Fish School at Boston’s Island Creek Oyster Bar

Jan 2012
Over the weekend I grabbed one of my foodie friends and headed to Kenmore Square for an afternoon session with Chef Jeremy Sewall of  Boston’s Island Creek Oyster Bar on the ins and outs of buying seafood. He was motivated by an article written in October-On the Menu-But Not on Your Plate– that appeared in the Boston Globe about the mislabeling of seafood in area restaurants.  The system is highly unregulated and open to wide abuse; the resulting mismanagement in the industry has serious health and environmental concerns. The story put the everyone on high alert, and made the consumer uncomfortable about eating seafood.  Confident in the fish sourcing at Island Creek Oyster Bar, Chef Sewall put together this seminar to get the word out and give the consumer more tools to “know their fish.”
fish school top
I love seafood, but am not very creative in the kitchen with it, so I thought this would be a great learning opportunity.  To say my head was spinning when I left is a bit of an understatement!  We watched, we listened, we tasted, and then we tasted some more.  Interesting how a chemical bath of STP {sodium tripolyphosphate} can change the taste and texture of seafood. Did you know it’s used to rinse off bacteria and makes the fish absorb water so it weighs more when it’s purchased?  Or that lobsters in the tank will start to eat each others antenna if left in there too long-you might want to avoid them.  And although farmed fish has come a long way, you should still think of it as similar to factory farmed beef.  High population, more filth, more disease and more antibiotics to fight those issues.  What’s left for a girl to eat??fish school collage Well, there is a bright side to the picture.  Chef Sewall’s passion for his subject was contagious and he armed us with information- a knowledgeable consumer is a safer consumer. After listening to him speak, I know Island Creek is one spot where I feel confident I would know my fish.  Here are his top tips:
  • It’s not a bad thing to have to wait in line.  A busy fish market means there’s lots of turnover and people are coming back for more of a quality product.
  • Use your senses- the market should not smell fishy-the smell of the sea is quite different from fishy. Eyes should be bright and gills very red in color.  The duller the fish looks, the longer it has been sitting around.
  • Mussels, clams and oysters need to be cooked alive.  Avoid sealing in plastic bags.  A gentle tap should instantly close an open shell-if not-don’t buy it!
  • Scallops should not be shiny-avoid any sitting in a milky liquid.
  • There are farmed fish that are being grown responsibly.  Do some investigation to know the background of the business and where your fish originated.
  • Local is best-know your fish monger, develop a relationship, and you’ll feel comfortable knowing that the catch is local and sustainable.  Ask questions. This is their livelihood, they are more often then not passionate about it  and you’ll gain valuable information.
  • For us Boston folks-Wulf’s Fish Market in Brookline, Roslindale Fish Market, New Deal in Cambridge and Wellesley’s Captain Marden’s are all recommendations of Chef Sewall.

Finally, everyone at my end of the table agreed that Four Fish by Paul Greenberg is a must read for anyone looking for further information about the topic.  Now go out and get your fish on!