Despite the dismal news lately that New England’s sacred cod and beloved flounder populations are plummeting, there are still plenty of fish in the sea. They just may not be the fish you are used to eating.
Now, Bon Appetit, a California-based food service company that caters to corporations, universities and specialty venues – including MIT, Emmanuel and Wesleyan – has declared today Eat (Local) Fish Challenge Day to introduce diners in the 500 cafes they run in 32 states to local – and sustainable – “wallflower” fish. The company’s ethos revolves around fresh, local and sustainable food and fish is their latest effort to introduce diners to new flavors and as take pressure off overfished species.
At MIT’s public café in the Howard Dining Room they are serving a tasty fish I rarely see on menus anymore: Scup. Diners today can have pan-roasted scup with Ipswich Maine Shrimp sauce, accompanied by roasted Rhode Island chef potatoes, roasted Maine tomatoes with garlic, butternut squash and locally grown toasted barley.
A red crab and scallop casserole will be served at Wesleyan University and St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford Conn. will serve line-caught pan seared swordfish with little necks, bacon and piri piri, a Portuguese sauce.
“It makes no sense to fly in fresh fish trawled from Asia when you can get halibut caught sustainably by someone whose tax dollars keep your town running,’’ said Helene York, director of purchasing strategy for Bon Appetit and head of the local fish program.
The idea is a good one – and one that needs a boost. Industry and government have tried for years, with various levels of success, to interest the public in less than beloved species. Sometimes the effort is so successful, the “underutilized” species are fished out before catch regulations catch up.
Lately, fishermen are trying to better market New England dogfish. (a species that is not overfished). Meat from the fish are sent overseas to be used in British fish and chips but is rarely eaten here.
Getting university and museum diners interested in new species could help form a market for the fish.
Called Fish to Fork, 14 Bon Appetit chefs from around the country were appointed “piscators” – casting out nets for new fish to feature within 500 miles from their institution. Some of the results were surprising – in the middle of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, Bon Appetit Executive Chef Edward Farrow found sustainably farmed tilapia. He’ll serve it today at the Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum.
Many of the species featured are low-on-the chain species, such as sardines, or species whose edible portion could be better utilized, such as scallops. The company is partnering the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, which provides guidance to consumers and institutional buyers to purchase sustainable fish.
With news out last week that 91 percent of the seafood U.S. consumers eat is imported – up five percent from the year before – trying out new recipes just may save some fishermen’s livelihood.
For more information go to http://www.bamco.com/sustainable-food-service/eatlocalfish
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Helping Boston live a greener, more environmentally friendly life.
Christopher Reidy covers business for the Globe.
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