Saturday, June 07, 2008

Seafood Angst

I’m feeling no small amount of seafood angst. And what’s up with that anyway? Food is one of my greatest hobbies, and yet it is causing me anxiety again. I’ve learned to simmer down a little bit about food politics, at least where my grocery shopping is concerned. The Farm Bill and its ramifications still push my buttons, and I try to make the best decisions I can, within my geographic and financial limitations, but I no longer flog myself if I break down and buy a banana. This is progress.

But like I said, I’m stressed out about seafood. To be fair, this is a subject that has pained me for years. Seafood is the only ‘meat’ I eat, and I’ve often wondered if I shouldn’t just give it up and go full vegetarian. After all, there have been countless times in my life when I’ve gone months at a time without a bite of fish – for no other reason than I hadn’t craved any. But then I would go to the beach on a vacation and I would eat my weight in shellfish within the first 24 hours. Hey, you try and sit on the balcony of an oceanfront restaurant without ordering the lobster bisque, alright?

It isn’t just the personal decision regarding how far to take my vegetarianism anymore though. I mean, have you read a newspaper lately? Between sustainability issues, the problem of mercury (especially since I have been either pregnant, trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding for the past five years), distrust over Chinese food safety, and the nutritional questions regarding farmed vs. wild, well, I’m so stressed out that I get paralyzed at the fish counter.

Frankly, this is a difficult time to be a food lover. I read everything I can get my hands on about seafood issues, but truly there are so many different concerns to address, I find myself overwhelmed. And so I stand there with my mouth slightly agape, trying to ignore The Big Boy while he counts the lobsters in the tank, and pretending like I don’t see Little Miss Piggy rubbing Cheerios slobber into her hair. I discount the tilapia because it comes from Chile and that causes too much dissonance with my attempts to reduce my food mileage, and I look away from the salmon since its farmed and thus has a compromised texture and nutritional benefit. The tuna steaks are tempting, but didn’t I read something about the sustainability problem? Or was that an article on grouper?

So I close my eyes and rub my temples because I’ve given myself a headache again, and I tell The Big Boy to say goodbye to the lobsters while I try to spit-shine Little Miss Piggy’s head and push the cart to the dairy case where I will almost certainly suffer a breakdown over which organic milk comes from a company owned by Monsanto. But that is an entirely different problem.

I was born 50 years too late. Might it not have been easier Back in The Day? Back when everyone grew their own veggies and was fully accustomed to having access to only the fruits that would grow in their backyard; before eggs came from caged chickens that were fed antibiotics as a matter of course; when a fish dinner resulted from nothing less than a couple of family members with fishing poles?

There are ways to navigate this seafood terrain, of course. I’m dying to read Fish Forever, as is The Carnivore, who actually spent his late teen years on commercial fishing vessels in The Gulf and The Atlantic and whose father is a crabber to this day. Gourmet magazine recently published a Guide to Buying Sustainable Seafood, which meets my angst head-on and gives me some guidelines by which I can hopefully avoid a prescription for Xanax, and there is also a pocket guide put out by the Environmental Defense Fund that I have finally printed out and put into my giant purse-diaper bag-briefcase.

You wanna know the real rub though? I not only don’t like being told what to do, but I feel like a sheep when I blindly follow a list of rules compiled by a political lobby.

Here I am again, closing my eyes and rubbing my temples because I’ve given myself another headache. Ignorance truly would be bliss. Then I could just waste some good old-fashioned natural resources and drive to the nearest food court and order a BK Big Fish without a care in the world beyond which flavor of “milkshake” I should wash it down with.

To make matters worse, I went into full revolt earlier this week and stood at the fish counter with a recipe in hand that called for halibut or red snapper. I had never cooked with either of these fish and the dish itself sounded truly intriguing. I had a warm potato salad with beer and mustard vinaigrette planned for a side dish and, dadgumit, I was really craving fish. I knew Pacific halibut had been deemed acceptable by the fish police, but I was clueless about snapper and I had forgotten to do any research before we left the house that morning to run errands. As it happened, my grocery store was out of halibut and so I pinched my nose and bought the snapper in full ignorance. And then I went to the farm to pick up my weekly CSA box.

I later found out that red snapper is on the “worst choices” list. More dissonance. There’s just nothing quite like eating produce that is locally-grown and purchased directly from a farmer, while on the other side of my plate there squats a fillet of environmental disaster.

Maybe I should try yoga AND Xanax.

Though the snapper was clearly not the best whitefish I could have selected for this particular recipe, the dish turned out delightfully. I love firm fish to begin with, and since spicy food tickles our fancy, we fell in love with the results. It couldn’t be easier really, you rub some dry spices on the fillets, bake them for a short time, and then top the cooked fish with a chipotle-butter mixture. And of course you can vary the amount of chipotle depending upon your own threshold for food that makes your nose burn. Just be sure to use Pacific halibut rather than red snapper. Your conscience will thank you.


SPICED HALIBUT WITH CHIPOTLE BUTTER (2 servings, adapted from Cooking Light)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 2 (6-oz) halibut fillets
  • 1 Tbs melted butter
  • 1 or 2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced (these have quite a kick, so err on the cautious side if you're a wuss)
  1. Educate yourself about fish.
  2. Combine cumin, paprika, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
  3. Rub spice mixture into the fillets.
  4. Transfer the fillets to a baking sheet coated with cooking spray.
  5. Bake fish at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, until fish flakes easily when prodded with a fork.
  6. In a small bowl, stir together the butter and the chiles.
  7. Brush the chipotle butter mixture onto the cooked fillets and serve immediately.


Anonymous said...

While visiting my parents I watched this show on horseshoe crabs and the Red Knot and how harvesting the crab is killing the bird population. I had the abrupt realization that while I have many food choices, there are animals that do not, and I have had little desire to eat seafood since.

That said, if we all limited our seafood intake to trips to the beach (eating locally) I think the problem would be resolved, or at least greatly reduced. I love the regional nature of food and despair at homogenization. Maybe gas prices will bring back regional diversity.

(3 weeks 'til I'm an Athenian!)

Sarah Beam said...

Three weeks, Becky? Very, very cool. The kids and I want to reserve one of your first Saturday mornings for a trip to the farmer's market together. Or, heck, we can just take a walk through the park. I can't wait. Now I'm getting all excited...

Anonymous said...

If you're ever looking for the best tasting, healthiest canned tuna anywhere, check out American Tuna (sold nationally at Whole Foods and other retailers; website is They have received lots of national press lately because of their concern for sustainability. Their pole-caught tuna (no nets to entangle other fish!)contain almost zero mercury and are packed in their own omega-rich juices (don't drain before eating). I recommend their jalepeno tuna for quick and yummy fish tacos. It's a little pricey, but definitely worth it! I'm blessed to call one of the fishing families friends...and I'm also hooked on their tuna!

Meg said...


Sounds like "The Carnivore" need to take a guided Fishing trip. My husbands work sent the "guys" on a trip a year. We just finished the 2006 fish for Fathers Day. I have 15 to 20 pakage in the deep freezor.
We eat ours on the grill topped with EVO, fresh rosmary sprigs, salt and pepper and covered in lemon slices. on a bed of foil.

Sarah Beam said...

Meg, as nice as it sounds to have fish in the freezer, if I tried to send The Carnivore on a guided fishing trip, he would have my head on a platter. He worked on commercial fishing vessels when he was younger - it would be an insult to his manhood.

But, doggone, I would sure like to have some fish right now...