TASTE THESE Acadian redfish, dabs, littleneck clams, and, yes, haddock, with dulse.
Photo by Kelsey Kobik and Michael Ferry, for Salt + Sea
Tourists and regulars demand familiar haddock in the fried fish sandwiches they gobble down in their cars clogging Brunswick's Fat Boy Drive-In. And haddock — frozen-at-sea from Norway — was the most prominent fish recently advertised at my local Hannaford's seafood counter. Ever since cod collapsed, its whitefish cousin has starred in chowders and on fish-and-chip platters at New England seafood shacks and in home kitchens. (Scrod, too — baby haddock or cod.) But now Gulf of Maine haddock is in trouble, too. Catch limits on haddock here were cut 73 percent this year — another blow to the Northeast coast, which the US Department of Commerce recently declared a "commercial fisheries disaster." Sure, Georges Bank has what regulators believe is a recovered, healthy stock of haddock, but isn't it time we considered less favored, but happily often cheaper, fish?
There's a delicious opportunity this summer to give more plentiful local varieties a chance through the annual "Out of the Blue" campaign the Gulf of Maine Research Institute runs in partnership with area fine-dining establishments. This week's promotion focuses on Atlantic mackerel, nearly twice as high as salmon in omega-3 fatty acids but one of the least used from Maine waters. Europeans and the Japanese love it. Trattoria Athena in Brunswick features an Italian dish of mackerel with golden raisins, pine nuts, and toasted bread crumbs over linguine. The restaurant's excellent new Maine Street wine bar, Enoteca Anthena, has yopsari, a crostini spread of smoked mackerel, green garlic, and Greek yogurt chef Tim O'Brien recently debuted at the Kennebunkport Festival. Several Portland restaurants are among the 19 participating — including big names such as Five Fifty-Five, Fore Street, Local 188, and Eve's at the Garden.
I'm particularly excited to try dogfish during the July 26 to August 4 promotion. In fact, I'm ordering some fresh this week (marketed under its scarier name, Cape shark) from Port Clyde Fresh Catch, for only $5.50 a pound, compared to $15 a pound for overfished cod. These small sharks (with flattened teeth) travel in schools with groundfish such as pollock, hake, and flounder, so they're often landed as by-catch. Fishermen toss them overboard because dogfish don't often command prices worth the effort of bleeding them of urea and icing to prevent ammonia-like odors. Fortunately, when properly dressed, dogfish has mild, sweet flesh that is truly boneless (a shark's skeleton is cartilage). In the UK, it's a fish of choice to fry with chips.
"It's a really flakey, nice white fish that you can get for really cheap at this point," says the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association's Ben Martens, who recently grilled dogfish at a cookout and got raves from his Bowdoin College buddies. "If you get more people trying things . . . now all my friends are very willing to eat dogfish, because they know what it takes like."
Since the efforts of Alice Waters of Chez Panisse mean Walmart now stocks baby mesclun greens, perhaps fancy restaurants can spearhead a move toward sustainable fish in a way that trickles down. The challenge is getting large-volume restaurants and grocery stores, who need a predictable fresh fish supply, to sign on, says GMRI's Jen Levin.