Trash Talk: Price vs. Quality vs. Sustainability
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “you get what you pay for”. But expensive doesn’t necessarily equate to better. Expensive may simply mean rare or popular by demand due to over-advertised hype, a.k.a. “Grouper Week”.
And then there’s another problem called sustainability. Contrary to the notion that there are “plenty of fish in the sea”, chances are that there won’t be plenty at the rate fish are pulled from the oceans. Not to mention other detrimental factors, such as red tide, which kills millions of fish in the blink of an eye.
The truth of the matter is that there are other, sometimes less-expensive, or otherwise noteworthy fish, called bycatch or trash fish, drawn into commercial fishing vessels and tossed aside, or are simply invasive, but delectable, nonetheless.
Trash fish are fish that most people overlook on the menu or bypass on the daily special billboard at the fish market. Still, many trash fish have gained popularity over time. Lobster was once considered a trash fish in the early days of the colonies and only fed to prisoners. I have read old fishmonger tales that grouper was also know as a trash fish in St. Petersburg, back in the 60’s.
So here’s the catch – know a little about the different varieties of fish in the sea, understand the quality of the alternative species available and ask what is in season or locally sourced outside of the popular brands.
Also be sure to ask what the “catch of the day” is in terms of bycatch. And don’t be afraid to try something new. You may be pleasantly surprised. You’ll even be doing your part to help sustain the environment!
Here is the the Fishmonger Approved list of top trash fish:
Rock Fish is a firm, lean white fish akin to cod, halibut, catfish, and swordfish. It contains a high level of protein (20 g per 3 oz serving) and is a good source of choline, which is thought to fight inflammation, boost cognitive function, and even reduce the risk for breast cancer. A great way to prepare rock fish is to pan sear and serve as the main course with tacos or in a fish sandwich.
Porgy is a lean, delicate flavored fish and best to prepared with simple methods, such as grilled or poached. A favorite method of mine for preparation is to score the sides of the whole dressed fish and cook over charcoal. When served, the meat can be lifted free from the backbone and accompanied by a side of drawn herb butter. Its skin is also edible and gets crispy delicious when cooked this way.
Sheepshead gets its name from its mouth full of protruding teeth used for cracking shellfish and scraping barnacles off rocks and structures. They have a sweet, mild taste and firm texture. My favorite way to prepare sheepshead is blackened, the same way as you would redfish or catfish.
Lionfish is an invasive species of fish that is on the top list of responsible seafood selections. Recently it has been introduced in restaurants along with popular fish like snapper, grouper, wahoo and tuna. Lionfish is a white flaky fish, firmer in texture like halibut, with a taste similar to mahi-mahi. Lionfish are also heart-healthy, high in Omega 3 fatty acids and lower in saturated fats and heavy metals such as mercury.