Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sourcing Good Seafood

I was up at Spoon and Whisk in Clifton Park again last night teaching a class on outdoor charcoal grilling. One of the dishes I prepared was a grilled Alaskan Salmon over a spinach salad which had grill sauteed fennel, roasted peppers and a raspberry vinaigrette. Invariably whenever I offer a seafood dish I am asked where to find decent seafood in landlocked upstate New York. I often joke, "drive to NYC or Boston". I am only really half joking, because it is hard to find decent seafood up here, but if you are discerning and know what you are looking for you can occasionally find some decent products locally.

Where do I buy my fish? The Asian Market on Colvin ave. in Albany, NY. They generally have a really great array of fresh WHOLE seafood, which is important to me, I can see the eyes, gills, etc. to check for freshness which i will get into after my list here. They will clip the fins and what not off to leave you a whole fish, or they will fillet the fish as you desire. You want fresh you say? If you like catfish, you do not get fresher as they pull it right out of the tank and dispatch it for you. They pretty much always have a great array including red snapper, yellow tail, cat fish, cod, eel, clams, oysters, mullet, herring, flounder, sole, shrimp, carp, tuna, mackerel, striped bass, salmon all depending on the season. They also have some fun stuff occasionally like geoduck clam, razor clams, soft shell crabs, turtles (live even), giant snails, baby snails, I'm even shocked once in awhile when I go in. I love this place, but come with an open mind, don't mind any language barrier there might be, they will get you want you need.

Lee's Market on Central ave. is another Asian market in Albany. On the days where I can't find what i want over at the Colvin Market, or if I just don't feel like going into the larger shop I will go here. Plus the people are super friendly here. Their selection is quite good as well and everything is super fresh.

Cousins Market in Albany is a wholesaler which supplies many of the local restaurants. They carry mostly the normal stuff you would expect to find in a normal fish mongers, salmon, trout, cod, shrimp, clams, oysters and seasonal items as well. I have neither a negative or a positive overall feeling for their products.

As for our local supermarkets in the area, i have a love hate relationship with some of them. If I am picking up seafood form a grocery store, I will generally go to Price Chopper. They store their fish properly on fresh ice with a proper barrier once the fish is in fillets. Now someone is going to read this and tell me they have an issue with their local store. That is where the local management would have to be addressed, the company as a whole has high standards but sometimes some of the staff might not follow the rules, but that happens anywhere. The important thing here is to know how to select your fish in case your local shop does not go through its seafood fast enough. As for the other grocery shops, i just really don't bother. Hannaford in Latham Farms is pretty good, otherwise I think with the options I listed above, they fulfill my quality needs.

Now there are times I want some specialty items, let's say I am planning a crawfish boil for instance. I usually buy about 40-50 lbs of live crawfish and i think the only way to buy them is to have them shipped directly from Louisiana. I have held about a half dozen boils over the last few years and I always get mine from Louisiana Crawfish Co. They are consistent, less than a 5% loss of product (some are going to show up dead, it is just a fact of ummmm life. They also sell alligator meat, crawfish tail meat, crabs, turtle meat, gulf shrimp (fresh shrimp not that the frozen stuff we've all eaten for so many years). Are you looking for a King Cake for your next Mardi Gras? They sell those as well.

All Fresh Seafood is another great mail order company. You will certainly pay for your products ordering them online, it is expensive to mail ice and pack it properly and it is sent either same day or next day mail. All Fresh Seafood carries a number of different products, filets, whole fish, shellfish, etc. Rather than just shopping online, it is good to call them to see what they have fresh from the waters.

Here is a list of what to look for in quality fish:
Eyes: The eyes should be bright, shiny and moist, they should not be sunken in at all, they should have a nice roundness to them.
Gills: If the gills are present, they should have some redness to them signifying the presence of of blood and not being subjected to too much air.
Scales: The scales should be firm and should not flake off easily.
Fins: The fins should spring back easily, and should have firm webbing.
Flesh: On whole fish the flesh should be firm and should not impress when a finger is pushed on it. On fillets, the flesh should spring back readily after a finger is pushed into the flesh.
Smell: For years I've heard people say fish should have no smell, that is patent nonsense, fish always has a smell. The smell should be of fresh saltiness, maybe a sweet aroma. Certain fish like salmon are fatty, so they have a slightly stronger smell and as such go bad faster as well so it is important to smell your fish before buying it. When in doubt, don't buy it.

Here is a good website to check for sustainable seafood, many species are at risk of being lost from poor fishing tactics and over fishing.

Here is a chart on the recommended cooking temperatures for fish and other animal proteins.

Here is a chart from New York Seafood Council on nutrition facts for different seafood.

Here is a chart on the seasonal availability of seafood in New York.

Here is a good chart on "cooking times" for a variety of seafood.


Anonymous said...

For fresh fish, particularly haddock, I always go to Off Shore Pier, North Greenbush. I lived in two different coastal states for several years and still found that Off Shore's fish was the freshest. (I believe that they drive to NYC every morning for the fish.)

As for Price Chopper & Hannaford, I've had problems with the seafood being off ;(

Christopher Allen Tanner said...

Thanks for the suggestion

Kathy Mara said...

Thanks for the tips on where to buy and how to tell if the seafood is fresh. I had no clue! Also, the links to those charts are GREAT thank you for including them!


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