What’s on your plate during these dark dreary winter days?
For me, it’s been the wild and wonderful winter seafood of the Pacific Northwest.
Yes, I know that sounds a bit odd. Seafood always hits the hot button during the summer months when we naturally pair it with sunshine and sea breezes.
That said, in January and February I was drawn to the fabulous seafood counters we have here in the Emerald City. During the rare moments when I can escape my desk, I often choose to visit the supermarket and troll the produce and seafood counters, watching the sales and in store specials for inspiration.
In January, I noticed that retailers in town were featuring fresh Pacific Rockfish, a wild whitefish harvested in the cold offshore waters. On sale for less than $6 a pound, I dove in and bought a few fillets. At home, I decided to take a French inspired approach and, after pin boning the fillets, crafted a basic herb sauce to top the baked fish. A delicious success that sent me back to the fish counter.
For Round 2, I rustled up a crab stuffing which I mounded on the thin fillets and created a tidy bundle. The packages baked in the oven while I raced off to another task. This second success sent me back to the seafood counter at Shoreline’s T & C Market where I chatted with the young fishmonger who totally agreed it was a winner of a local wild fish and pointed me to the Rockfish poster nearby. Although he couldn’t tell me which species of rockfish they were featuring (there are many!), he happily wrapped up a few more pounds so I could stash them in the freezer.
Shortly thereafter, I eyed some fresh Pacific Winter King Salmon fillets, although price at $39 a pound, they looked stunning in the seafood case at the market, and were from Southeast Alaska, which is renowned for being some of the best. Back at home, a pound of that beautiful king was wrapped into French inspired medallions which I seared on my Le Creuset ridged grill pan and finished in the oven.
Oui! Oui! Bon Appetit! I was on a roll….
Next up? Local Dungeness Crab. I love this cranky crustacean but during the Pandemic the prices skyrocketed and after visiting Merino’s Seafood Market in Westport last summer, I shifted toward their spectacular canned Dungeness which I have been happily using all winter.
That said, when my local QFC, Winco, and Costco were featuring these fresh cooked beauties for less than $6 a pound, I dove in, bought a bunch, and got cracking at home! My first round was simply steamed in my Le Creuset wok, picked by my husband and me over newspaper at the kitchen table and served with a stunning Garlic Ginger Soy dipping sauce that I created. The ginger was the perfect counterpoint to the briny richness of the crab.
My husband gathered the crab shells and made a superb crab stock. I went back for more and stashed the whole crabs in the freezer.
Finally, this week, Fresh Wild Pacific Cod from Alaska is showing up. I love Pacific Cod as it’s a buttery blank slate that lends itself to being served in the most basic way over mashed potatoes with garlic green beans or chard on the side. But it’s also great turned into endless other creations. Shoreline T & C Markets is currently featuring big buttery fresh fillets of this cold-water fish and I’ve purchased two large fillets just since the sale started. A quick check to remove any pin bones and a generous salting with La Baleine sea salt, sets this fish on the path to success. Placed in an au gratin pan with some lemon slices underneath, drizzled with a reduction of fish broth, wine, and butter, and baked in a 375 oven until warmed through, It’s a very cozy preparation.
When I recently reflected on all this stunning local and wild seafood being featured at markets this winter, I began to wonder WHY. It feels different this year. I’ve lived here for over 28 years now and have trolled these counters for nearly a generation now.
When I questioned my friendly fishmonger (yet again!) if something was shifting…he looked up from the case while preparing my order and said, “You know, I think it is…I think we are seeing more this winter.”
Indeed, I do believe there is a shift and I’d like to think that more of our domestic wild and wonderful seafood is being kept here in the local American markets. With a global pandemic, disrupted supply chains, and international wars, the pivot to local and American seems stronger than ever.
It’s a big bright spot for me as we schlep through the dark days of winter, waiting for those breezy days at the beach!