Getting familiar with the sustainability dos and don’ts of seafood can send your head swimming. There’s wild fish, farmed fish, lake fish, ocean fish . . . the list goes on. And to make matters more complicated, there is no black and white answer of one type of seafood being better than the other. Wild salmon? Sustainable. Wild shark? Not sustainable. Farmed catfish? Sustainable. Farmed salmon? Not sustainable. Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch site to learn the overall ins and outs of sustainable seafood. But this spring season, simplify things a bit, and make menu planning easy on yourself. Here are the top four picks of sustainable seafood choices that are perfect for spring dining.
1) Pacific Cod
What it is: There are two oceans that we get most of our wild-caught seafood from: The Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. In general, species coming from the Atlantic (cod, salmon, halibut, to name just a few) have been drastically overfished to the point of possible extinction. The Pacific Ocean, however, has maintained a healthier supply of the same seafood choices—partially due to better management, tighter governmental control and more awareness of sustainability issues on the West coast. While Atlantic cod, once a beacon of the seemingly boundless fish in the ocean, has now become so depleted in numbers that we’re afraid to touch them anymore, those living in the Pacific waters are still in abundance—and they’re being managed with enough care and responsiveness that odds are good they will remain abundant for years to come. Pacific cod is every bit as tasty as the Atlantic cod we saw on most restaurant menus in the 1980s; it has a gentle flavor, flaky texture and is low in fat.
How to cook it: Pacific cod is an extremely versatile fish: It can be baked, broiled, steamed, grilled or fried. For a seasonal spring preparation, try cod in your fave recipe for fish tacos, or give it a gentle pan-sear and serve with a tropical salsa or relish. Flavors like pineapple, mango, pecans and horseradish are particularly nice with Pacific cod.
2) Pole-Caught Tuna
What it is: Traditional canned or filleted tuna is one of the worst culprits in contributing to the degradation of our oceans. Tuna are caught in huge nets called purse seines, and the amount of accidental bycatch they bring in is devastating—it’s led to the depletion of many undesired animals that don’t even make it to the dinner table. Even with “dolphin-safe” tuna, there is still an incredibly high incidence of endangered sea turtles getting caught in tuna nets. But there is a better tuna out there, one that’s caught smartly. Using poles that single out individual tunas, rather than large, indiscriminate nets, fishermen are able to bring tuna to land without the accidental death of other unwanted creatures. Look for albacore tuna, whether at the fresh fish counter or in the canned seafood selection, that specifies “pole-caught.”
How to cook it: It’s springtime, so use tuna in all things “salad.” Canned pole-caught tuna is a cheap, quick meal fix perfect for all sorts of spring salads: Tuna pasta salads; tuna salad sandwich; or tuna salad over greens. And fresh tuna steak is a fantastic alternative to the usual grilled steak—cook tuna steaks on a hot grill as you would a beef steak, and relish the sustainable delight in your dinner choice!
3) Pacific Halibut
What it is: Similar to the Pacific cod, halibut is much more abundant in the Pacific Ocean and is currently a sustainable choice. Currently in season, halibut is a thicker-fleshed fish choice that’s delicious served grilled, baked or sautéed, and its firm texture gives it a meatier bite than most other whitefish.
How to cook it: Grilling is undoubtedly one of the tastiest ways to prepare halibut. Serve it simply, with a garlic-lemon sauce, avocado salsa or a fresh tomato sauce.
4) Wild Alaskan Salmon
Whatever you do, steer away from farmed salmon. Most of it is raised in pollution-ridden “farms” along coastal areas where disease and waste are rampant. The caged animals are often fed dyed pellets with their diet to give them hues of orange, pink and red—colors that naturally appear in variation in wild salmon due to their strenuous ocean-to-stream lifestyle. Your sustainable bet is Wild Alaskan salmon, which comes from clean, well-managed waters along the Pacific Coast. And this is salmon season, so enjoy them from now until October at their freshest! Chinook, Coho, and Sockeye salmon are all different species of salmon, each varying in size, color and texture—but all delicious and extremely heart-healthy.
How to cook it:
Salmon can be paired with many types of flavors, but for the spring season, think pink and green. Pesto, guacamole, green peas and asparagus are all fabulous with fresh salmon—or try topping it with strawberry salsa, a berry sauce or just a dollop of jam. And don’t be afraid of canned wild salmon; it’s every bit as good (and just about as cheap) as canned tuna. It’s perfect in pasta primavera, risotto, and in salmon salad sandwiches.