Talking Trash

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Talking Trash … 

...Fish, that is.

When I ran my restaurant I was spoiled for seafood. I had a great group of suppliers and was frequently overwhelmed with options. Right now, I’m a “civilian” kitchen-wise, and the fish I used to be able to get my hands on is not as easily landed. So when Chefs Collaborative (I’m a member and local chapter leader) announced that they and the James Beard Foundation were hosting a teaching workshop on the subject of “Trash Fish” at Nick’s on Broadway in Providence, I jumped at the chance to attend. 

The day started with some lovely breakfast nibbles provided by Chef Derek Wagner and his staff. Fortified with strong coffee and jam on toast, we sat down to talk Trash. After introductions from Kris Moon, Director of Charitable Giving and Strategic Partnerships  at the James Beard Foundation and Sara Brito, Chefs Collaborative’s Executive Director, Derek took the floor.

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Derek and fisherman and Captain Steve Arnold talked us through the story of how they came to work together. As Derek describes it, “I was serving local produce, local meat, but when I called my seafood suppliers to ask about where my fish was coming from, and they’d say ‘I’ll have to get back to you …’ I mean, here we are in the Ocean State, after all.” He and Steve met with a few other like-minded folks to discuss the problem: How to get fish from the boat to a restaurant’s door within 24 hours.

As the two described it, they just decided to give it a try: Steve brought Derek a collection of fish the next day. Derek started cooking and the project was off to a start.

There were many challenges, primarily related to health department regulations around the distribution of seafood. The two wanted to be above board and follow the regulations in place. As a result, for a period of time, Steve had to “sell” his fish to a processor and then buy it right back to get it to Derek. Ultimately he got HACCP certification for his operation and now can directly distribute the fish he lands.

Derek and Steve talked through a few definitions for us: 

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Trash Fish: This is fish frequently not seen as valuable in the market. You could also call it “underutilized” or perhaps unappreciated fish. Derek pointed out that today’s Trash Fish is not necessarily tomorrow’s. Lobster could once have had that label, as did monkfish. Both are definitely prized now. Today’s Trash Fish are species like scup, dogfish, redfish, and bluefish. I’ve eaten and served all of them and can attest to their deliciousness. There is some debate in the seafood community around creating a new label. Some feel that “Trash” is a bad thing to call good, delicious food; but I can’t argue that the term has kept people talking. Until we have another option, Trash Fish it is.  

Trash fish can be, but is not always:

Bycatch: Bycatch is what is caught when fishing for something else. When a fisherman goes out he’ll be targeting a species or group of species––flounder, for instance. Despite best efforts to use the best equipment for that species, other species get caught also (maybe some sea robin gets into the nets, for example). That is bycatch. (In my restaurant, we served crab that was caught in lobster traps. That my lobsterman’s bycatch and he was thrilled to have someone to sell it to.) A lot of fisherman simply toss that fish overboard––if they don’t have a buyer, it can be more bother than it’s worth to bring bycatch into the harbor. But with a buyer like Derek, Steve can text him, letting him know he’s got a few sea robin, or fluke, or one monkfish, for sale.

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The group of us, about 20 chefs and food professionals, spent a good 90 minutes grilling Derek and Steve on all aspects of catching, serving, and selling fish, and then we took a few steps into Derek’s open kitchen for a cutting demonstration.

Derek showed us his technique for cutting scup and bluefish. It’s valuable to watch another chef at work––there’s  always something new to pick up. Derek was a treat to watch at work (although he’s crazy modest, so I can hear him now saying that it was no big deal)––he clearly cuts a lot of fish, so his motions were instinctive and smooth. But, he never stopped pointing out tips for safer and cleaner cutting.

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For me, Derek’s method for cutting fish was a new one, but it made perfect sense once I saw it. Instead of cutting one fillet from one side, then flipping and cutting the other side, he cuts both sides in tandem, a little a time. This method (hard to explain, easy to watch) results in a more consistent and stable cutting experience and made for beautiful, even fillets. The technique was basically the same for the scup and the bluefish, despite the bluefish being nearly 10 times as large as the scup.

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Most valuable were tips on utilization. Derek demonstrated how to scrape a rack to get the most meat possible (for fish cakes, tartares, chowder meat, etc.), his method for roasting heads (again for meat for cakes, salads, etc.). He also showed how to cut collars and cheeks––a hidden source of revenue on larger fish like the bluefish he was working with.

The day ended with a vibrant collection of salads: lentil, grilled corn, bluefish, heirloom tomato, and generous glasses of rosé!

 

Food Fight

SOME CALL IT DINNER

Story by Sanford D’Amato | Photo by Dominic Perri

My sister and I were prolific eaters from birth, and as we got older every dinner at our house was either a mental or physical fight for food. It’s not as if we were deprived, as my father was a grocer and we always had enough to eat. But as the table was filled with plates of food, we would both be planning strategy on what choice bites would be the first and last to cross our lips. It was as if an announcer roared out over a loudspeaker, “Ladies and gentlemen, grab your forks and GO!”

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The majority of the year we would fight over the protein—the only two golden, glistening gams of roast chicken; the crispy ends of a rosy rotisserie beef; or that one slice of roast pork that was perfectly ringed with crispy, burnished fat—all almost normal behavior in the pantheon of aggressive American families. But we both had an odd quirk that separated us from the norm. We adored vegetables.

Starting pre-teeth with puréed broccoli and carrots, the feelings became more intense as the vegetables became more solid. Next to the slice of pork, the almost-burnt quarter onion infused to bursting with the limpid cooking liquid, or the crunchy breadcrumb-herb-coated baked tomato that stood guard near the beef—those were the prizes.

When summer rolled around the game changed as our primal instincts kicked into overdrive. String beans, summer squash, and zucchini—products that made their once-a-year appearance at their peak of flavor—almost made us completely forget that there was any meat present. I would have to plunge my fork into the vegetables and quickly return to my plate with the grace of a fencer, hoping that my hand would not be hit by the tines of her faster fork.

These vegetables were all a prelude to the most anticipated arrival of the year. It had been tempting us since its hint of green leaves first peeked through the soil. Driving past full fields of slender stalks with flowing golden locks, we knew they had to be ready, as they were knee-high a lifetime ago. For me, and many others, corn is the king of summer.

I would spread a layer of newspaper on the side stoop and shuck away within seconds of my dad driving up with the bag of ears. I had already picked out “my ears” so that when my mother moved towards the table with the platter, I was ready. My sister and I rapidly circled the ring to claim our seats, our eyes never leaving the platter or each other’s hands. I threw the first move, as I was pretty fast, and within seconds had the cob buttered, salted, pronged on each end, and brought to my mouth when I realized my sister was halfway through her first ear (she strategically skipped the prongs and went bare-handed—quite impressive). I started to chomp faster to catch up—we were neck and neck, ear for ear—but in the end there was no knockout, just a split decision.

The best corn is consumed the day it is picked, as close to picking as possible, and without refrigeration. Corn was always a vehicle for creamy butter but with sweeter varieties the butter is almost superfluous—however, a light gloss of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil doesn’t hurt. After I’ve had my fill of straight cobs, I go to my favorite corn combo and pair it with large, spice-crusted, deeply seared sea scallops and crispy bacon. I make a sauce inspired by my personal olfactory vice, caramel corn. I deeply caramelize honey to bring out some bitterness, glaze the corn kernels, and deglaze the sauce with a corn cob broth, add lime juice and cider vinegar to balance out the sweetness of the corn and scallops, and finish with a whisper of sharp spicy Hungarian paprika to add a touch of heat to the sweet.

There is only one time of year to have this combo: when Valley corn is at its peak. And I suggest you make a little extra, as this is a dish worth fighting over!

Sanford (Sandy) D’Amato is a James Beard Award–winning chef who teaches cooking classes at Good Stock Farm, his home in Hatfield. He is the former chef/owner of Sanford Restaurant in Milwaukee, WI, and the author of GOOD STOCK: Life on a Low Simmer, his memoir with recipes. Learn more about Sandy and good Stock Farm cooking classes at GoodStockFarm.com.

Recipe for Chargrilled Scallops with Grilled Caramel Corn Sauce and Corn Relish