Hooray for the holidays! For many, the holiday season means family, friends, and of course, food. Spicing up your holiday menu with fresh, sustainably-harvested seafood is a great way to treat yourself and the ones you love. If you don’t buy and cook seafood regularly, fear not! We’ve invited some of our fishing industry partners to share their best tips for buying and cooking locally available seafood during the holidays.
Title: Owner/Operator for Mook Sea Farm located on the Damariscotta River in Midcoast Maine, and founded in 1985.
Business: Commercial aquaculture farmer.
Helpful Tips: For me, oysters are a must for the holidays. Raw oysters should always be served cold. They taste best that way, and it is important for safe consumption that they have been kept cold from the time they were harvested until they are served. Look them over carefully if you are shucking them yourself or they have been shucked for you. Don’t eat an oyster if it looks dried out and if it doesn’t smell good. My favorite literary quote about oysters comes from Pat Conroy in his novel Prince of Tides: An oyster is “the taste of the sea, barely made flesh.” I love oysters raw or cooked, but one of my favorite ways to eat raw oysters is with a little bit of lime juice and a little bit of fresh grated black pepper -- it provides a nice accent without overwhelming the oyster’s flavor. I’ve been told that this is how Julia Child liked her oysters!
Science connection: Scientists at our Milford Lab work closely with Mook Sea Farm on innovative microalgal culture systems, diagnosing water-quality problems, hatchery chemical ecology, and the like. Currently, Milford Lab research chemist Shannon Meseck is working on a NOAA aquaculture project looking at how ocean acidification will affect oysters from the larval stage through to the adult stage. Data collection by Mook’s farm and Meseck’s team will be used to create and test an ocean acidification computer model to determine how oyster respond to ocean acidification at different stages of their life history.
Title: Executive Chef at the Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar in Chelsea Market, New York City since 2013.
Business: Restaurant industry.
Helpful Tips: If buying oysters for raw consumption, look for ones with shells that are tightly closed and have a deep cup shape. They should have some weight to them, indicating that they are full of liquor and have firm shells. The oysters should be displayed on ice or covered with flaked ice in a bin that has ample drainage. Avoid any oysters that are submerged in melted water or not stored with ice. If you are broiling oysters, a flavored compound butter of your choice will work best, often topped with breadcrumbs. If you prefer to fry them, a simple breading of buttermilk and then flour works well.
Science connection: Dave Seigal buys his oysters from Mook Sea Farm -- a business we partner closely with on aquaculture science. He accompanies Mook’s oysters with a house-made cocktail sauce and a classic mignonette sauce. The term mignonette refers to the raw cracked pepper in the sauce, which also always contains some kind of vinegar.
Title: Owner/Captain of the F/V Karen Elizabeth and owner F/V Yankee Pride out of Point Judith, Rhode Island. Member of Northeast Trawl Advisory Panel and Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, Butterfish Advisory Panel.
Business: Commercial Fishing. Second generation commercial fisherman. Fishing since 1995.
Tips: When buying scallops, look for dry scallops that are not soaking in liquid and that have been harvested and landed locally. I prefer them pan-seared naked over high heat in a little butter for only a few seconds on each side.
Science connection: When Roebuck isn’t fishing for loligo squid and sea scallops, he works with our Science Center’s Cooperative Research Branch on projects ranging from cod-end selectivity studies to test topless turtle trails, bycatch reduction devices, and most recently sweep-efficiency studies intended to improve federal trawl surveys in the Northeast.
Title: Owner/Operator of the F/V Virginia Marise out of Point Judith, Rhode Island. Member of the Board of directors for Eating With The Ecosystem.
Business: Commercial Fishing. Third generation commercial fisherman. Fishing since 1970.
Helpful Tips: I primarily fish for skate, summer flounder, winter flounder, monkfish, and cod. I usually tell people to ask fish market clerks where the fish came from and what port it was landed in. Due to strict regulations most of the flounders are landed daily so there is always a good supply of fresh fish in the local markets. Fresh whole fish should always have clear eyes and shiny skin and fresh flounder fillets should be translucent. Fresh fish, whether whole or filleted, shouldn’t have any off-putting smells. It's hard to keep fish fresh far from the coast. Your fishmonger can get in it fresh, but they’ll have to sell it quick.
Science connection: Sykes works with our Science Center’s Cooperative Research Branch on projects through the Study Fleet program. Sykes collects fine-scale data on fish and bottom water temperatures, as well as important biological samples that help inform and monitor stock condition, reproductive timing, and reproductive condition of fish. He’s also participated in some of our Fisheries Sampling Branch’s electronic monitoring studies.
Title: Owner/Operator of the F/V Dawn T out of Chatham, Massachusetts. Chairman of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance’s Board of Directors.
Business: Commercial Fishing. First generation commercial fisherman. Fishing since 2001.
Helpful Tips: Buy local! Ask whose boat the fish came off. Cape Cod visitors and residents have always been very interested in buying fresh, local seafood. Buying fish brought into Cape ports benefits the regional economy, the environment, as well as fosters our sense of place and community. Plus freshly landed seafood just tastes better!
Science connection: Nick Muto is a commercial fishing industry partner though our Monkfish Research Set-Aside (RSA) Program. Monkfish are one of the highest valued finfish in the Northeast. NOAA Fisheries and the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils have managed the Monkfish RSA Program since 2006. Since then, 27 projects have been conducted. Projects selected through the competition are awarded fishing days rather than dollars, and use the proceeds from catch made using those days to fund their work. Research priorities have included projects focusing on monkfish life history, stock structure, migration patterns, interactions with other species, population surveys, bycatch, sources of catch mortality, and gear studies to reduce unwanted bycatch. Learn more about the monkfish RSA here.
Title: Owner/Head chef of Brine in Eastham, Massachusetts.
Business: Restaurant industry.
Helpful Tips: First, the monkfish should smell clean like saltwater. The flesh should be firm, much firmer than cod – rather like a lobster tail or swordfish -- and it should be milky white in color. It has a purplish-silver skin which is easy to remove by peeling it away from the flesh using your fingers. Typically when you buy monkfish at a market, only the edible tail is sold whole or filleted. Tails are often 2 to 8 pounds. If it’s bigger, the medallions you cut for your recipe should be thicker -- around 6 to 8 ounces per medallion. For my monkfish puttanesca recipe, I sear the medallions on high heat using an oil with a high smoke point like vegetable oil or sunflower oil. Monkfish is also lovely when it’s braised.
Science connection: Participated in Cape Cod Fishermen’s Alliance “Meet the Fleet” events that brings together fishermen and chefs to deepen appreciation of Cape Cod's fresh local seafood. At this event, fishermen talk about seasonal seafoods and harvesting while chefs offer cooking tips, tastings, and recipes. The Cape Cod Fishermen’s Alliance, its representatives, and our Science Center scientists and staff interact in a variety of ways including, stock assessment outreach events, the Woods Hole Science Stroll, cooperative research studies, Research Set-Aside (RSA) Program, and at the American Fisheries Society’s annual conference.
Title: Owner/Operator of Matunuck Oyster Farm since 2002, Matunuck Oyster Bar since 2009, and Matunuck Vegetable Farm since 2011.
Business: Commercial aquaculture and agriculture, and restaurant industry.
Tips: It’s important to always know your seafood source. When buying oysters, make sure the animals are not “gapping.” The shell should not be open at all. You can tell if an oyster is bad from the smell. When it comes to shucking, the best way is to pry the knife into the hinge and apply pressure by moving the knife up and down. When the shell pops open, scrape the adductor muscle off of the top shell and then remove the top shell. Next, scrape the adductor muscle off the bottom shell. The size and shape of the oyster determines which knife you would use. Many oysters from Rhode Island and Connecticut are shucked using a New Haven knife.
Science connection: Perry Raso’s relationship with our Science Center’s Milford Lab is similar to the Lab’s other shellfish industry relationships. Raso has toured our Milford Lab and met with our scientists, and our scientists have toured his operation, offering advice and troubleshooting problems Raso may be experiencing. During professional aquaculture meetings, Raso and other shellfish farmers meet with our scientists to discuss shellfish growing strategies and their business models. Raso is an active member of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association -- a group our Milford scientists support and interact with regularly. Currently, Raso is building a new shellfish hatchery. Our scientists have offered technical support to Raso as he designs and builds his new hatchery. Once the hatchery is up and running, our Milford Lab will provide algal starter cultures from their Microalgal Mass Culture Room that will feed the early stages of Raso’s oysters before he moves them into grow-out bags on his aquaculture farm in Potter Pond, East Matunuck, Rhode Island.
Title: Executive Chef at the Matunuck Oyster Bar since 2010.
Business: Restaurant industry.
Helpful Tips: Oyster should be purchased close to the day you plan to cook or serve them. “Old Timers” have told me a fresh harvested oyster, stored properly will keep for up to a month, but I don’t suggest you try this. Oysters are readily available all year long so there is no need for long-term storage. If you find you have a surplus of oysters you can shuck and freeze them. Make sure you save all the juice from shucking and freeze the oyster in this liquid. If you purchased your oysters from a reliable source they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. The best way to keep oysters is on ice in a colander or pan that can drain the melted ice. Layer the oysters “top-shell up” with ice between the layers. Storing them right-side up prevents the oysters from draining their natural liquor (juice) and drying out. When it comes to oyster size, it’s easy to be fooled. A small shell can house a large oyster and a large shell and house a small oyster. When choosing oysters pick hard, uniform shells with solid edges, cracked or broken edges allow the liquor to drain and the oyster will be dry and die prematurely. If you are cooking oysters it may be best to use larger ones simply because they’ll shrink when cooked. When preparing oysters, look them over and if the shells look clean, a quick rinse under cold water is all that’s necessary. Occasionally you may find some mud, sand or seaweed on the shells and in the hinge -- simply rinse under cold water and scrub with a plastic bristle brush or spray them with a garden hose.
Science connection: Jeff Cruff uses oysters from Perry Raso’s Matunuck Oyster Farm -- a business our Milford Lab partners closely with on aquaculture science. Cruff’s culinary creations showcasing Raso’s oysters include: bourbon oysters, oysters Rockefeller, grilled oysters, oyster stew, Louisiana inspired oyster po-boys, and of course, oysters from the raw bar.