Sustainable Seafood

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I sometimes find myself wondering if I’d be more “ecologically responsible” if Captain Planet had aired during the ’80s with the rest of my favorite childhood cartoons (e.g. G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Voltron).

But because Cappy aired during my angry teenage years in the ’90s, I always viewed that cartoon as somewhat corny and sissified (heck, I even watched Jem and She-ra during the ’80s, and I still liked those better than Captain Planet).

Despite the absence of this green-mulleted, blue-skinned, red underwear-wearing superhero during my formative years, I still try to live and eat as green as possible as an adult. That’s not to say that I’m some kind of eco-freak (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but I try to do what I can when it comes to how my food choices affect the planet: I eat as locally and organically as I can (though it’s not always possible) and I go out of my way to not be wasteful of food.

More recently though, I’ve started to learn a bit about sustainable seafood and how overfishing certain species of fish can not only lead to the possible extinction of these fish, but can also cause terrible repercussions in the oceans and the rest of the world.

Since October is National Seafood Month, I thought I’d try to shed a little bit of light on this subject by participating in The Leather Disctrict Gourmet’s sustainable seafood blog event: Teach a Man to Fish 2008.

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Sardines: good for you, good for the planet.

I am by no means an expert when it comes to seafood sustainability, but a slew of information is available at the Monterey Bay Aquarium website. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

“Sustainable seafood is from sources, either fished or farmed, that can
maintain or increase production into the long-term without jeopardizing
the affected ecosystems.”

One such source of sustainable seafood is Sardines, which happen to have healthy and abundant populations. Luckily for me, sardines are also in abundant supply at my local Filipino market. When I purchased my sardines, I saw that they were labeled as wild (rather than farmed) and they were caught in Monterey, California.

Ideally, the fish you buy at the market should be labeled with where the fish came from and whether it was farmed or wild. There is no set answer when it comes to farmed vs. wild fish. Some farmed seafood are considered sustainable (tilapia, oysters,
rainbow trout) while other farmed species are not sustainable (salmon,
imported shrimp [U.S. farmed shrimp are OK]). Confusing I know. But a
helpful guide can be found here.

But in short, just because something is farmed, doesn’t mean that it is sustainable (for example, some farmed fish can escape their pens and intermingle and breed with wild fish, possibly resulting in some crazy mutant fish–I’m being very general).

If your fish isn’t labeled, don’t be afraid to ask your fish monger some questions. And if your fish monger doesn’t give you a straight answer, don’t buy his fish. Simple, no?

And asking questions about your seafood goes beyond your fish market. When eating out at restaurants, check to see if the menu explains where the seafood comes from. And again, ask the server this information as well.

Also, you can download a regional (U.S. only) pocket seafood guide to help you choose seafood that is ocean-friendly to where you live. I’ve even printed out the west coast guide (WEST COAST!) and put it in my wallet. For my readers in the Philippines and Asia, there are seafood guides at the World Wildlife Fund website, although they only cover Hong Kong and Indonesia. Sadly, I have no idea whether or not Bangus is a sustainable species.

Guide or no guide, the important thing to remember is to ask questions and be aware of where your seafood comes from and how it was raised/farmed/caught and how these different factors affect the ecosystem. As I mentioned earlier, I’m no expert on sustainable seafood and I’m not meaning for this post to be soapboxy (I watch cartoons, remember?). But I do think it’s important for me to seek out information and to try and be more responsible with what I choose to cook and eat.

Here is my submission to The Leather Disctrict Gourmet’s sustainable seafood blog event: Teach a Man to Fish 2008:

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Bacon-Wrapped Stuffed Sardines

I’ve discussed my love of sardines before, but I do prefer fresh sardines over the canned variety–especially when they are wrapped in bacon and grilled! I also stuffed my sardines with either Sambal (chili-garlic paste) or with chopped shallots. I prefered the ones with sambal as the chili paste stood out against the bacon and the flavor of the sardines, whereas I couldn’t taste the shallots at all. But feel free to stuff the sardines with whatever you like–herbs, ginger, etc.

8 fresh sardines, cleaned and gutted
1/2 cup kalamansi juice (or lime juice)
Stuffing of choice (chili paste, shallots, etc.)
8 strips of bacon

Butterfly the sardines by cutting off their heads, and then removing their backbones with a boning knife:

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Gently slide a boning knife between the bones and the flesh.

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Pull the backbone away from the flesh and then snip with kitchen shears.

Pour the kalamansi juice into a shallow dish large enough to hold all of the sardines. Place the sardines, flesh side down, into the kalamansi juice and allow to marinate for 10 minutes. Remove sardines from kalamansi juice and place on a work surface flesh side up.

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I preferred the sambal sardines.

Stuff the sardines with shallots, chili paste, plain ‘ol black pepper, or whatever else you’d like. Close the butterflied sardines and wrap each sardine in a strip of bacon. Grill the sardines over medium-high heat, turning every few minutes, until bacon is cooked and crisp–about 5-8 minutes total.

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  • ahnjel October 7, 2008, 11:04 pm

    oh my goodness… i dont work with fish, maybe because i wasnt taught the right way to handle it or perhaps because it meesy or im probably scared of cooking with it for reasons im not aware of… but wow, i think i can give this a try. i watched alton brown with his dont be afraid of fish episode but havent really come around into applying them.
    i also try to go organic as much as i can, although im not picky at all… though i do recycle… hehe

    Reply
  • Jacqueline Church October 7, 2008, 11:20 pm

    Mmm. Yum. I think last year’s wrap up also had Oceana and Oceanwise Canada. I’ll see what I can find through my fishy friends.
    here’s the link to the wrap last year:
    http://theleatherdistrictgourmet.wordpress.com/2007/11/01/its-a-wrap-teach-a-man-to-fish-the-sustainable-seafood-event-concludes/
    hope that helps!
    I was lying in bed not sleeping last night and thinking about making homemade fish sauce so as to cut down on the carbon footprint of shipping. Good thing I went to a suckling pig butchering class today. Need a break!
    Jacqueline

    Reply
  • Ben October 8, 2008, 6:11 am

    Thanks for the info! I don’t eat a lot of seafood because nobody else here likes it (I know that’s weird) but it’s good to know this things about our food in general. Those sardines look really good wrapped in bacon. What time is dinner again? :-p

    Reply
  • greasemonkey October 8, 2008, 7:02 am

    thanks for another great post! ive got another half kilo of tawilis in the fridge and i cant wait to introduce them to some bacon and labuyo!
    its fascinating how the ecology works (well, what little we understand of it) isn’t it? great links (bookmark worthy!!)!
    hehe.. my apostrophe key got 86d by harriet/helga, our cat with a jekyl/hyde complex.. i guess you could say its swimming with the fish.. ingat

    Reply
  • Erin October 8, 2008, 8:07 am

    Bacon and sambal! I am a sucker for spicy and smoky combinations. Did you use sambal oelek?
    We try and be very “green” about our food choices. It is nice to see that so many others are trying to do the same.

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  • Fearless Kitchen October 8, 2008, 8:22 am

    This looks delicious. I’m curious about the mutant fish, though. Will they too suddenly develop green mullets and start wearing red underwear?

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  • Pat October 8, 2008, 2:41 pm

    i grew up eating sardines drenched in tomato sauce from a can but this recipe has enticed me to try it fresh. anything wrapped in bacon has got to taste good! and you make boning the fish seem so easy …

    Reply
  • bernadette October 8, 2008, 6:33 pm

    hey! this is my favorite fish aside from the one here we call dorado! We call this sardines—galunggong! I marinate it in soy sauce, a little vinegar, chopped garlic, a teenie-weenie pinch of sugar and salt. simmer it in the marinade. Refrigerate it overnight then fry it!
    Thanks for that informative angle of this once poor man’s fish here in the Philippines, Marvin! Now, it can be just as expensive as the others.

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  • Dione October 8, 2008, 7:34 pm

    Only a Filipino food blogger would put up a recipe for fish and blatantly make FATTY PORK part of the main attraction. Awesome!!!
    Good job on the sustainability tutorial- not enough of us are asking where our food is coming from!

    Reply
  • Katrina October 9, 2008, 8:47 am

    Way to cook a healthy fish dish, Marvin — by wrapping it in bacon! LOVE IT! ;-D Seriously, that sounds yummy. Bacon goes so well with seafood, and chili, too. Actually, I’m suddenly reminded of a dish Joey blogged about last year. She stuffed Claude Tayag’s (very) spicy XO sauce in fish fillet, then wrapped that in bacon. Ya know…I’ve never cooked fish before, but I am getting inspired to try something similar. But no de-boning for me, thanks! I am highly UNskilled with the knife.

    Reply
  • Mila October 9, 2008, 12:56 pm

    The pocket list of sustainable fish was handed out at all the large aquariums I visited. I don’t know if I brought one home though.
    I’m a fan of fresh anchovies! I haven’t had fresh sardines yet, but I can imagine how tasty they must be grilled and wrapped in bacon.

    Reply
  • Julie October 9, 2008, 1:45 pm

    Uhhh … yeah, I’ve actually got sardines and bacon at home and am making as close an approximation of this as possible for dinner tonight.
    Thank you thank you thank you for this informative writeup! It seems like news about the negative impact of farmed salmon and the like are just now hitting the mainstream food blog-a-zines, and it’s about stinkin’ time.

    Reply
  • Lori Lynn @ Taste With The Eyes October 9, 2008, 5:45 pm

    I’m so happy to read this Marvin. I just returned from Mario Batali’s B&B restaurant in Vegas where we went gaga over his sardine dish.

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  • Yarn Hungry Hog October 9, 2008, 7:27 pm

    Marvin, after reading about how you prepped sardines, I now am totally convinced that you are a CHEF to be reckoned with.
    Well, aside from those nationally-known MALE CHEFS, I always thought that the everyday guys are impatient and lazy when it came to cooking. So Marvin, I’m at awe.
    Anyway, I love seafood, fish, meat fat, BACON ~ gosh, what a combo! Never thought of bacon and fish together.
    Anyway, come visit my website in a few days, I’d be posting a Steamed Manila Clams post. A very simple dish.
    BTW, you called me Yarn Hungry Dog. I had to laugh. As much as I like dogs, HOGs are my type.

    Reply
  • Jude October 9, 2008, 11:01 pm

    Based on your childhood cartoon list, our birthdates are probably within 6 months of each other.
    I have no idea how this is going to taste… I only know of sardines through ligo cans and tuyo.

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia October 10, 2008, 8:33 am

    Hi ahnjel. Because the sardines are so small, I think they’re easier to work with. They were already cleaned and gutted by my fishmonger, all I did was remove the spine–not hard to do at all.
    Thanks for hosting this Jacqueline. And wow, you’re gonna make your own fish sauce? That’s something I’d like to see.
    Hi Ben! Thanks for visiting my blog.
    Hello greasemonkey. Perhaps your cat would like the sardines as well;)
    Yes, Erin, sambal oelek. I love the stuff and put it on everything these days.
    Haha Fearless Kitchen. I’d be very fearful of fish with green mullets;)
    I grew up with the same canned sardines too, Pat. But since I’ve discovered the fresh I’ve been finding different preparations for them. And the boning really isn’t that hard at all.
    Hello bernadette. I also like dorado. And I hope sardines don’t ever become expensive, they are so small and abundant that I think they will always be cheap.
    Thanks Dione! Yeah, I guess I couldn’t resist the use of fatty pork;)
    Hi Katrina. I searched for Joey’s dish after you mentioned it and yes, they are very similar. I guess great minds think alike;P And even wrapped in bacon, it’s still fairly healthy–everything in moderation right?
    Mila, the aquariums are also supposed to release pocket guides for sustainable sushi later this month as well. Those will be interesting to see since I eat so much sushi.
    Hello Julie, I hope the recipe turns out good for you. It’s cool seeing that you actually already have sardines. They’re not a very popular fish, but they’re so cheap and tasty!
    Oooh, I can only imagine how good a sardine dish would be from Batali, Lori Lynn. Next time I’m in Vegas, I’ll definitely have to try out B&B.
    Trust my, Yarn Hungry HOG;), I am no chef. I felt comfortable deboning the sardines because they are so small. And I also used the bacon to keep the fish from sticking to the grill, lots of grilled fish recipes are wrapped in bacon or prociutto for that reason. It’s also pretty tasty;) And sorry for calling you dog the last time, I stand corrected!
    Aside from the cartoons I mentioned, I also love Ligo sardines, Jude! Now you know, and knowing’s half the battle;)

    Reply
  • The Food Ho October 10, 2008, 10:25 am

    Wow. Just Wow. You are my new hero. Sardines. Bacon. AND Calamansi juice?
    I work at Sea Rocket Bistro in San Diego and we do grilled sardines. We get em straight from off the bait boat off of Coronado. Sardines are so yummy and cheap too!

    Reply
  • Krizia October 11, 2008, 10:19 am

    Oh good God. I was about to go running just now, but why run when you can eat bacon-wrapped sardines??

    Reply
  • Lori Lynn @ Taste With The Eyes October 11, 2008, 2:44 pm

    Those look excellent Marvin. I just had some fresh sardines at Mario Batali’s B&B restaurant in Vegas. I am hooked. Thanks for the tutorial.

    Reply
  • Erin October 12, 2008, 6:04 pm

    Sambal oelek is my crack.

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  • Burnt Lumpia October 14, 2008, 9:19 am

    Hello Food Ho. I guess you can’t get any fresher than fish right off the boat right?
    Hey Krizia, running’s overrated. Eat more bacon.
    Thanks again, Lori Lynn.
    Me too, Erin! I go through jars and jars of the stuff.

    Reply
  • Ed October 14, 2008, 9:59 pm

    If you like sambal ulek, you should really try sambal bajak, which is sauteed with terasi (Indonesian shrimp paste). Now, I know that you can’t resist a condiment like that, right?
    And about missing Captain Planet as a kid – he’s actually gone bhangra… :)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fSpI4oZoDc

    Reply
  • Burnt Lumpia October 22, 2008, 7:35 am

    Sambal bajak sounds like my kind of condiment. And that link is hilarious. Thanks for that Ed!

    Reply
  • Cynthia November 2, 2008, 5:27 pm

    Marvin, I have been a very good girl so can you send me the entire lot? :)

    Reply
  • manju December 6, 2008, 3:06 pm

    Hooray for sustainable seafood! This recipe though should be on your “exploding heart” series on pork! (I’m going backwards thru your archives…)

    Reply
  • Max Mickle February 3, 2009, 2:37 am

    Great place for fresh seafood and certainly reminds me of the fish and chips shops in Australia where you get to choose the type of fish you would like for your fish and chips. I think the John Dory would have tasted better grilled and should have settled for the house fish and chips instead which uses a New Zealand white fish.

    Reply
  • Sabeen September 25, 2010, 9:20 am

    Very nice Recipe. I think best Fish Recipe. Thanks.

    Reply
  • חוות דג הזהב April 5, 2012, 7:52 pm

    I wish sardines don’t ever become costly, they are so little and numerous that I think they will always be inexpensive.

    Reply

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