When your friend has a Native American salmon symbol tattooed on her ankle, its a good idea to trust her opinion on seafood. After all, Barton Seaver aptly said at the National Restaurant Association show this year, “seafood is the only word with ‘food’ in it” but rarely gets attention in conversations around what we eat. This category of “stuff we eat” suffers from the classic “not in my backyard” syndrome, or NIMBY. Livestock farming has made progress in surmounting this phenomenon, but we eat just as much seafood as beef, and so, why don’t salmon, oysters and other cows of the sea deserve the same consideration? Our country has eaten so many oysters that we’ve effectively wiped out the population, and our recent trends in salmon and shrimp are leading us down the same path of ecological disaster. But it’s more than that. It’s about economy, practicality and taste.
So back to the salmon tattoo. My friend Elizabeth embodies several of the traits that salmon has been praised for, namely, generosity, intelligence, intuition and the wisdom of returning home to regenerate, even if swimming upstream. She continually surfs back to her homes: the rich tides of Alaska’s Bristol Bay and the majestic peaks of Western America. But what Elizabeth does so skillfully is bring the beauty of her worlds to places less exposed, like the landlocked Finger Lakes where Wild Alaskan Salmon and other American seafood is scarce. She began by serving up coral pink salmon filets at potlucks – the hook of generosity. Over the next two years, she smartly cast the Wild for Salmon CSF line into dozens of people’s homes in greater Ithaca. Wild for Salmon is hands down the best fisher-family I have ever sourced from in my life. Twice a year they arrive in town with their freezer-truck, toting pre-orders from people like me. The quality of their sushi grade seafood is outrageous, and in bulk purchase, it doesn’t bite the wallet while arriving flash frozen for easy storage. But Elizabeth has taken her intuitive devotion to Bristol Bay Salmon to the national stage by networking with some of the country’s leading chefs and writers to bring a passion for Good Food and protected waters to more people.
One of those people is Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish and American Catch, who I had the honor to meet aboard the Grand Banks grand opening in NYC this past Monday evening. Paul is a captivating speaker and a salt of the ocean guy. His journalistic narratives on the state of seafood in the U.S. are enlightening and engaging. He shares some stunning facts. For example, did you know that our country controls more ocean than any other country in the world – 94,000 whopping miles of coast – but 86% of the seafood we consume is imported? I had to really stop and think about the senseless logistics of that tidbit. Plus, a third of what we catch is exported to foreigners. What?! But he’s not all doom and gloom, and proposes an easy way to keep our maritime habitats, national economies and dietary intake healthy and happy: eat more American seafood, starting with Wild Alaskan Salmon. The effects of eating the American Catch can do wonders. He dives into the nitty gritty in this great article Why the Locavore Movement’s Next Big Step is Seafood.
So this is why three of my best friends and I boarded the Grand Banks on Monday evening, a historic oyster boat refurbished by Alex and Miles, two brothers devoted to restoring and repurposing relics of the American fishing industry (among other culinary undertakings in NYC). For their opening night, they teamed up with Paul and Elizabeth to bring a three-course salmon dinner to a crowd of curious eaters. My sea legs were more wobbly on account of the buzz resonating throughout the evening. The setting was stunning, complete with a warm cityscape sunset and “opening night” fever. The boat was an art exhibit in and of itself, with a newly polished kitchen occupying the former shipmates’ bunks. The meal was fresh and worthy of its special stage, each dish highlighting a different interpretation of Bristol Bay Salmon: cured, tartare and perfectly seared with a crispy salmon skin that would send anyone into euphoria.
When we finally jumped ship, grounding ourselves on Pier 25’s solid pavement, we’d been clearly wooed by salmon. The politics of American seafood are clear and urgent. The Pebble Mine poses risk of polluting Bristol Bay and depleting a wealth of our nation’s seafood. But for eaters less inclined to battle with their forks, the Savor Bristol Bay Salmon Dinner achieved what I love best. It fixed a variety of salmon – that represents so much more than a mouthful of nutrition and pleasure – in our memories forever through a meal. Call me romantic … but tis’ the truth. I feel confident saying that everyone on the boat Monday night will think twice about what salmon and seafood to choice next time we visit our local fishmonger. (And when in doubt, I like to use Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch).
I couldn’t leave without snapping a shot of the bathroom. Reason enough to board the boat!