three of our Rising Star sustainability chefs and seeing what they are doing to source sustainable seafood to their restaurants.

D.C.-based chef Barton Seaver of Blue Ridge (Washington, D.C.) is one of the most active sustainable seafood advocates in the industry today and we’re happy to be able to claim him as a 2006 DC Rising Star. His upcoming and ongoing projects are all centered on the subject of sustainable seafood, from his Diamond District Seafood Co. seafood market and restaurant (due to open in Spring 2010), to his PBS show “Turning the Tide,” his cookbook (to be published in 2011), and partnering with organizations like National Geographic.

But Seaver wants to take sustainability “one step further” by building relationships with various fisheries that are not only self-sustaining and good for the habitat, but also reach beyond the scope of that particular species—perhaps to even help people by way of maintaining and/or creating jobs. Seaver cites farm-raised clams (and other bivalves, like mussels and oysters) as a perfect example: “they require zero input, zero chemicals;” they filter our waterways and help clean our water; and the fishermen themselves can continue harvesting and keep their jobs. In the end, “we have a valuable, nutritious protein for nothing.” It’s a win-win situation; even better, Barton exclaims, “it’s our patriotic duty to eat as many clams, mussels, and oysters as we can!”

Seaver’s Chesapeake rockfish dish features a fish that has returned from near decimation to once again being what Seaver calls a “king of the seafood world.” The rockfish turn-around took nearly a decade and was the result of fishermen, scientists, and state legislators coming together to find a solution and protect the species’ spawning ground (the Chesapeake) and migration trail (up to Massachusetts). “This isn’t some new species I’ve discovered,” Seaver says, “rockfish holds a place in our gastronomic history.”

For our 2008 Las Vegas Sustainability Award winner Chef Mike Minor of Border Grill, the concept of sustainability, particularly sustainable seafood, is more of a challenge. Vegas is a landlocked desert where everything is imported and local is not an option. So Minor finds the best quality fish that are caught in the most sustainable manner from seasonal fish stocks that are healthy and ample. He develops close relationships with his seafood purveyors so they know exactly what his criteria are; he keeps up to date on the most recent news from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch; and he’s a tireless promoter of sustainable seafood, educating his kitchen staff, his diners, his fellow Vegas chefs, and anyone else who crosses his path. “Rick Moonen and I are the only two [sustainability-focused] restaurants in Las Vegas right now... but it’s starting to take effect,” Minor states.

Minor’s Pescado Veracruzano uses Alaskan halibut that he gets shipped in directly from Alaska. He orders whole fish that come in at 50 to 70 pounds each. The meaty and mild flavored white fish is in season about five months out of the year, and is just now in its last month of its 2009 run. When the season is over, he gets the “refreshed” halibut that’s flash-frozen at sea and almost indistinguishable from the fresh stuff, especially when it’s prepared in a flavorful stew.  

Chef Richard Garcia (our 2009 Boston Sustainability Award winner) makes it his mission to use as much local and sustainable products as possible, and that includes seafood. Being in the midst of a major US fishing industry makes it easy to source locally, but he still has to research what’s sustainable and what’s not.

“Something that’s very important to me is sourcing sustainable seafood without sacrificing the ability to serve my guests high-end/high-quality cuisine and products that the educated diner wants,” Garcia explains. There are times when a chef has to make a tough decision to cut a favorite item from the menu when its supplies start to fall short.

For Garcia, sea urchin was one of those luxury items he thought he’d have to stop serving. “[It’s] known to be a type of seafood with a very bad reputation for being over fished,” he says. Its most well-known sources are Japan, California, and Maine, but they are also the worst offenders in over fishing. But Garcia prevailed and found what he calls “the leader in sustainable sea urchin fishing:” New Brunswick, Canada. The wild green urchins are collected by hand by commercial divers, which in turn means less impact on their habitat and little to no by-catch.