Cooking with sustainable fish results in delicious meals that nourish mind and body, while helping maintain oceanic ecological balance and viability. Let me share my sustainable fish cooking tips and recipe ideas.
Wild sablefish – also called black cod, gindara in its sushi form, or fittingly, butterfish – has a natural oil content that cooks up to be the most buttery, rich, supple-textured fish. It’s fantastic! Found predominantly in the deep, cold, north Pacific waters of BC through Alaska, this sustainable fish can be caught year-round and is labelled a “Best Choice” by Canada’s SeaChoice Sustainable Seafood Program and U.S. Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, and is certified sustainable by the international Marine Stewardship Council. These are some of many websites helping you make informed seafood purchasing choices. You can find information about grocery store chains, restaurants and related businesses and their seafood sustainable practices as well. Seafood retailers and restaurants can play an important role in the conservation of challenged ocean resources and your choices make a difference. Canadian Chef Ned Bell’s movement called Chefs for Oceans is working to create and support firmly rooted environmentally responsible procedures to sustain seafood. Also, lend your support to Ocean Wise for a national sustainable seafood day in Canada.
Lots of detailed information is available on these websites, but they also provide a quick synopsis, track related issues and help us think about the health and abundance of a fish stock. They help us remember that long-term viability of caught or farmed seafood, related ecosystems and the ocean’s health, should not be impaired by fishing practices and our uninformed choices. Think of yourself, the world’s fishing community and the ocean’s ecosystems as part of an entwined food web. The ratings include details, such as sustainable choices or best choices, good alternatives, some concerns and fish to avoid.
You can also be a conscientious omnivore by using the tip of a piece of meat through to the tail in your recipes, and choosing to eat smaller portions of fish and supplementing your diet with large portions of grains and vegetables. Pictured here is a plate, featuring sustainable fish, I would prepare for a special occasion. For simpler occasions, any of the single elements mentioned below could be paired to make a delicious lunch or dinner.
Cooked Black Cod
- Pictured here is a four-ounce piece of sustainable black cod, lightly seasoned with salt and seared skin-side down in a high-quality sauté pan with a bit of butter and olive oil on medium-high heat. I added a lid to the pan once the skins were medium golden brown and turned the heat down to medium to steam-braise the cod – sometimes turning it to low heat – and occasionally basted the cod with its own juices and the hot olive oil/butter. This took about 10 to 12 minutes until the flesh was firm and opaque and just beginning to flake. As it is quite a thick-sided fish and the flesh has a fairly high oil content, it takes a bit longer to cook and is not pleasant medium-rare like salmon – it is best cooked through to perfectly done. (Not overcooked!)
- I was just in BC eating delicious fresh seafood and learning about sustainable fish practices and this trip inspired this selection of fish. (I sourced it from Dave’s Fish Market in Burlington.)
Black Cod Sauce
- I chopped four fresh lemon grass stalks in large pieces and crushed them with a mallet to release their essence, and then I made a stock out of them by boiling the pieces with water for 20ish minutes. I strained the stock and discarded the crushed lemon grass. Low-calorie amazing essence!
- Because I purchased a whole side of black cod, I portioned the fillets myself and removed the bones and cleaned them up a bit. I then took all the fish scraps, including skins (so did not need to add oil), and sautéed them briefly on medium heat until light golden brown. Then I combined them with water and half of a roughly chopped onion, to boil and make a rustic stock. I strained the stock then discarded the scraps.
- I sautéed until tender with a tiny bit of butter some enoki mushrooms and set them aside.
- I made a roux in a medium saucepan of two teaspoons of truffle oil and I added two teaspoons of all-purpose flour on very low heat.
- I whisked the strained fish stock into the roux on medium-low heat. I continued whisking while waiting for the flour to thicken the stock. I added the lemon grass essence and the enoki mushrooms, tasted it, added salt and tasted it again. If you find your sauce is too thick – add a bit more water and if too thin, whisk some cornstarch into the sauce following package directions.
- I poured the sauce in the corner of the plate and placed a piece of cooked black cod on top.
- This sauce is meant to serve several people.
Vegetable Puree Decorations
- I sourced one bunch of organic collard greens and chopped them roughly. Then I steamed them very briefly until softened to save their intense green colour. Next I pureed them with a little bit of water and salt. I strained this (and saved the solid greens to make a green smoothie for myself) and then I boiled this strained liquid very very briefly, and thickened it with a bit of cornstarch (following package directions). Then I cooled it immediately and poured it with a sauce boat (or squeeze bottle with a small spout) to paint the plate.
- I purchased a bottle of roasted sweet peppers being careful not to buy the kind that are cured in vinegar. I strained and rinsed them, pureed them, added a bit of water, strained them and then boiled this smooth liquid briefly and added cornstarch to thicken following package directions. I cooled it immediately and poured it with a sauce boat (or squeeze bottle with a small spout) to paint the plate. I saved the solid strained peppers for a dish I made with couscous the next night.
- I halved and then roasted in the oven (being careful not to burn them) some fresh tomatoes until golden brown and caramelized on the edges and softened. I pureed them with their skins and seeds and then added some kalamata olives – a little bit at a time – until I had a mildly balanced in flavour, thick and rustic, tomato-olive puree. I spooned out a few tablespoons of this tomato puree into another corner of the plate.
- These purees are meant to serve several people.
The vegetable sauté ingredients – from my free recipe e-booklet available on my website contact page – were sliced very small and added to the plate on top of the sustainable fish and on top of the tomato puree and sprinkled wherever looked good.
I sprinkled some raw asparagus purple-tip leaves on the plate as well for decoration.
I made some mini grain cakes (and taught how in my A Celebration of Spring Menu class)* that were one-third the size of my normal grain cakes and placed them in a corner of the plate.
Update: We’re so proud of the work we’ve done in our hands-on teaching and dinner party classes. Working with you, our clients has played such an important part in the new direction of Tree House Kitchen as a food literacy company, specializing in problem-solving skills and resources for busy families, and community members – like you! We hope you enjoy reading about our past classes, and also where we’re headed moving forward.