Michael Cimarusti, the owner of and chef at Los Angeles's Michelin-starred seafood restaurant Providence, wants us to buy better fish – and to feel better about it at a time when most seafood has never been more expensive and the terms "farmed," "wild," "organic," and "frozen/defrosted" confuse nearly everyone. "Everybody feels comfortable walking into a butcher shop, and people buy chicken easily now that everything is so pre-packaged," Cimarusti says. "But when it comes to fish, it's more difficult, especially because, unlike with meat or chicken, there are absolutely no federal regulations."
With fish, Cimarusti says, you have to both trust the seller and possess some level of seafood-quality awareness in order to make the right decisions. Cimarusti doesn't recommend buying fish in a supermarket, or even most high-quality, organic supermarkets – dishonesty with respect to mislabeling and freshness runs rampant. "You need to find a real fishmonger, get to know him or her, and then to know what's fresh, and what's not," he says. "You need to go shopping armed with a set of questions you wouldn't need to ask a butcher." Buying fish doesn't require a Ph.D. – it just requires a little research and curiosity. "You're the one buying it, and you're probably the one who's going to eat it," says Cimarusti. With that in mind, Cimarusti also offered a few tips on cooking fish, as well as how to evaluate whether a sushi restaurant is good or not.
Farmed versus wild fish: Do your research.
There's been a lot of talk over the years about how farmed fish contain toxins. The user-friendly Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch website offers the truth; although some fish are farmed in ways that render it healthier than others. "Farmed salmon isn't considered a sustainable fish, for example," says Cimarusti. "But for other fish, there are criteria you can use to judge whether or not a farm is doing the right thing by the environment – say, how they care for their fish." Finding the truth can require some digging, including the name of the farm, the fish density in its pens, and whether or not it's treating its fish with antibiotics, among other information.
So should you always buy wild? "Not always," Cimarusti says. "Wild is usually better, though. With wild-harvested fish, you're on much safer ground. Even so, it's sometimes a matter of taste." Tilapia might be farmed and sustainable, but is it a fish you want to eat? "No, it's just nasty," he says. "Tastes like mud."
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