I’m not going to lie. I love to grow, harvest or catch ingredients to experiment with in the kitchen. It makes me giddy. As a kid, I loved camping and hiking to little streams and lakes to catch trout or trap crawdads. My weekend entertainment was crabbing, clamming and picking mussels and oysters from the Oregon and Washington coasts. Sometimes, I went literally every weekend. As a matter of fact, my first job was at Dart’s Marina in Wheeler, Oregon. By the time I was 10, baiting crab rings and traps with fish heads was second nature.
Since moving to southern California, I’ve made an effort to connect with people who share my enthusiasm for the sea and its bounty. One of my favorite local haunts is snorkeling for lobster in La Jolla…at night! Although I’ve been SCUBA diving and snorkeling all over the world (Australia, Jamaica, Hawaii, etc.), this is a particularly fun adventure because lobsters are much faster than crab. When you get your hands on one, it feels like you just found gold! I can’t wait for lobster season to try again. I'd love to organize a cooking class only about lobster! Or a LobsterFest!
Recently, I connected with Carlsbad Aquafarms and was blown away by what they do there. What I knew about them (or thought I knew) was only the tip of the iceberg. Yes, they sustainably farm mussels and oysters, but more than that, they grow Ogo (an edible seaweed) and abalone. Additionally, the steps they take to produce quality products is more than I expected. At the Aquafarm, not only do they go through several steps to clean their product, they even have a hand in making sure they are the perfect shape. Really, shape?!? Awesome. I am excited to see more!
I also LOVE fresh fish. Last Friday I boarded the Chubasco II in San Diego. I really, REEAALLY wanted to catch some as my taste buds were calling. Of course, nothing is guaranteed. Fishing with live bait isn’t easy, especially when you are shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of other excited fishermen trying their hardest to catch your fish. That’s right, live bait. No spinning lures like I knew in my youth. Nope, just me, an oversized pole with a tricky reel, a hook, and a skittish sardine. First, you have to balance yourself with the pole trapped between you and the bait tank while the boat rocks back and forth in the waves (Note: it’s bad form to let your pole whack someone on the head, or worse, hook someone’s ear). Next, you have to grab a living fish with your bare hand that obviously doesn’t want to be caught. Then, once captured, you get to skewer this little wiggling guy through the nose and cast him as far away from the boat as you can without turning your reel into an unusable “birds nest”. Then, you hope that your little fishing buddy swims away from the boat into the mouth of a hungry fish. You now get to wrestle a big swimming muscle for the next half an hour or so. Sounds easy, right?
Lucky for me, the Chubasco II also comes with the Chubasco crew! They are fully expecting their boat to be loaded with “flatlanders” with ten thumbs. The deckhands are more than happy to grab you a sardine, bait your hook and even cast you out past the other lines (tip accordingly). Then, when by some miracle, you actually hook a fish and get it close, will help pull that sucker up onto the boat, bag it, tag it, and fillet it for you (again, tip accordingly). I was thrilled to catch two Yellowtail!! Now, to the kitchen to cook!
The flesh of a Yellowtail is a lot like Ahi tuna. If you’ve never tried Ahi tuna…the texture of raw Ahi (and Yellowtail) is more like a perfectly cooked steak than it is like fish. The more you cook it, the tougher it gets. The best dishes for a fresh fish like Yellowtail or Ahi are either raw or slightly cooked by searing to a medium rare or mixing it with citrus juice (like in ceviche).
Round 1: Sashimi. Thinly sliced fish, a few scallions, some ponzu (soy sauce with citrus), and some wasabi…Yum!
Round 2: Ceviche. Fresh veggies from the garden, some cilantro, citrus juice (lime, lemon, and orange), salt and pepper, and a squirt or two of ketchup (yes, I said ketchup)…Delicioso!
Round 3: Poke.
I discovered Poke (Poke-eh) a while back and love it! Poke is a raw seafood salad from Hawaii. Traditionally, Poke is made with Ahi, but I think my version with Yellowtail is just as tasty! If you have an opportunity to catch fresh fish or purchase it at the dock or your local market, I hope you give Poke a try. Here’s my take on it:
2 lbs. Yellowtail
1 small round onion, julienne cut (Maui Onions preferred)
3 green onions, diced
2-4 finely grated garlic cloves (I use a microplane)
1⁄2 teaspoon freshly grated fresh ginger (Peel and freeze it before grating)
1⁄2 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1⁄2teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon Chinese chili sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Cut Yellowtail into at least 1/2" cubes.
Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl & refrigerate for 30 minutes. Serve with fried wonton chips.
I have to say, the Poke won the day! As good as or better than any I’ve had (if I do say so myself). Mission accomplished. Now what??? Time to explore. I can’t wait to get back out there. Keep me posted about what you'd like to see me cook or offer in my cooking classes in Encinitas and Solana Beach.