One fish, two fish, redfish, bluefish

Monkfish and redfish from Something GUD

This dish, courtesy of Something GUD ingredients: salad greens (with ranch dressing); monkfish, cajun-blackened redfish, and roasted root vegetables.

In my first Catch of the Week order from Something GUD, I was surprised to see a package of fish called scup. I vaguely recalled that there was such a fish, but that’s it. However, there was a QR code on the fish, so I scanned it with my phone, wondering if it would tell me a recipe or something.

No recipe, but I found out everything but that fishie’s horoscope, thanks to the website of fish distributor Red’s Best. It was caught by Fisherman Tom Dowd on the fishing vessel Equinox, using Otter Trawl gear, and anchored in the port of Falmouth. It was caught wild, and sustainably harvested.

Sometimes a good fishmonger or market knows where your fish came from. Sometimes the information gets a little lost out to sea. That’s the cool thing about fish purchased from Red’s Best: it’s traceable. You know not only about the fish you just purchased, but also information about the fisherman, the boat and gear type, and port that it came in from.

Further research on the Red’s Best website showed that Dowd has been a self-employed fisherman since 1970, after serving in the Coast Guard, and likes to fish in Nantucket Sound, close to home. I like knowing something about my fisherman.

Not only are all the fish from Red’s local fish, but Red’s Best also controls the physical chain of custody, delivering it from vessel to the customer, in this case, via Something GUD, all the while maintaining temps and sanitary conditions. Red’s Best boasts fish often days fresher than what is sold in supermarkets for the same price, because it skips the fish market and auction house. Many sushi chefs order from Red’s for this reason.

In other words, it’s an opportunity to trust that your wild seafood and fish  are caught locally, labeled correctly, and subjected to quality controls, with minimal carbon footprint.

Boston-based Red’s Best was founded in 2008 by Jared “Red” Auerbach, a young entrepreneur and former commercial fisherman whose goal is to educate consumers and help independent fishermen through technology.

Fish go from the boats of small-scale and responsible fishermen via Red’s to markets around the country. By supporting smaller boats, it benefits the environment and coastal communities; but smaller catches means more dock landings, which means more paperwork. Red’s Best’s software cuts down on the red tape, and helps them to comply with “green” laws, to track fishing quotas, and to profit from catch sales via phone, web, satellite, email, or SMS. This in turn makes it affordable for the little boats.

He added that supporting 200 boats rather than a huge industrial fishing boat is better for our New England coastal towns. “It’s so cool seeing these small towns with working waterfronts,” he was quoted as saying. “Sustaining these communities is good for tourism and everyone’s health.”

While many small fishermen often can’t afford  “certified sustainable” labels, by using the QR code you can track the fish, and look up sustainability reports on seafood guides maintained by National Geographic or Seafood Watch. “We follow all the government rules, give you all the info on this fish, and you can make your own decision,” said Auerbach.

***

So… about that scup. Was it a trash fish? It’s not a household name like cod, haddock, or flounder, although that’s also often available at Something GUD. Through a little research, I learned that scup, also known as porgy, is a plentiful and sustainable yet underutilized fish. Cooked in butter, salt and pepper, it was easy to make, and reminded me of scallops. I can’t wait to get more.

When I ordered a Pescatarian box, it came with three orders of fish: monkfish, scallops and redfish. Now, I get scallops all the time, but I would never had thought about buying the other two, which was a good thing. Sometimes I just get into a rut of picking up cod/salmon/tilapia rut, with an occasional trout.But I like trying new food.

Scallops are one of my favorite fast-food dishes. Saute them in olive oil and butter, with salt, pepper and a lemon squeeze, and boom, it’s dinner. But I had wondered whether they were sustainable, or more importantly, responsibly taken from the water. Thanks to my QR report, and a quick check with Seafood Watch, I eased my mind, learning that scallops thrive on plankton, so no questionable fish feed or antibiotics are necessary; they’re native to this area, and harvesting them causes no environmental harm.

Monkfish? Again, this local and sustainable fish is something I usually ignore at the market. But since it’s in my Pescatarian box, I’m a little more adventurous. And what a nice, sweet taste it has.

The first time I made it, there was an unpleasant, milky sauce that came out of it, so I did a little research, and found a Jamie Oliver trick of rubbing the monkfish with a grind of salt, lemon zest and rosemary (I used the rosemary that I received in the Pescatarian order) and letting it marinate in the fridge about an hour before cooking. This draws out excess moisture, preventing this particular fish from boiling in its own juices. Pat dry, and prepare as you would.

Here’s Jamie’s recipe. However, I used a much simpler recipe from food.com, with a lemon-butter and wine sauce that worked quite nicely.

That left  us with the redfish. I hadn’t had this since, oh, New Orleans I think? Wait, wasn’t this a fish endangered from too many New Orleans cooks making blackened redfish? I scanned the QR code, and it came up with this: fisherman Jimmy Santapolo of Gloucester, who caught it with a gill net.

So it’s not actually the same fish from New Orleans. Acadian or Atlantic redfish, also known as ocean perch, is not to be confused with the redfish caught in the Gulf of Mexico. Local redfish levels had crashed in the 1950s, but thanks to area closures, fishing gear restrictions, and minimum fish size limits to rebuild the redfish population, the Acadian redfish population rebounded and was declared fully rebuilt in 2012. The Acadian redfish stock now exceeds target population levels, and is considered sustainable.

i did use a Cajun blackened redfish recipe anyway, and it came out great. Too spicy for our 11-year-old, but he liked the monkfish anyway.

***
If you want to order some of Red’s Best, you can get it several ways at Something GUD:

  • The Pescatarian box, which gives you three orders of fish. (each order of fish, by the way, feeds 2-3 people.)
  • The Paleo and Gluten-Free boxes, which provide one order of fish.
  • Or you can order it a la carte, and receive whatever Red delivers that week as a “catch of the week” (regular or kosher), or scallops.

As of the week of  Feb. 2, this is what was offered:

The Pescatarian Box:
Red’s Best – Scallops
Red’s Best – Fluke
Red’s Best – Skate
Seasonal Vegetable Selection
Seasonal Fruit Selection
Seasonal Salad Greens
Baby Green Frilly Kale – Schartner Farm – conventional
Rosemary – Gilberties Herbs – organic
Iggy’s Bakery – Country Round

Paleo Box of the Week:
Red’s Best – Scallops
Seasonal Vegetable Selection
Seasonal Fruit Selection
Seasonal Salad Greens
Baby Green Frilly Kale – Schartner Farm – conventional
Rosemary – Gilberties Herbs – organic
Feather Brook Farm – 12 Eggs
Virginia & Spanish Co. – Mixed Nuts
Lilac Hedge Farm – Stir Fry Beef

Gluten-free  Box of the Week:
Red’s Best – Scallops
Seasonal Vegetable Selection
Seasonal Fruit Selection
Seasonal Salad Greens
Baby Green Frilly Kale – Schartner Farm – conventional
Rosemary – Gilberties Herbs – organic
Feather Brook Farm – 6 Eggs
MOM’s Organic Munchies – Goji Bar
Sophia’s Greek Pantry – Honey Yogurt
Maple Nut Kitchen – Paleo Edition Granola

Fresh start vs. fresh-baked goods

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 11.09.48 PMGoing into the new year, I am at the age where I tend to just reinforce my past resolutions. More exercise, less TV, more family board games, and of course, eating healthier. When I order my Something Gud weekly delivery, it’s the result of last year’s resolution, to eat real, local food. I tend toward the The Pescatarian Box of the Week or the Paleo Box of the Week, which pushes me to create meals heavy on the organic/sustainable foods, and pushes me away from takeout and processed foods. And away from the bakery.400X267_mouslin-tart

Baked goods have been a little too attached to these hips, so I was going at a good gluten-free pace until a couple of weeks ago, when my son got hungry. He’s 11, and because he seems to be growing an inch a week, so, yeah, he’s always hungry, but on a Saturday morning, we found ourselves in Allston, and like a good Hobbit, he wanted second breakfast. And I knew that  Swissbakers was serving its fantastic brunch.

I like Swissbakers, because it’s a place that makes baked goods with hamswisscroissantquality ingredients. The Swiss family Stohr — Thomas and Helene, and their two sons — bake with organic and locally sourced ingredients in Reading as well as Allston. Thomas grew up in a Swiss bakery, and he and Helene started making bread for their young sons, who, he said, had lost the taste for bread until their parents introduced them to crunchy Swiss breads and rolls. The family opened the Reading bakery four years ago, and became favorite fixtures at area farmers markets, as well as suppliers to area markets … and Something Gud. In 2012 it received the Green Business Award.The Swiss Family Stohr

The Allston bakery on Western Avenue looks like the former car dealership it was, except with a red cow named Lucerne on its roof, and a small children’s playground on the side. One window lists “guest-hugging” hours.

Inside, it’s all sunny windows, hightops and wooden tables that a few families have rearranged to gather for a leisurely brunch. Two clocks on the wall tell  American and Swiss time. There are several stations staffed by super-friendly workers willing to get you items placed at various counters, or you can go from counter to counter to collect your meal, for takeout or table service.

The specials counter, with typical egg and bacon items as well as a Swiss-style garden salad with items such as beets and celery root. veggiequicheDuring the week are specials such as roesti and salmon with sour cream, and a vegetarian soup of the day.

Next is the bread counter, with a wide variety of freshly baked bread. There’s a sandwich station, then a baked-goods counter with rolls, croissants and quiches. Here’s where you can also choose your beverage, including coffee beans roasted by local coffee connoisseur George Howell. Finish up with the last case, filled with cakes and cookies.

“You won’t get scones here,” said Thomas. “This is a Swiss bakery.”

What’s special about this place, in addition to just how good everything is, is that everything is preservative-free, using local and swisslinzersorganic ingredients when possible. The ingredients are whole foods, sometimes organic, with no preservatives or artificial anything. Ingredients like cage-free eggs, organic sugar and unsalted butter, sea salt, and of course, Swiss chocolate.

The food is freshly made every day. “People have to get used to total freshness, which means we sell out of things,” said Thomas. almondcroissant1“Everything is a couple of hours old. Everything with almonds go quickly.”

The items that need reheating are done with fast ovens, not microwaves. They understand vegetarians, but don’t do gluten-free save for macaroons and salad. “Everything should be grandchild-sustainable,” he said.

On the entrance window is written “guest-hugginminiswirl1g” hours; when asked what that meant, Thomas explained it was more of a mental rather than physical hug. “We want to say ‘Thank you,’ because we know you have a thousand options for food. We want you to feel great.”

We decided on the brunch, which was unlimited amounts of quiche, eggs, bacon, roesti (Swiss hash browns), a creamy swiss muesli with shredded apples and berries, challah weekend-brunchFrench toast, ham and cheese croissants, cheese, fruit, and coffee. The food was delicious, although it did launch my ubercarb spiral into the holidays. Even this week, when I pulled into Something Gud headquarters, there was a box of Swissbakers. (Something Gud offers more than a dozen choices of Swissbakers treats.) These were soft and salty, and huge. Could. Not. Resist.

It’s resolutions time, and so I’m gearing up for a stronger Paleo/Whole 30 resolve. But it’s nice to remember that an occasional (and awesomely tasty) slip does not a failed resolution make. Or next time my family indulges at Swissbakers, I’ll just enjoy the coffee, some soup and salad perhaps. Maybe a few slabs of bacon. And try not to look at the pretzel rolls.

SwissbakersScreen Shot 2015-01-07 at 11.08.53 PM
168 Western Ave. Allston, MA
617.903.3113

32 Lincoln St., Reading
781.942.1199

Nitrate, Nitrite, Nitrosamines

At Something GUD we take customer concerns about the health of the products we sell very seriously. One of you brought up sodium nitrite in cured meat products, such as Lilac Hedge Farm’s bacon, and related health concerns. Thank you – we always appreciate your questions!

We spent hours researching the topic, and here is what we learned.

First, we called Lilac Hedge Farm, and talked to Ryan MacKay – one of the two owners – and asked why they use nitrites. He said that he had no choice – there is not a single smoke house in the state of Massachusetts that cures meat products without the use of synthesized nitrites. They have zero other options besides throwing out their bacon. Curing, by the way, prevents the growth of harmful bacteria, for example Clostridium botulinum, which produces the extremely potent and lethal botulinum toxin. Whether you buy bacon from Lilac Hedge Farm or any other farm in the state, you will find yourself in the same boat.

It also turns out that the label ‘nitrite free’ is a misnomer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has decided that ‘naturally occurring’ sources of sodium nitrite can be used to cure meat and be marked ‘nitrite free’. These meat products don’t necessarily contain any less nitrite on average than meats cured with synthetic sodium nitrite. The difference is that the nitrite is being derived from a source like celery juice. This farm in North Carolina did a good job of explaining their decision to be ‘nitrite free’ and what it means in practice. So if you do want to genuinely cut down on nitrites in your meat, your only choice may be to avoid cured meat products altogether.

However, it all isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds.

There are three reasons.

  1. About 80% – 85% of the nitrate and nitrite we consume comes from leafy green vegetables and root vegetables. They contain up to more than 200 times more nitrite per pound than cured meats (see graphic below).
  2. Our body itself produces both nitrate and nitrite. The amount of nitrate and nitrite ingested from cured meat pales in comparison to the amounts synthesized daily in the human body. A 150-220 lbs person produces about 70-100 mg of nitrite a day, whereas a cooked hot dog contains about 0.5-1.0 mg.
  3. Nitrate and nitrite serve vital purposes in our body. For one, there is substantial evidence that metabolized forms are critical for cardiovascular health, such as the reduction of hypertension. Another example: nitrite may be converted to nitrous oxide in the body, a process that, when defective, is most often the cause for erectile dysfunction. In fact, our bodies have evolved a system that minimizes loss of nitrate. An active transport mechanism in the kidney pumps nitrate from the urine back into the blood. About 80% of nitrate contained in the urine is recovered in that way.

But what about the health concernsWhile nitrate itself is not toxic, it is converted to nitrite in the body. Nitrite can react with degradation products of amino acids and form nitrosamines. The majority of nitrosamines have indeed carcinogenic properties. The study which caused an outcry over a link between nitrites and cancer was published in 1970. Panic mongering prompted parents to drive to their children’s schools to extract hot dogs from their lunches, and Ralph Nader famously called the hot dog “among America’s deadliest missiles”.  However, it was found to be flawed. The rats used in the study were fed an amount of nitrite that would be comparable to you eating 1,586 lbs of bacon a day, every day, for half of your life.

So how come we don’t get sick from our leafy greens? Nitrosamine formation happens all the time in our gastrointestinal system, whether we eat meat or not. Also in 1970, it was discovered that vitamin C very potently inhibits nitrosamine formation, and in 1996 it was shown that vitamin E has the same function. Other antioxidants found in plants may have a similar effect. So while you may ingest quite a bit of nitrate naturally found in some of your vegetables, they at the same time deliver the molecules that neutralize the toxic nitrosamine metabolic by-products.

The conclusion: eat healthy and diverse, and don’t forget your veggies with your bacon!