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Living in Halifax means the fishing industry is everywhere. Because we're so close to the coast, our fish (and shellfish) can be quite fresh. Fish is also a nutritious alternative for those who are considering limiting their meat intake. This is inspired by a recent post on eating fish sustainably in Canada by Jenny Weitzman (https://www.dal.ca/news/2019/10/28/confusion-at-the-fish-counter--how-to-eat-fish-responsibly.html). I wanted to reflect on their great post. In my last post, I gave some options for tinned fish, so I’ll dive into my fresh fish choices here.
Personally, salmon is a treat. Everyone knows it’s one of the healthiest fishes, chockful of those all-important, balancing Omega-3s. Almost all the salmon we find in Halifax are farmed. Nova Scotia has salmon farms, but the most descriptive label we get on salmon is “Atlantic salmon.” As a result, we don’t know if salmon we buy is from Nova Scotia or from Argentina. Buying from local stores, like Evan’s Seafood, Afishionado, or Hooked at the Brewery Market, lets you control where your fish is coming from.
No matter where it’s coming from, however, Salmon is expensive. Outside of shellfish we pick up fish from the grocery stores in clean fillets. Pete’s Frootique, and sometimes the fish section at Sobeys, do offer cheaper rough cuts. These rough cuts are the trimmings from the fillets, often lined with the very fat that Omega-3s come from. So not only are they cheaper per pound, but also more nutritious per pound. It won't make for a picturesque fillet, but maybe for a picturesque, colorful stir-fry. And if there’s none left, don’t be afraid to ask the fish counterperson if they have any trimmings left!
Haddock is one of my favorites. It's a bit more affordable than salmon and super quick to cook. All grocery stores with a fish section will carry haddock. Whether it’s farm-raised like salmon or wild caught is not clear. Like salmon, if that's a big concern, one way to mitigate that is to choose where you shop carefully. While haddock isn’t overfished to the point that Atlantic cod is, it’s best to eat it as a treat and buy it from as close to the source as possible. I think that on the spectrum of sustainability, haddock is the better choice compared to salmon.
Growing up I never liked haddock because I thought I could always taste its fishiness. I know now that that fishiness means it’s been a long time since the fish was caught and packaged. Buying from straight from a fisherman and buying from somewhere with consistent deliveries, like Evan’s Seafood, is a sure way to avoid that. I like to dust the fillets with some flour and do a quick fry. With a side of some extra lemony broccoli and curry tartare sauce for dipping, nothing is tastier.
I say shellfish, but my true love is mussels. There’s plenty of others to choose from, but fresh, salty mussels are where it’s at for me. Not only are shellfish like mussels and oysters the most sustainable kinds of fish, they’re also multi-use. Mussel and oyster shells are a great addition to a fish broth. Crushed up, they also function as fertilizer. Toss the crushed shells in your compost or your window herb plant—or even that patch of brown grass across the street.
Mussels, like haddock, can be found in most grocery stores with a fish section. Like the other fish, the freshest option will mean sourcing the mussels as close to the fishermen as possible. If I’m getting it at the grocery store, I’ll go for the mussels on display instead of the ones netted or boxed, but that’s personal preference. When I’m cooking mussels, I like strong flavors: lots of extra virgin olive oil and tons of garlic and some broth is all I need. The sweetness of mussels also go well with tomato sauce.
What about you, kind krafters? To fish or not to fish? Is curry tartare sauce as much of a niche prefence as my friends make it out to be?
Until next time,
Hello, kind krafters,
I’d like to share with you some winter month tips for cooking when you’re on a budget with a taste for takeout and you're a student with twenty readings a week.
The defining taste of takeout for me is umami, or savoriness. Pizza? It has cheese and tomatoes – both the ultimate in savory taste. One way I replicate that umami-ness outside of takeout is with anchovies. Personally, I buy the anchovy paste in a tube because convenience, but the anchovies in a can are a dollar less and work just as well. Make sure to decant the anchovies into an air-tight jar and use within a week, or freeze in ice trays for longer storage. Another option is fish sauce. Certain Thai brands only use anchovies and salt, and these last forever in the fridge. The price does vary. For vegans, miso, dried and ground mushrooms, and yeast products (Vegemite, Marmite, and nutritional yeast) work similarly. Another important umami factor is salt. I love eating summer/fall tomatoes with just salt sprinkled on top. Salt brings out savoriness intensely. Under-salting is not an option if you want that flavour profile. Tomatoes themselves are full of umami. Cooking them down or roasting them brings out the sweetness as well as that savoriness I’m always looking for.
A commenter on my farmer’s market post brought up that canned food is often the only choice for many people. I agree that it is, and in fact, it's a better choice in the winter over much of the “fresh” produce we have in Halifax. By February, the beefsteak tomatoes or green peppers in the supermarket are tasteless and lacking in nutrition. You are better off – taste-wise and nutrition-wise – with canned tomatoes. I would go for unsalted, peeled, and a processing origin within North America. I’ve found canned tomatoes made closer to their selling destination taste fresher. I also advocate for seasonal eating, but having an informed choice is important for those who have limitations on theirs. If you’re cooking beans, adding in a few chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (my favorite canned food) is the only way to do it.
In terms of canned fish, if you’re thinking of health, I would choose mackerel over tuna. However, when it comes to fish during the winter in Nova Scotia, a whole mackerel can go for 2$ in certain fish markets and supermarkets. I have also seen mussels for as low as 2$ a pound in supermarkets. Both foods are easy to cook. Baked and broiled over some veg or marinated in vinegar and pan-fried, mackerel is a source of Omega 3s comparable to salmon – plus it’s wild, more sustainable than farmed salmon and carries less heavy metals. (Canned mackerel also makes the best fish cakes.) Mussels are another great source of Omega 3s, zinc, iodine and other essential minerals. Farmed mussels are easy to clean and need only a dash of butter/oil, water, and a ton of garlic cloves to be fantastic.
I know it’s popular to tout the virtue of how fresh frozen vegetables are, but I’m skeptical. For these vegetables to be processed frozen, they are trucked off to a specific processing plant. I don’t know many farmers who have vegetable processing plants in their backyard. Just something to keep in mind. It's an alternative to canned food, although not necessary. But, come winter, frozen veg is on sale for six months! Like frozen fruit in the summer months, supermarkets regularly mark frozen veg down to 2.99$ and 1.99$ during the winter. The variety included are broccoli, squash, brussel sprouts, corn, beans, peas, carrots, cauliflower, etc. I would focus on buying vegetables that you won’t or tend not to use up quickly. Squash is a fresh and locally available produce during the winter, and can be cut up, roasted and eaten throughout the week. Use is another consideration. Most frozen veg don’t do well outside of stews, stir-frys and braises, but you can get away with roasting a few like green beans.
This is another item that supermarkets price down in the winter. Mushrooms have tons of umami. Some are turned off by how mushy they get when cooking. Because mushrooms retain so much water, they should be cooked on a hot, dry pan. Adding spices while the mushrooms are drying out gives them a milder, toasted flavour. You can also add the spices towards the end for a stronger profile. In my opinion, mushrooms and cauliflower are the best bulking agents after onions. While onions (just bulk) and cauliflower (creamy bulk) have their benefits, mushrooms add a heftier, meat-like bulk. Whether you’re vegan or testing out Meatless Monday, you could do worse than try a ground mushroom or marinated Portobello mushroom burger or a mushroom Bolognese, like the one below.
Here’s something you can cook while you’re in the kitchen, finishing up the last of your readings.
Twenty Readings Tomato Sauce
2 tbsp of oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 anchovies*, OR a tsp of Marmite/Vegemite OR 1/3 cup of nutritional yeast
1 package of white button mushrooms, diced OR half a frozen packet of broccoli, roughly chopped
1 28oz can of peeled tomatoes, unsalted if possible
1 tbsp + 1 tsp of salt, divided