Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Adventure in Fish

This weekend I had an adventure.  A FISH adventure.  It was awesome.  It started on Friday when, on my way home from work, I stopped at Sweet Water Organics in Bay View.  I didn't know much about Sweet Water, but what I did know was they were raising perch and tilapia organically, as well as hydroponically grown greens.  I've actually bought these greens for such recipes as my Caesar(ish) salad.  I also knew that they had just opened up their storefront to the public.  So, I headed over on my way home from work, expecting something like a tiny grocery store.

What I got, instead, was a tour of a working fish farm.  I've never seen such a thing, and it's a little hard to describe.  It's not a "pretty" place, but it was clean, and everyone there was very friendly, funny, and helpful.  I first walked in and asked for enough fish for fish boil for four (my mom and step dad were coming over for dinner.)  I was sent into the
Happy fish are a little camera shy.  Those orange looking bits are
them.  They're not goldfish, I promise!
 back, the farm itself, where Paul, the production manager and a very funny man, proceeded to scoop the fish out of a large tank.  The farm area was not especially large, but it was tall with layers of scaffolding growing microgreens and other things, and, combined with seeing my dinner being caught in front of me, I was instantly overwhelmed.  Paul must have sensed that, already, things were not going how I expected and he asked, cautiously: "You did know you were getting whole fish, right?"
Me: "Uh... No?"
Paul: "Have you ever cleaned a fish before?"
Me: "Uh... Probably?  I think so"  (I'm thinking, I bet my dad let me think I was cleaning a fish once when I was little, and then he threw the whole mess away and we ate some other fish.)
Paul: "Do you have a really sharp knife?"
Me: "Yes!" (Finally, I got one right!!)
Paul: "You'll be fine."
He gave me a pat on the back, and went back to scoping fish and depositing them into a large bucket of ice.  Once he had scooped out the pre-determined number of fish, he told me to take a walk around and he'd have the fish ready for me in 15 minutes.
Each layer had greens growing.  The bottom is one of many
large fish tanks.  I never got a real explanation, but I think
the water from the tanks is going up to water the plants as

I'm not entirely sure what he did in those 15 minutes, but I appreciated the opportunity to walk around.  Apparently they also offer tours, so I think I will have to go back and catch one of those some time.  There was also an area set up for educational events.

Once the 15 minutes were up, Paul came back out with a bag of fish.  He handed them to me while giving a warning: "They're all dead, but they might twitch a little.  Nerves and all, you know." 

I did not know, but I nodded like I did.  Then one of the fish twitched under my fingers and it took everything I had not to scream and drop
them on the ground.  Note to anyone who goes there (and you should!  This story is an awesome one, and I am certainly going back), bring a grocery bag.  There is something discerning about walking out of the building carrying a clear plastic bag full of twitchy fish. 

Then came the process of cleaning and filleting the fish.  Sweet Water did give me a helpful step-by-step "how to" guide with pictures.  It was very useful for cleaning the fish and skinning it after it was filleted, but less so for the actual filleting process itself.  In the end I just made up
my own way, which, I'm sure, was wrong.  But it got all the fish off the bones, and isn't that all that counts in the long run?  I'm not going to say I'm skilled, but I did get better.  Which isn't saying much.  After filleting the first fish, I almost cried.  This poor fish gave up his life so that I could have one TINY bite of fish?   But I got better, and at the end I was pulling two full, thick fillets off of each fish, and leaving hardly any meat on the bones.  And, after eating, I believe only three bones were found in our meals - which is less than I've gotten at a lot of restaurants' Friday Fish Fries.
Water from the fish tanks being filtered

I did not take any pictures of the actual fillets or the filleting process.  I probably should have, but by the time I was done I was SO covered in fish guts and slime that I wanted nothing to do with cameras.  I just wanted to clean up my mess and take a hot shower.  Sorry.

What I can tell you is this.  Here is what I started with:

 Here's what I ended up with:

Yes, you see shrimp in there.  I totally cheated and bought shrimp.  Hey, I filleted four plus servings of shrimp and I wanted it!  It came from the St. Paul Fish Market at the Public Market, though, so I was still supporting the local economy.

Fish (and Maybe Shrimp) Boil:
(Serves 4)
  • 12 small potatoes (red, or Yukon Gold, or a mix), halved or cut into thirds depending on the size
  • 6 small onions, peeled, ends cut off, but left whole
  • 4 servings fish - preferably that you had to fillet yourself, because it makes it taste better!)
  • Butter
    (All of this was local)
  • 1 lb shrimp, deveined but still in the shell
  • 3 tbsp shrimp and crab boil seasoning.  The Spice House has a great blend, and also has these awesome cheese cloth bags that you can put it in.
  • Salt
  • Lemon
Fill a large soup pot half way full with cold water.  Add a large handful of kosher salt and the shrimp and crab boil seasoning.  Bring the water to a boil.  Once boiling, add the potatoes.  Bring back to a boil and allow to boil gently until potatoes are about half done.  Add onions.  Bring back to a boil and cook until potatoes and onions are soft.  Add shrimp and fish, and cook just until the water comes back up to a boil.  At this point, the fish and shrimp should just be cooked through, but if not let it cook a little longer.  Don't over cook the fish and shrimp, and don't allow the water to boil hard enough that the shrimp falls apart.

Serve with melted butter and lemon.

Also: Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing 
(Serves 4)
Taken almost 100% from Alton Brown, because he knows best...
  • 8 oz spinach
  • 3 large, hard boiled eggs, sliced
  • 8 pieces thick sliced bacon, chopped
  • 6 tbsp. red wine vinegar (I ran out of the local red wine vinegar after 3.  After that I used a raspberry blush vinegar that was not local)
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp dijon  mustard
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 12 (or so) crimini mushrooms
  • 1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
    (all of this was local, except the mustard, and the remaining 3 tbsp vinegar)
Wash spinach, remove stems, and allow to dry thoroughly.

Fry bacon to very crispy.  Remove to paper towels to drain, and reserve 6 tbsp of the rendered fat.  (I recommend saving the rest.  It's excellent for frying up pancakes and french toast.

Toss spinach and onions in a salad bowl.  Crumble bacon, and top with eggs.

In a saucepan, heat bacon fat over medium heat.  Whisk in the vinegar, honey, and mustard.  Season with salt and pepper.

Serve spinach and onions, topped with crumbled bacon, mushrooms, egg, and warm dressing.

This was all excellent.  I really preferred the spice market shrimp and crab boil seasoning to the crap you usually buy at the grocery store.  It was a little spicier, and had much more flavor.  I especially enjoyed the way the flavor was infused into the potatoes.

The fish is something I've made a million times, but the salad was brand new and it was great.  I love the flavor of local red onion much more than store bought.  They are both smoother and onionier at the same time, which I know does not make sense, so just try them for yourself.  I found the dressing to be very sweet, but in a pleasant way.  All things being equal, I would recommend using the raspberry blush vinegar.  I actually doubled the original recipe, after seeing how little it made, and I could have used more!  The recipe above is what I made, but next time I will probably bump it up to 9 tbsp. bacon fat and vinegar, 3 tbsp honey, and 1 1/2 tbsp mustard. 

However, this salad probably better than the awful winter salad that I am used to, and even my husband (who hates onions), said it was really good.  When pushed, though, he admitted that was probably just because it was covered in bacon fat!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent dinner - thanks again. You can cook for me anytime!