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Fresh from the Sea
Right Food for the Season - Early Spring
Written by Jane Ward   
Here along the coast of Massachusetts, we live close to such delicious seafood.  I know I am biased, but I believe our cold Atlantic waters make a home to some of the world’s best fish and shellfish.  Not much tops a Maine lobster.  Or the Ipswich clam in the bucket of steamers I like to serve with it.

I grew up fishing with my father in area streams and at the Cape Cod shoreline, and we caught only what we could eat and ate what we caught.  With that, my father introduced me to both a taste for fresh fish and a deep respect for catching it as well.  Fishing is hard, patience-testing, and sometimes thankless work.  If the fish aren’t biting, you go home without supper.  Respect is due to any creature that can get the better of you. 

But more than that, respect is due to those activities and animals that feed us.  My father’s unspoken lesson is a good one:  fish only for what you can eat, and make sure to eat what you take from the sea.

In recent years, with demands for seafood high, and given the proliferation of international trawl and net fishing practices, many varieties of fish and shellfish are in danger of being over fished.  It’s good fishing and dining practice to pay attention to how and where our fish is caught or farmed.  

The Environmental Defense Fund publishes on their website the “Seafood Selector,” a chart listing most varieties of fish and the impact eating each and every one has on our oceans.  In a straightforward, non-lecturing way, the EDF gives the consumer a wealth of information about which fish to eat in order to make the smart decision for a shared world environment.  Helped with the facts about farming and fishing practices, you as a consumer can go into your fish market able to make wise purchases.

The goal of minding how and what we eat from the sea is to give oceans time to replenish depleted stocks.  And replenish they do, given time and a little human restraint.  Regionally, we’ve seen scallop beds re-stock and haddock populations return.  Nature, when left to its own devices, is often an amazingly efficient operation. Shopping for local fish is a great start.  Paying attention to how that fish is caught takes your efforts one step further.

Your best local and sustainable choices for seafood will depend on the season and where you live as you read this article.  Before you cook your next seafood dinner at home, take some time to look over the Seafood Selector.  Then, after you’ve had a chance to find out your best Eco-Yes or Eco-OK fish options, give this zesty tomato-based relish a try on top of it.  Spooned generously, the relish is particularly good served over a piece of broiled or barbecue-grilled flaky, meaty white fish, such as a piece of summer’s striped bass.

A great local fish to cook and serve right now is hook-and-line caught haddock. What’s nice about eating fish in the early spring is that fish’s lightness on the palate helps prepare you for all the lighter, fresher eating coming with summer.  What’s nice about this relish is its zippy fresh taste, despite its being made from primarily pantry ingredients.  As you know, early spring means a bit of a dry spell between the root vegetables of late winter and the tender green shoots of late spring/early summer.  Sometimes, like now, pantry cooking provides a nice option while you wait.

I like to serve this dish with a salad made from new arugula, shaved fennel, and a tart lemon-juice-based vinaigrette.

Broiled or Grilled White Fish with Zesty Tomato and Olive Relish

2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. chopped pepperoncini (jarred pickled peppers)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes, tomatoes chopped, with the juices from the chopped tomatoes saved also (Discard juice left in the can.)
½ cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1 12-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained, each piece cut again in half
2 tbsp. capers, drained
2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

1 ¼ -1 ½ pounds of your favorite local or sustainable white fish, preferably medium to large-flaked, cut into 4-6 fillets

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add to this the pepperoncini and garlic.  Stir, sautéeing until both are soft but not browned.  Add to this the chopped tomatoes and their juices. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, allowing the tomato sauce to thicken slightly.

After 15 minutes, stir in the prepared olives, artichoke hearts, and capers.  Heat through while stirring for 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add in chopped parsley.  Give it a stir and the relish is done.  (Note: There is enough salt in the relish from the all the marinated vegetables, but you may like a few grinds of black pepper to taste.)  Relish may be served lukewarm or reheated for a minute or two right before fish is ready to serve.

Grill or broil your fish fillets as you like, brushing lightly with a little olive oil and lemon juice before cooking.  When the fish is done, top each fillet with a generous helping of relish and serve.

You may have more relish than fish, but the leftovers are delicious tossed into some pasta or used as a bruschetta topping the next day.        


1 Comment

  1. Jane, another wonderful post and recipe. I grew up fishing with my father too... funny enough, he had the very same "unspoken lesson". It is very good that those lessons stuck with us!

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