Sustainable Seafood recipes: Pan-Seared Sablefish with Soy-Sesame Glaze
Pan-Seared Sablefish with Soy-Sesame Glaze

At times, selecting the right seafood for dinner can seem as baffling as choosing a new car. There are so many issues to consider. Should you buy farm-raised or wild? If you opt for wild-caught, is it at risk of being over-fished? If you go with farmed, how do you know which countries practice innocuous aquaculture techniques?

Once you figure out the correct answers, then you must determine which fish possesses the greatest health benefits and the fewest health risks. Add in concerns about oil-contaminated Gulf Coast seafood and you might be tempted to skip cooking and go out for a pizza instead.

Thankfully, healthful and eco-friendly seafood does exist, ranging from the tiny, lobster-like crayfish to the long, large-mouthed barramundi. At the top of the "best seafood" list is the wild European anchovy. Although this small, omega-3-rich fish swims in all warm oceans, the most prized come from the Mediterranean Sea. Here the supply is plentiful and the risks of contaminants and unintentionally caught marine life, known as bycatch, are low.

Fresh anchovies have a rich, buttery flavor that goes well with capers, garlic, lemon, olives, tomatoes and white wine. Oily and soft, they are perfect for baking, broiling, grilling and pan-frying.

Canned anchovies, unlike their fresh counterparts, taste quite salty, and so they are not a good substitute in recipes. Use canned to garnish pizzas, flavor salads and sandwiches and spice up sauces.

Another environmentally sound fish is the hardy, fast-growing Australian barramundi. High in omega-3 fatty acids, it makes for a good heart-healthy entree. It's now raised in the U.S. in enclosed, recirculating tanks.

Cooks favor barramundi for its sweet, succulent meat, edible skin that's pleasantly crisp when cooked, and overall versatility. Whole barramundi can be grilled, baked, roasted or steamed. Fillets are ideal for pan-frying, grilling, sauteing and broiling.

Barramundi pairs nicely with a range of foods. Its delicateness complements arugula, bok choy, brown sugar, cilantro, garlic, limes, shallots and soy sauce, among other ingredients.

Atlantic cod is overfished, and therefore tops the list of seafood to avoid, but the abundant, long-lived "black cod" or sablefish falls firmly into the safe category. Caught wild in Alaska and British Columbia, this firm, oily fish also serves as a good source for omega-3 fatty acids.

Sablefish has pearly white meat and a deep creaminess that favors such seasonings as honey, miso, mustard, sake, sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar. Juicy when cooked, it can be grilled, sauteed, pan-fried, steamed, poached, braised or roasted. Additionally, sablefish's high fat content makes it excellent for smoking. In fact Jewish delis often sell it under the label "smoked black cod."

In the shellfish category, two North American crustaceans, crayfish and Dungeness crab, stand out as delicious and plentiful.

Known in the South as crawfish, crawdads and mudbugs, U.S. crayfish are commonly farmed in rice fields and ponds in the Mississippi basin. As they eat natural vegetation, require no feeds or chemical additives, and hail from the area in which they're grown, American crayfish rate among the "eco-best fish," according to the Environmental Defense Fund. They are easy to prepare and their meat is luscious, which makes them popular with cooks as well.

Resembling miniature lobsters, crayfish are prepared in the same manner as their large look-alikes. Cooks in the "crawfish capital of the world," Louisiana, frequently boil them in large pots of spiced water. Diners are then encouraged to grasp the 3- to 6-inch crayfish with their fingers, twist off the tails and suck out the meat from the shells.

Crayfish's sweet, tender flesh marries well with bay leaves, brandy, celery, lemon, mustard, onions, tarragon and tomatoes. Without question, it forms a tasty partnership with hot sauces and Cajun and Creole seasonings.

Dungeness crabs, on the other hand, are a delicacy of the Pacific Northwest, where they are caught wild with special traps that allow undersized crabs and bycatch to escape. Size limits are strictly enforced, and Dungeness crabs are protected during molting season, adding to their overall sustainability and making them an eco-friendly choice.

Moist, tangy and slightly nutty, Dungeness crab brings to mind lobster. As with lobster, the crabs are either boiled alive in salted water or killed immediately before being placed in the bubbling pot.

Cooks often serve Dungeness crab directly from the shell. They also put it in crab cakes, crab Louis and the seafood stew cioppino. The crabs partner well with artichokes, bell peppers, cucumber, garlic, mayonnaise, oregano, shallots, thyme and white wine.

If you're an ecologically conscientious diner, you needn't be overwhelmed by seafood. Remember that environmentally, healthy options do exist. Talk to your fishmonger, or consult the websites of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Blue Ocean Institute for further information about safe, sustainable fish and shellfish.

Salt-Baked Barramundi

Serves 2

2 pounds whole barramundi

4 pounds coarse sea salt

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Lemon wedges

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

On a standard baking sheet, make a 2-inch bed of sea salt. Place your fish in the center of the bed and insert two sprigs of rosemary into its main cavity. Fish seasoned, pour enough salt over top to cover and form a thick mound over the fish.

Bake for the fish for 40 minutes, checking the internal temperature with a meat thermometer to ensure that it has reached 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Remove the barramundi from the oven and, using a knife and fork, crack open and peel back the salt crust and skin. If the skin doesn't not come off with the salt, use your fork and knife to remove it. Fillet the fish and serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Pan-Seared Sablefish with Soy-Sesame Glaze

If you cannot find sablefish, use barramundi.

Serves 4

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 teaspoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 sablefish (black cod) fillets, skin intact

Salt, to taste

Ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted lightly (optional)

In a small bowl whisk together the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar and honey. Pour the liquids into a small pan and bring to a low boil. Allow them to boil, stirring periodically, until thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place the olive oil in a large skillet and heat over high. Lay the fillets skin-side down in the skillet. Sprinkle salt and ground black pepper over each. Cook until the skin crisps and the meat turns opaque, about 7 minutes. Drizzle half of the soy-sesame glaze over the fillets and cook for another minute. Remove the sablefish from the pan, place each fillet skin-side down on a plate and spoon the remaining sauce over each. Sprinkle the optional garnish of toasted sesame seeds over the fillets and serve immediately.

Dungeness Crab Salad

Serves 4

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced

1/2 cup red onion, diced

8 cups mixed greens

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

Ground white pepper, to taste

1 pound fresh Dungeness crabmeat

In a large bowl toss together the cucumber, onion and mixed greens. In a separate bowl whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, sea salt and white pepper. Pour all but one tablespoon over the salad and toss again to combine. Add the remaining dressing to the crabmeat and toss until completely mixed. Spoon the greens onto four plates and top each salad with the crabmeat. If desired, sprinkle additional ground white pepper over the salad and serve.

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Sustainable Seafood Recipes: Salt-Baked Barramundi, Pan-Seared Sablefish and Dungeness Crab Salad - Recipe

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