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.
Find out where the fish was harvested (and when it's in season).
Where is the fish harvested? "This is a question that a good fishmonger needs to be able to answer, and it speaks to the level of experience of the people you're dealing with, and their integrity," says Cimarusti. "Take, for example, striped bass. During summer months, there could be more than one state legally open for striped bass – Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia – and you should want to know where it's coming from." In restaurants, you'll see that they often list specific farms for their produce. "To me, with a protein like a piece of striped bass, which is the center of the plate, it's not beyond reasonable expectation to know where it comes from," he says. Another good seafood product to use in this example is diver scallops, which should never be served before December 1st, though it's sometimes to be found on menus before then. "It's not possible to serve those [earlier] unless they're harvested illegally, or they're frozen, in which case that affects the taste and freshness, as well as cost," he says, advising people to check state fishery websites, as well as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website. "I use that resource a lot," he says. "But I'd also just use Google to see what's in season."
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