By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer
Once an occasional luxury in
landlocked places such as Idaho, seafood today is booming in popularity
throughout the nation.
Ahi, the once obscure Hawaiian
term for yellowfin tuna, rolls off the tongues of diners from L.A. to
D.C. Upscale sushi restaurants have popped up in the most unlikely
mountain-town venues. And fish tacos are no longer just a treat taken in
during winter getaways south of the border.
Many of us like the fact that fish
is low in fat and high in protein. Others, particularly those who live
along the coasts or in regions where fish is brought in fresh as air
freight, cannot resist the delicate flavors that can be rendered from
even the simplest preparations.
However, there are consequences to
our appetite for foods from the world's oceans. The estimated $46
billion consumer seafood market in the United States directs thousands
of high-tech fishing vessels after fewer and fewer fish. The world catch
of ocean fish has increased by some 400 percent since 1950, bringing
once-abundant populations of key food species to the brink of commercial
One study published last year in
the journal Nature reported that overzealous fishing has taken an
estimated 90 percent of the world's large predatory fish, including
marlin, swordfish and sharks. Some scientists have predicted that the
Patagonian toothfish—a species popularly marketed as Chilean sea
bass—could be lost as a viable commercial species in five years or less.
Some fishing practices for highly
sought-after species is blamed for damaging marine-life habitat and
killing immense numbers of unwanted species as so-called bycatch.
Corporate aquaculture has been blamed for polluting ocean waters and
spreading disease among wild fish populations.
So, can we satisfy our cravings
for the subtle perfection found in many seafoods and also do our part to
protect the vitality of the oceans? The answer is most certainly "yes."
Numerous organizations today
monitor the health of populations of a wide variety of seafood species.
Several provide guidelines for seafood lovers and chefs to make choices
that could, over time, make a difference in whether generations to come
can fish for—and eat—species that are today teetering on the edge of
One such organization is the
California-based Monterey Bay Aquarium. Through its Seafood Watch
program, it seeks to educate conscientious consumers about tailoring
their choices to lessen demand for endangered fish species. The
organization provides free, easy-to-understand listings of which species
consumers should try to favor, or avoid. (For details, visit
Fortunately, the list of "best
choices" for environmentally friendly fish is long enough to allow one
to fire up a feast of paella one day and a platter of cracked crab the
next. It includes wild Alaskan salmon, Pacific halibut, pole-caught ahi
and albacore tuna, spiny lobster, Dungeness crab and stone crab, as well
as farmed clams, mussels and oysters.
Species listed as ones to "avoid"
include grouper, monkfish, orange roughy, sharks, imported prawns,
Chilean sea bass, Atlantic cod, swordfish and bluefin tuna.
Those of us living in the
Northwest are lucky. We are close to Alaska, where the rich waters host
fisheries that are largely successful in yielding tons of fresh seafood
from healthy fish stocks. Pacific halibut, wild salmon and Dungeness
crab are regularly available, allowing us to savor the delights of the
ocean without worrying about the consequences.
Halibut, with its flaky, white
flesh, has always been in my mind one of the most versatile, delectable
fishes. Simple preparations allow its delicate flavors to shine through.
At the same time, it is structured enough to accommodate exotic coatings
For an elegant, astoundingly
simple meal, I often serve broiled halibut filets paired with sautéed
haricots verts and couscous. It can be served with a rich chardonnay
or, on a warm spring day, a dry French rosé.
Quick-broiled Pacific halibut
2 half-pound Pacific halibut
Preheat the oven
broiler. Place the fish filets, skin side down, on a foil-covered
broiling pan sprayed evenly with olive oil. Cut the butter into pieces
and place over the fish. Salt the fish to taste and add liberal amounts
of coarsely ground black pepper.
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and black pepper
Half a lemon, cut in wedges
Cook the fish under the high heat
of the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes, until the butter is melted and begins
to brown evenly over the top. Turn off the broiler and turn the oven on
to bake at 400 degrees. Bake for 6 to 9 minutes, until the fish is firm
enough to flake. (Do not overcook. Small cuts could require less time.)
Splash the fish with lemon and
serve immediately with a wedge of lemon on the side.
Gregory Foley is a staff writer
for the Idaho Mountain Express. He is a former restaurant sous-chef and
a former France-based travel guide. His first novel, The Clarity of
Light, was released this month.