Sunday, August 28, 2011

Waiting for Local Tuna

A few weeks ago I wrote about having a more balanced diet.  This mainly included eating more grains, vegetables, fruits, and fish while eating less cheeses, eggs, and animal meats (esp. fatty meats like bacon...sigh, just kill me now).  This doesn't seem like it should be that hard, and technically it isn't.  But there are so many delicious ways to cook up animals that it really involves ignoring a universe of edible delights.  Or it involves making totally unacceptable substitutions (i.e. vegetarian "breakfast sausage").

Getting back to the point, one meat that the Old Ways Mediterranean Diet says we should eat more of is fish.  Not just any fish, but fatty fish full of Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, and minerals.  Some great examples of these fish are salmon, tuna, halibut, and trout.  Coincidentally ALL of these are available either locally or close by.  Wonderful!  No problem!  Support the local food economy AND eat a more balanced diet.

Yeah, not so easy.  Vegetables are a no brainer.  Go to the farmer's markets.   Go to Pumpkin Patch farm on Sauvie's Island. But finding fresh local sustainably caught fish at a reasonable price is an entirely different story.

Can I Get A Fish Monger Please?
Of the places I went, the guys behind the counter usually had very little knowledge of the fish they were selling.  They knew what kind of fish it was (usually).  They knew where it came from (for the most part).  Mainly they knew when the distributor dropped it off.  Surprisingly, Newman's Fish Market on 21st was the absolute worst even through they are located in upscale City Market NW.  The workers there were clearly  just day labor hired to wrap and tag fish they knew nothing about.  Questions seemed to irritate them and they  didn't even do a good job filleting the whole fish I bought.   On the other hand, the guy at The Flying Fish cart knew a lot about the fish he was selling and where it came from.  Unfortunately, he was out of stock of what I was looking for that day.   I was looking for was fresh tuna.

In the end I went with some nice fresh tuna I bought at Fred Meyer.  Not local fish, but the rest was pretty local.  I'm still working on finding good, sustainable sources for local fish.

Fresh Tuna with Tomato Stew
Mediterranean: A Taste of the Sun in Over 150 RecipesThe recipe I used was from a book I have: Mediterranean, A Taste of the Sun in Over 150 Recipes.  Although this is a kinda cheesy theme book, the recipes inside are actually really good.  In fact, I've used this book many times over the years and never has a recipe turned out bad.  Just remember that an aubergine is an eggplant and a courgette is a zucchini.

This recipe is a pretty simple one.  It's just cubes of tuna cooked in stewed tomatoes and onions with some herbs.  This also makes substitutions easy.  I, personally don't like sun-dried tomatoes, so I left that out.  It had the effect of making the sauce thinner.  Also, since there were no baby onions in the house, I used chunky normal onions and it worked out fine.

Here is how I did it:

  • Tuna
  • Tomatoes (I used canned tomatoes but the recipe calls for stewing your own)
  • Onions
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • White wine
  • Clam juice 
  • Herbs--fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme.

I laid this over some cous-cous with a fresh cherry tomato and lemon cucumber salad on the side.  Overall it was real good.  A nice light summer meal.

Epilogue: Local Fish Ain't Beef
What a pain in the ass it is to find fresh, sustainable, local fish in Portland!  You want grass fed beef or buffalo or "pastured" chickens--no problem.  But you want local fish on a Tuesday night, WTF!

Part of the reason I haven't posted in a while is because I've been looking for local fish to write a very nice and informative post on how to find local, sustainable fish.  But to tell the truth, it's been a huge pain.  There are very few places to get reliably local and sustainable fish in town. This just confounds me because fish, especially salmon, is so iconic in the PNW.

Fred Meyer has fresh tuna.  I went there because if good fish is going to be a normal part of my diet, then it has to be accessible.  I walk up to the fish counter at the Hawthorne location.  There is a wide display of fish and shellfish laid out, everything looking like it just came in that morning.  On the far right are stacks of pink tuna steaks, each one looking exactly like what I was hoping for.  James Peterson gives a great list of items to look for when choosing fish steaks and fillets in Fish and Shellfish on page 3. 
    Fish & Shellfish: The Cook's Indispensable Companion
  • No slime. Check.
  • No off color. Check.
  • Should be slightly translucent.  This tuna is mostly opaque.
  • Tuna should be big chunks wrapped in plastic.  Big chunks yes, plastic no.
  • Tuna should not have a rainbow-like opalescence. Check.
  • No spaces between the flakes. Check.
There are other factors but they didn't apply to me this time. 

Then I looked at the tag.  "Product of Indonesia."  Seriously? It's frickin tuna season in Oregon and you can't get a nice piece of tuna from our own home-grown Fred Meyer grocery store.

I have to admit, I didn't check New Seasons. They are just too expensive.  I'm over New Seasons.

Back to Fred Meyers' tuna.  It was wild caught Indonesian tuna. Besides the "not local" factor, is it bad?   According to Seafood Watch, this Tuna had a 50-50 chance of being either something to "avoid" or a "good alternative". Unfortunately, I will probably never know exactly which it was.  Seafood watch lists and grades 29 variations for tuna.  Of these, 17 are not US or Atlantic specific.  Of these, 10 are rated "avoid", 5 are "good alternatives", and 2 are "best choice".  Of these, there were 6 that seemed the most likely category that this fish could be.  I had about a 50-50 chance of destroying the planet with my purchasing decision.   Here's to rolling the dice.

Fishformation Overload
Seafood Watch has a very lovely fish app that you can get for free. This makes it easy to look up the fish you are thinking of buying to see if it is:

  • "green" fish (sustainably caught and responsibly harvested)
  • "red" fish (avoid--if you buy this fish you are financing the death of the oceans)
  • "yellow" fish ("good alternative")
This seems great, but it has some practical usability issues.  Take the tuna example for example.  There are 29 different listings for tuna, and it is a mixed bag of red, yellow, and greens.   Much of the distinction lies in how the fish was caught.  Nets are bad, hooks are good (sometimes).  But the package never says how the fish was caught, and the 22 year old behind the counter usually has no idea either.  So unless you are buying direct from the fisherman, who knows what the heck you are buying?  

One Spot of Fishy Light, Unexpectedly
There was only one time that the Seafood Watch fish-o-matic was actually usable.  I was at Costco, looking over the fish section at stacks of lovely coho salmon and stealhead fillets.  I decided to see how this stuff rated.  I knew these were wild-caught, Alaskan salmon.  This was great, because according to the Seafood Watch app, all the wild caught salmon is either green or yellow.  Only the farmed stuff comes up as red.  At $7.99/lbs, Costco is one of the most affordable places to buy big fillets of responsibly harvested salmon.  This is actually a way to make fatty fish and all it's Omega-3 goodness a normal part of a daily diet.  Big box stores can do somethings right, it seems.