Thursday, February 07, 2008

Eat Local Fish

The Phil Vettel Game

There's a fine line between advocacy and reporting in the CTrib's At Play section. It's not that Phil Vettel is above a little push and shove. I've seen him use his space to seek improvement in Chicago's eating. Maybe today's piece on codish fish and chips represents a state of affairs he's happy with. Maybe.
Atlantic cod is the preferred fish because it's an inexpensive fish that's moist, flaky and sturdy enough for the deep-fryer. Just as important, cod has a very mild flavor. "A lot of people who think of themselves as non-fish eaters will still eat fish and chips," says chef Dirk Flanigan, who sells a lot of fish and chips at the Michigan Avenue gastropub The Gage. "That's what people are looking for." The trouble is, overfishing of cod has become a serious issue. Many chefs take care to buy cod from countries that avoid overfishing; Iceland is considered progressive on that score, and so Flanigan and many other chefs feature Icelandic cod (not a separate species, just Atlantic cod caught in Icelandic waters). Some local chefs have turned to less-overfished species, such as hake, haddock or pollock, members of the cod family whose populations aren't considered to be as endangered. Creative chefs will employ halibut, tilapia and walleye -- but these more expensive fish kick up the prices. "I was thinking one day I'd do mahi-mahi, the next day St. Pierre," says Flanigan, "but getting someone to pay $25 for fish and chips would be hard."

Phil hits on the problems with the cod, tasteless and scarce. He recognizes a solution in more expensive fish, but he fails to mention the best solution. Local fish.

There was a time, in the greater Midwest that fish n' chips, at least Friday fish fries, meant one fish, perch. These days perch still swim away in our Great Lakes, but the commercial fishing in many of the Great Lakes states is next to morbid. Still, lake perch is out there. More importantly, there's efforts to farm raise perch, and what I've tried so far, from has been pretty darn good (I've long been impressed with Growing Power's operations, but read the linked article to really be impressed). Let's pine for more perch in our fish fries.

Think of all impacts of ocean caught cod. Sure, not all cod stocks are decimated, but so many are. Beyond that, there's the impact of the miles and miles that these fish travel back and fourth from boats to shores to markets to markets to our restaurants. All that for a product tauted for its "very mild flavor". It's not that perch is fishy. It's no herring. It is, however, sweet and distinct and with a flavor that will soon addict. Ditch the cod.

Don't get me started on the chips.

No comments: