Enjoy Fresh Fish from Local Central Coast Waters
When Swordfish, Halibut, and Salmon are available, it’s easy for us at the SLO Fresh Catch booth to sell fresh fish at the San Luis Obispo County farmers’ markets because shoppers generally know how to prepare steaks and filets of these familiar fish. But it’s early spring and our commercial fishermen are catching less familiar fish like Sand Sole and Black Cod. At this point in the season, we can also expect to get landings of various rockfishes (there are over 50 types off our coast), Halibut, Turbot, and Starry Flounder. That being said, sometimes the fish appear out of season, as is their prerogative.
Most Americans are unfamiliar with these fish options and may shy away from a purchase so “You have to educate them,” says Mark Tognazzini, fisherman and owner of Dockside Too Fish Market in Morro Bay. How do you teach consumers to broaden their horizons and try some of our lesser-known local fish?
An Education in Local Fish
Customers who stop by our SLO Fresh Catch booth at the farmers market often ask “What the heck do you do with it?” as they consider a sealed package of a freshly caught fish—ready to cook—that they’ve never heard of before. To help educate our customers, I present vivid pictures of these fish in beautifully cooked dishes and I make sure the recipes call for ingredients found in an average American’s pantry. No star anise or truffle oil in these recipes but rather things like lemons, flour, and parsley.
Also, I build trust with customers by selling Capriccio’s canned albacore tuna, another sustainable product produced by hardworking local fishermen Diane and Wayne Moody. Because canned tuna lies within the comfort zone of many Americans, I call it the “gateway drug” into enjoying more local fish and supporting local fisherman families. Once consumers take a risk and buy this premium tuna, they are more likely to buy raw fish next week (and more local canned tuna).
Fresh Fish in the Kitchen
These lesser-known marine species available during the winter/spring season off the Central Coast seem to me like the unusual kohlrabi from the vegetable realm: mild tasting but a little weird looking and, seriously, what the heck DO you do with it? Actually, cooking with raw fish is as easy as cooking chicken; in fact, most recipes for chicken can be applied to fish. Think of chicken piccata and just use Sand Sole instead. You don’t even need to flatten the fish with a mallet: it’s already pre-flattened because this species lives (and hides) flat to the ocean floor, often flattening under a protective veil of sand.
Because most Americans have eaten overcooked or previously frozen supermarket fish (often frozen many times along the way to the dinner table), they fear working with fish in the kitchen. They fear a soggy fish dish will happen again and they lack confidence in their ability to successfully prepare fresh fish. So I am now both an educator and student, learning about our kohlrabi-esque winter species and experimenting in the kitchen with my customers.
Come visit our SLO Fresh Catch booth at select farmers markets. Let’s talk fish and the best ways to enjoy local species in season right now off the Central Coast. Support your local fishing industry .
Recipe: Easy Sautéed Sand Sole
Place butter in a sauté pan, let it melt and just start to bubble; add the fish. Cook on medium heat for one minute per side. Remove to a plate and let the fish rest for one minute, then serve.
Recipe: Not As Easy But Delicious Stuffed Sand Sole
Stuff the sole with your choice of chopped, cooked spinach, broccoli, or shrimp. Roll the filet into a tube with stuffing inside. Place in a small baking dish and cover with your favorite white or Béchamel sauce. Bake until medium-rare. Let it rest for three minutes, then serve.
In May 2011, Central Coast Foodie had an opportunity to observe a cooking demo by Chef Mark Dommen at Cooking for Solutions presented by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. In under 30 minutes on the back deck of the Aquarium, Chef Mark of San Francisco’s One Market Restaurant made a delicious Black Cod dish with a flavorful, savory sauce. Admittedly, he does call for a few fancy ingredients so choose your own adventure. The fish for the demo came from the Morro Bay fishery and the vegetables were seasonal for May. Delicious.
Margie Hurd is owner and proprietor of SLO Fresh Catch, a community-supported fishery (CSF) program that also presents fish for sale at local farmers markets