There are 4 photos in the above photoset! All photos courtesy of Casson Trenor from his book, Sustainable Sushi
I’m deeply, truly, utterly and fantastically in love with sushi. Well, let me be more specific. I love GOOD sushi, none of that supermarket crap. It’s an indulgence that I allow myself once a month (it’s sooo expensive!) and use the sushi dinner as a treat for celebrations or a reward for jobs really well done (like finally ironing four weeks of wrinkly clothes that I’d been avoiding.) And when I’m at the sushi bar – you gotta watch out. Every bite is just so fresh and delightful, especially with a gentle smear of real wasabi (not the dyed horseradish) and just the slightest fish-side-down touch of soy sauce. Have you ever heard a grown woman moan at a sushi bar? I make all the other patrons blush. YES! It’s just like the Asian version of “When Harry Met Sally!”
But then I met Casson Trenor, whom I have very, very conflicting feelings for. You know the term, buzzkill? Well, Casson is my sushikill. He’s a fish sustainability expert and told me that some of my favorite sushi fishes, like salmon, bluefin tuna and unagi are a no-no for the environment.
Sure, I could have just closed my eyes, covered my ears (like my kids do to me) and just walk merrily away, but you can’t just do that with someone like Casson. How do you ignore someone who’s saves whales in the Antarctic, speaks five languages, has done marine research in over forty countries and has gone octopus fishing with holy men on the Island of Yap? Seriously!
Do you see why I lovehatelove him so?
So I told Casson that in order for me to supress my urge to hold him in a tight headlock and then do a legdrop/mandible claw combo, he’d better give me some alternatives to my beloved salmon and tuna.
Farmed Salmon: Parasites and Poison
I love the fattiness and distinct flavor of salmon sushi! Please tell me that I don’t have to give it up.
There’s a tremendous difference between wild salmon and farmed salmon. Some of it is obvious, sure – you can tell them apart at a glance. Farmed salmon ranges from a dull brick to a startling international orange. To me, it’s the kind of color I’d want on my vest if I were biking home from a bar at 2am, not draped across my dinner plate. Wild salmon, by contrast, is a vibrant, healthy red; a color that’s striking in its vivacity and luster.
But that’s not what I’m talking about. The real difference is what these fish mean to the planet.
Farmed salmon is generally raised in net pens about a twenty-second backstroke away from a Chilean beach, Canadian forest, or Norwegian fjord. These operations can have devastating effects on the local environment. Parasites build up in these farms and lay waste to local wild salmon populations, especially in British Columbia. Fish waste washes out of these pens and collects on the seafloor below, poisoning the plants and animals that are unable to escape to cleaner areas. Add this to the disease problems, potential genetic issues, and the demand for wild fish as feed (it can take up to four pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of farmed salmon!) and you have dozens of little environmental disasters, scattered up and down coastlines around the world.
My suggestion? Well, actually, I’ve got two. Wild Alaskan salmon and farmed arctic char.
Sustainable Salmon: go wild, baby
Wild Alaskan salmon are from fisheries that continue to set examples for fishery management around the globe. Strong populations, sensible quotas, and effective enforcement combine to not only protect these salmon runs, but to also provide seafood fans with a delectable fish that’s high in omega-3s, low in mercury, and nothing short of gorgeous on the plate.
Sustainable Arctic Char: a great alternative
Arctic char is an up-and-comer that is set to change the way we think about fish farming. Instead of using ocean net pens, arctic char farmers prefer closed inland systems that prevent any parasites and diseases from spreading to the surrounding environment. Waste is contained and filtered out in an eco-friendly manner, and the feed demand is much less than that of farmed salmon. On top of it all, farmed arctic char has a beautiful red flash and a delicious, light taste and texture. This fish is not to be missed.
Next time you’re at the sushi bar, dump the farmed salmon for either of these other two options. You won’t regret it, and the oceans will thank you.
Bluefin Tuna: in serious trouble
Okay, parasitic waste…so totally gross! I guess that means I have look for wild salmon at the supermarket too. What about the very popular tuna?
Jaden, what are you doing? Is that toro on your plate? Ok, we need to have a little chat. Didn’t you read my book?
Bluefin tuna is in trouble. Serious, serious trouble. Like slutty chick in a horror movie kind of trouble. It’s gonna be really tough for bluefin to get out of this situation alive.
All over the world, there are people out to catch bluefin tuna. Longliners, tuna ranchers, seiners, and even rifle-toting snipers are out for blood.
Our insatiable lust for the fatty, supple belly flesh of this magnificent animal is driving it to the brink of extinction.
On top of this, the number of other animals that are killed and discarded by rapacious bluefin hunters is simply incalculable. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds, sharks, and turtles have been dumped over the sides of longline vessels for no other reason than unadulterated greed.We have to give this creature a break and let it recover. This animal is a top predator with an incredibly important role to play in our ecosystem. Lose the bluefin, and we very well may lose the oceans. So what do we do? Well, one answer lies in one of the bluefin’s close cousins – the albacore.
Sustainable Albacore Tuna: rosy, delicious alternative
Many albacore tuna populations, especially in the North Pacific, are strong and well managed. These fish are often caught with handlines that keep bycatch down and quality levels up. But the best part? Flip one over, close your eyes, and take a bite out of the belly.
Albacore toro is gorgeous. Sleek, rosy-colored morsels cut from the belly of this fantastic fish can grace nigiri rice with just as much class and luxury as any piece of bluefin. Simply put, there is no longer a reason to force the planet to pay for our toro addiction. Swap bluefin out for albacore and the oceans survive. Otherwise, well… you get the picture. It’s that simple.
So you better come visit me in Tampa, Florida and take me on a sushi tour to help me break my bad sushi habits.
Deal. You’re on. May 2009?
Sustainable Sushi: Saving the Oceans One Bite at a Time
Okay, everyone – let’s help Casson spread the word…he’s got a new book out called Sustainable Sushi, a paperback guide with great photos and commentary of good fish/bad fish. All the fish is color-coded, green/yellow/red so you can see at a glance on what to eat.
On Casson’s website, he’s got a great chart of fish, photos and ratings. Go see what to eat!
How to make sushi rice
In a future column, I’ll show you how to make handrolls in a step by step photo sequence. But for now, here’s a recipe for sushi rice. If you can get your hands on fresh sushi-grade fish (yes, Casson, I mean SUSTAINABLE fish) you can always make chirashi, which is simply sushi rice in a bowl and slices of fish draping on top. To show you the difference between farmed and wild salmon, here’s a photo from Casson’s brand new book, Sustainable Sushi. The wild salmon is in the foreground, and it has a smooth, beautiful reddish tinge. The farmed salmon is in the background with it’s Nemo-like stripes.
2 cups short grained white rice
3 quart heavy bottomed pot with tight fitting lid
2 cups water
sushi dressing (see below)
Put the rice in the pot and fill with cool water. Swirl the rice with your hands for a few seconds and dump out the milky water, keeping the rice grains in the pot. Repeat 3 more times, until the water is a bit more clear. Let the drained rice stand for 10 minutes. Add the 2 cups of water to the pot and cover with tight fitting lid. Cook on high heat for 5 minutes. Immediately turn heat to low and cook an additional 18 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit (still covered) for 5 minutes to finish steaming.
For the sushi dressing
5 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients in a bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. If you are using “seasoned” rice vinegar, omit the sugar.