“Local sardine?” I ask Chef Dezi of Palace Kithen. My mind immediately reverts to an image of tin-canned sardines out of a WWII movie. “AND they’re from around here?!”
He rolls his eyes at me as if I just touched down from another planet. He points to the menu: “Local albacore, too. The albacore follow the sardines as they migrate to Northwest waters” (where they spawn and feed).
Desmond Bonow, or “Dezi” as we call him, is one of those rare chefs that practices sustainability with such ease that you barely notice. He doesn’t gloat about using a local forager (Foraged & Found) for most of his mushrooms, or that he has a long-standing friendship and business relationship with Josh from Newaukum Farms; and he can put together a vegetarian dish that uses vegetables in such innovative ways that leave even meat-fanatics satisfied.
The “grilled local sardine” and “cured local tuna loin,” as they appear on the menu.
Like my example above–the menu states “grilled local sardine” and “cured local tuna loin.” But little do many guests know (or at least I am assuming) that these dishes support the “meat, seafood, poultry and Farm direct produce” of Key City Fish out of Port Townsend, or that both Pacific sardines and Pacific albacore tuna are on the “Super Green List” of Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.
Tip: download the Seafood Watch app for free on to your smartphone. For food consumers, it provides up-to-date guides of what is sustainable to eat in which season, a list of restaurants in your area that feature sustainable fish, and gives recommendations for what to order-where and when. And it’s fun!
The reason these two caught my eye on the menu is that I rarely see “local” albacore on a menu that isn’t for a sushi restaurant, and I’ve never seen sardines that weren’t in a can filled with oil (not my personal favorite).
It reminded me of an article I read from Bon Appetit last month on “How to Make Trash Fish Attractive.” A relatively new term in the sustainable food world, “trash fish” refers to fish that are generally overlooked or thrown back into the water because they have no value to consumers, and thus fisherman can’t sell them. In an effort to create diversity in the kitchen and in consumers’ pallettes–so that other fish populations and diversity in the ocean is maintained–chefs are beginning to use lesser-known fish in their restaurants, and they are often renaming them to sound more appealing.
While albacore isn’t particularly new to Seattlites–especially sushi lovers–and sardines are a house-hold name, I recently discovered not only the health benefits of both of these fish, but also the sustainability-factors as well.
Albacore tuna is high on the “Green” list because its target population level is above what is necessary, in part because of the method that’s used to fish for it. Troll-caught, rather than net, fisherman have to rely on a good old fashioned “hook and line” method, which minimizes how much fish can be caught at a time, and reduces the risk of “bycatch” (when animals get caught in fisherman’s nets by mistake). And albacore is good for you: high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol, according to NOAA‘s Fish Watch research.
Dezi’s late-summer inspiration: fennel-cured albacore, topped with roasted peppers in oil, squash blossoms, mint, and lime tapenade.
The Pacific Sardine, the choice food for albacore, has had a more varied history. Its popularity boomed in the 1940s as a nutritious food (high in vitamin B12 and selenium) that could be canned and transported into the battlefield. In the 40′s, the Pacific sardine made up 25% of all fish that landed in U.S. fisheries, which caused the population to plummet rapidly by the 1950s, and that low population is where it stayed for 40 years (also in part due to oceanic temperature changes). Now under better management, sardine stock has risen, providing nutrition for larger fish and humans alike. The Pacific Sardine also made Seafood Watch’s “Green” list because of the way it is fished: the use of “purse seins” which avoid making contact with the ocean floor and its delicate habitats.
Dezi’s sardine, on its way to the grill.
In following Bon Appetit’s message, the renaming–or rebranding in this case– of underappreciated sustainable fish is what I appreciate most about what Dezi has done (even if he doesn’t give himself full credit). Changing consumers’ perception of a product, especially one that used to be thrown away or used only in small niche markets, makes a huge difference in creating a wider spectrum of choices for consumers. And making lesser-thought foods “sexier” to consumers–thus taking pressure off some other products–contributes to the sustainability of how we fish, farm, and eat.