Fish Forever

The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood
By Paul Johnson

John Wiley & Sons

Copyright © 2007 Paul Johnson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7645-8779-5

Chapter One


Times have changed in the seafood market. Not too long ago, most of the seafood sold in America was caught and eaten locally. Today, seafood is a much greater part of our diet: The average American consumes two and a half times more seafood than he or she did twenty years ago, and seafood is shipped to American markets from around the world. It is not unusual to find Vietnamese tuna in New York City, Alaskan king salmon in Boston, or New Zealand snapper in St. Louis. As a result, American seafood cooking is far more interesting and diverse today than it was just two decades ago and today's cooks are far more sophisticated than in the past, demanding not only quality but also assurances that the seafood we eat is healthy. Additionally, there's a growing awareness that the choices we make at the market have a direct effect on the environment, and that our individual decisions on what to buy can make a difference in the future of the world's fisheries.


One reason for the growing popularity of fish and shellfish is that seafood has proven to be one of the most beneficial foods we can eat. The omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood are essential to optimal childhood development. Medical research indicates that children born to mothers who consume higher quantities of omega-3-rich fish are healthier at birth, exhibit higher IQs, and have better health later in life. For adults, the benefits of regularly eating seafood include reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, remedying arthritis and depressive symptoms, strengthening the immune system, and possibly preventing Alzheimer's disease.

For all the health benefits of fish, however, the public has recently become aware that eating seafood may also carry risks. Well-publicized cautions regarding the potential danger of everything from cholera to mercury in seafood have some consumers unsure if the risk of eating fish is worth the reward. The very safety of our seafood has fallen under suspicion.

Fish Forever strives to present a clear and balanced explanation of the advantages and dangers of eating seafood. I explain how to eat a wide variety of fish safely and without worry, as well as how people at greatest risk can avoid potential dangers. Health rewards and risks are profiled for each and every species, and where appropriate, the reader is referred to a health appendix at the back of the book for further information. High-profile public concerns such as mercury and PCBs in fish and the risks involved in eating raw fish are covered in detail. You'll discover which tuna has the lowest levels of mercury, how to detect chemical additives in seafood, and why eating lobster tomalley and crab butter may not always be a good idea. All the information you need to ensure that the seafood you and your family eat is safe and healthy can be found in these pages, including a chart that details mercury and omega-3 levels in seafood.

Healthy eating is a personal and immediate concern, but the ocean's health is also of concern to our children and their future. Overfishing and pollution have laid waste to once-productive fishing grounds. The Grand Banks, once considered the richest fishing grounds in the world, have yet to fully recover from rampant overfishing by foreign factory trawlers decades ago. Increasingly, the bad news is borne out in newspaper headlines: "Ninety Percent of All the World's Large Predatory Fish Depleted" and "Pollution from Mississippi Responsible for 70,000-Square-Mile Dead Zone in Gulf of Mexico." Aquaculture, once touted as the savior of the world's fisheries, has turned out to be something of a Pandora's box: Salmon farms pollute, threaten native stocks, and breed disease, while shrimp farming has been responsible for the destruction of ecologically important coastal wetlands. Meanwhile, trawlers mine the seas to feed the ever-growing demand for fish food.

The ocean and its resources are clearly in crisis. Codfish, bluefin tuna, Chilean sea bass, and red snapper are just a few of the fish species that have fallen victim to overfishing and mismanagement-and many types of turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals are threatened as well. Fortunately, there are glimmers of light shining through the clouds: The Pew Oceans Commission and the congressionally funded U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy have both recently released long-term studies defining the state of our ocean resources. These reports outline very real solutions to the problems and give hope for the future stewardship of our seas. Congress has recognized the importance of sustainable fisheries, and fishing and environmental groups claiming millions of members have made ocean conservancy and sustainable fisheries a primary objective for the future.

Ten years ago, we were bombarded with stories about how healthy it was to eat seafood. Never a caution was aired, and seafood consumption skyrocketed. Today, the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme, with the media sending out sensationalistic chronicles on the risks of eating fish and shellfish.

We need to strive for a better and more balanced understanding of the issues involved with eating seafood while still continuing to encourage improvements in the environment. Lately, too much emphasis has been placed on the negative aspects of consuming fish, which has worked largely to scare people away from the benefits of seafood as part of a well-balanced diet. For example, recent stories of reported high levels of PCBs in salmon are misleading; wild salmon often have no detectable levels of PCBs, while even farmed salmon test at levels two hundred times below government standards-chicken, dairy products, and beef are a far greater source of PCBs in our diet than fish.

Another example: Only recently has the type of mercury most prevalent in fish even been identified and it appears that it is less harmful to human cells than previously believed. Additionally, the latest studies show that the high levels of selenium found in fish may act to sequester mercury and interfere with its absorption. The dangers of cholesterol in squid, shrimp, and other shellfish have proven unfounded, and it's now known that the sterols found in oysters, clams, and mussels, once thought to be harmful, are actually beneficial plant sterols that prevent the uptake of cholesterol.

The mainstream medical community overwhelmingly believes that the benefits of eating seafood far outweigh the risks, the most recent studies by Harvard School of Public health and the National Academy of Sciences agree with this, yet the sensationalism of the negative garners headlines. Yes, there are dangers to eating seafood, just as with all foods, but those dangers can be identified and either avoided or mitigated.


Jacques Pépin wrote about sustainable seafood choices in the New York Times Op-Ed page on July 3, 2001: "Chefs make choices every day-choices that are not related solely to the presentation of the finest culinary creations one can imagine. Now more than ever, it is clear how our choices can affect the environment." But it is not only chefs who are making these decisions; the average home cook must make these choices as well. Making an informed decision at the market no longer means simply vying for the freshest-looking piece of fish; it can also mean choosing wild salmon over farmed, substituting haddock for cod, and including in our diet many of the formerly scorned small, fatty fish such as anchovies, mackerel, sardines, and smelt-all of which have been found to be among the healthiest and most environmentally friendly seafood choices.

As consumers, the most available, meaningful, and valid action we can take to encourage sustainable fisheries is to choose wisely at the market. If the public starts questioning how and where their seafood is caught or raised, it will reverberate throughout the supply chain: Purveyors, fishermen, and the entire seafood industry will come to learn that promoting sustainable fishing is economically beneficial for everyone concerned.

Fish Forever profiles the sustainability and resource considerations of each individual species, pointing out not only the best choice, but the better choice as well. From a marine conservation perspective, it's important to identify and support not only those perfect "green choices," but also those fisheries that are striving to make meaningful improvements.

Being a wise consumer is about coming up with real solutions for real-world concerns. Trap-caught spot shrimp may be the "perfect choice" alternative to aquacultured shrimp, but they're seldom available to the average consumer. On the other hand, wild American shrimp are a very good choice and are readily available-providing a real-world option that makes a difference to the environment.

Interspersed throughout the text are stories such as Bobby's Bluefin: The Last Fish (page 374), Too Much of a Good Thing (page 268), and Buy American (page 294), all of which strive to introduce the broader issues of sustainable fishing and encourage the reader to stay interested and informed. Among other topics, these stories tell why it is important to support the good fishermen in a bad fishery, the danger of fishing down the food chain, and what's good and not so good about aquaculture.

The seafood species chosen for this book don't all belong on an environmental "green list"; many-including monkfish, grouper, and cod-are here largely because they are among the most popular species in the marketplace. Some species are included because they're associated with vital issues such as the importance of supporting good fishermen in a bad fishery. Still others, like butterfish, mackerel, sea robin, and wreckfish, are here because they are under-utilized and should be promoted. The "green lists" I leave to the more dynamic venue of the Internet; my favorite is the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program at www.


Aside from ensuring that the food we eat is healthy and placing a high priority on making seafood a sustainable resource, we face an additional-and, to many, a daunting-challenge: how to find fresh, top-quality seafood and then come up with simple, foolproof seafood recipes that really work. The average cook who walks into the local fish market may yearn to try an unfamiliar fish or a new way of cooking it, only to hesitate for fear of risking disaster in the kitchen.

Hesitate no longer. Fish Forever is the seafood cook's ideal resource, offering insider tips on how to choose the best seasonal and regional seafood found in American markets today. These tips will tell you what to look for in a healthy fish, and help you gain the confidence to select good fish even in a bad market. Fish Forever goes beyond the clichés of clear eyes, red gills, and the briny smell of the ocean to uncover the secrets of the experts. Learn how to read the color and markings of seafood, what each species should look and feel like when fresh, and the best season for each species.

Once the preferred fish finally does find its way into the kitchen, the current trend toward simple, healthy recipes with plenty of flavor will continue. The seafood of the future will more likely be dressed with a simple Italian salsa verde of parsley, capers, and olive oil rather than complex preparations calling for butter and cream. The recipes in this book, in one way or another, are all inspired by the many great cooks I've worked with over the years. When I sell a piece of fish, it often comes with the question, "What are you going to do with it?" Sometimes I get back an immediate answer, but just as often I find myself being used as a sounding board for recipe development: "Maybe I'll poach it in a coriander-scented broth ... hmm ... or maybe I'll put it in the pizza oven and give it an aïoli." The chefs who have influenced me the most are those who cook honest, simple food, and are concerned that those foods remain sustainable.

The recipes in Fish Forever favor fresh seasonal ingredients that are as healthful as the seafood. Butter and cream are used with a restrained hand, while good oils, citrus juices, vinegars, and herbs take front and center. The recipes are inspired by a variety of cuisines, but execution remains consistent. Using basic kitchen equipment, even a modestly competent cook can achieve spectacular results. These are simple recipes that convey the creativity and verve of a contemporary professional kitchen, but are completely accessible to the home cook.

In addition to the recipes, the In the Kitchen section found in each entry suggests a range of cooking techniques and a variety of sauces and seasonings that marry particularly well with that species. My hope is that, as you thumb through this book, you'll be inspired to do a little creative experimenting on your own, blending technique, sauce, and seafood from throughout the book as you see fit.

Today's retail consumer and restaurant chef alike are faced with a confusing array of choices at the market. Fish Forever is your indispensable guide to buying and preparing healthy, sustainable seafood. It tackles health and environmental concerns head-on, and explains everything you need to know about how to maneuver confidently from market to kitchen: what to buy, where to find it, how best to prepare it-and how to do it all with a good conscience.


Excerpted from Fish Forever by Paul Johnson Copyright © 2007 by Paul Johnson. Excerpted by permission.
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