delicious discourse

a fish out of water

Posted in recipe, whim by delicious:discourse on February 5, 2010

Hawaii is good for many, many things, one of which is inspiring me to eat and cook fish. Hawaii is obviously an island surrounded by an ocean full of fish, both large and small. The funny thing is that growing up I don’t remember eating all that much fish (my family was largely vegetarian except for the occasional chicken, Thanksgiving turkey, and of course seafood) – and for quite some time my favorite fish was salmon; I think it still might be, unless there is poke on the table.

Yes, poke. It is one of my must-eats for every visit home. Poke in Hawaiian means section or to slice and cut. Poke as a dish, as I buy it from the Kahuku Superette, is cubes of raw ahi tuna, tossed with chopped onions, soy sauce; a little wasabi can be added for some kick. It is eaten with chopsticks and it goes nicely with a really cold beer after a long day at the beach. The Kahuku Superette is located right across the street from my high school. If it has been raining, the huge potholes of its parking lot will be filled with water. In high school we treated it as a convenient store for cold drinks, snacks before soccer games and what have you. I’m not sure when someone realized they have some of the best poke on the island and now no one can get enough. A family friend, a young Australian surfer, staying with my family while I was home, after being introduced to poke by my dad, consumed so much over a period of three days he became jokingly concerned about his mercury intake. (For pictures on Wikipedia, click here).

Landlocked in Austin (an acquaintance in Hawaii pointed out to me that the only thing wrong with Austin is that it is surrounded by Texas), I’ve always felt weird about eating fish. It certainly has never been first to come to mind when contemplating what to cook for dinner. Yet when eating out, I’ve always preferred fish to the pork, beef, venison, and other wild game. My Hawaii trip could not have come at a more perfect time. I occupied the nine hours of flight time from Austin to Honolulu (through IAH) with dozing and Jonathan Safron Foer’s Eating Animals, an eye-opening book (confirming much of what I already new) that I do not recommend for the weak-stomached or for those who think ignorance is bliss. Now seemed like the perfect time to eat locally, sustainably caught, fresh fish because I was, and am not, going to be eating any factory-farmed meat, if I can help it, ever again. Some of the most revelatory information Foer provides is regarding the environmental destruction of commercial fishing practices and the factory farming of fish. If you are going to eat fish, I beg of you to take a look at the Monteray Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch (they also have an easy-to-consult iPhone application, Seafood Watch).

Southwestern Red Snapper salad

I’ve come across some really great recipes for fish over the last month – Thai fish curry, a Southwestern red snapper salad from Stop and Smell the Rosemary (after cooking this dish I found out red snapper is in decline worldwide and fishing pressure on it is extensive), macadamia nut-crusted mahi mahi, soy-and-ginger-glazed salmon with udon noodles – and two really great great places to buy fish in Austin – Quality Seafood and San Miguel Seafood at the Austin Farmers’ Market. I may not be in Hawaii again for awhile, but now I know where to go for my fish fix and have found local and online sources for inspiration.

But, please, whether you are eating fish at restaurants or cooking it in the comfort of your own home, you make sure you are eating quality and sustainably caught fish. My rules of thumb: always avoid farm-raised fish, and always consult Seafood Watch. Do not be embarrassed to ask the fishmonger or your waiter questions – that is what they are there for and remember, knowledge is power.

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