From an Evening of Sustainable Seafood Tastings by Chef and NG Fellow Barton Seaver
“Avocado Soup with Dill and Smoked Trout” is a delicious way to start a conversation about how we need to save the ocean. Cool and refreshing, with a richness from the fish, it instantly wakes you up and makes you appreciate how much enjoyment and variety can be held in just a single spoon. Being served at a tasting of sustainable seafood dishes, it then makes you realize how much diversity, beauty, and life there is in the entire vastness of the ocean.
Next, a small plate of “Mussels en escabeche” takes a humble critter, easily found by the hundreds and overlooked by snorkelers for more glamorous corals and fish, and makes it a star, its bright orange color vibrant against a white dish. It draws attention to the individuality of each and every thing in the ocean, not as abstract population numbers, but as individual creatures, each with beauty and value.
This is what popular chef and National Geographic Fellow Barton Seaver literally brings to the table: the ability to address big issues affecting the ocean through the shared experience of a great dinner. Utilizing principles and recipes from his new cookbook of recipes for sustainable seafood, For Cod and Country, Barton served it all at an NG Live event in Washington, D.C. last week.
The people gathered to share this meal and conversation included local food lovers, activists, news-anchor-emeritus Sam Donaldson, and Barton’s own family. One couple was there celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary, thanks to tickets from their son. The large tables enabled these strangers to meet, helping to illustrate Barton’s point that dinner isn’t just about eating, it’s intimate and celebratory and through it we not only nourish our bodies, but our relationships as well.
Yes We Can, Can
The next plate to arrive featured “Tuna Rillettes With Herb and Rye Bread” and “Pink Salmon and Basil Salad.” As simple-seeming as a tuna sandwich waiting to be assembled, these elements were flavorful, fun to eat, and had lots of great textures. Most significantly though, they showed just how easy it is to cook well with sustainable seafood. These gourmet bites were made using one of the most affordable and convenient forms of food around: canned (learn to make sustainable choices with our Seafood Decision Guide).
In the past, the convenience of tuna from industrial fishing came at a disastrous price, costing the lives of hundreds of thousands of dolphins every year killed in the nets intended for the fish. Changes to fishing equipment and techniques in the 1970s and ‘80s kept dolphins safer, but still countless other fish are caught and wasted as by-catch every day. Now though, tuna caught one-by-one by the old fashioned pole and line method are available in cans across the U.S. at Whole Foods stores and elsewhere. The Whole Foods a few blocks from NG headquarters even donated all the cans used for this event.
And the Mystery Ingredient Is…
The final dishes, “Mixed Seafood Salad with Mussels, Lobster, and Squid” and “Orange and Fennel Salad with Anchovy Vinaigrette” were not only delicious, they were bonding experiences. The freshness and diversity of seafood, the combination of fruits, vegetables, and protein, and the surprising dash of some mysterious spice on top of both had several at our table talking, wondering what it could be.
When the chef returned to the podium to describe the ingredients and techniques used, we discovered it was nutmeg. Nutmeg! As a diner, I am learning when in doubt, guess nutmeg. I didn’t guess it this time though. And I didn’t guess coriander, which was also an ingredient, as was cilantro, which my nutmeg-calling dining companion pointed out are in fact the dried seed and the leaf of the same plant.
Fun conversations, a full stomach and a delighted palate made for a great evening, but more importantly, combined with all the information about our need to be more sustainable in our use of seafood, they provided an unforgettable, five-sense experience that gave everyone present a chance to develop a deeper, closer relationship with the most important member of the dining party, the sea itself.
This spring, if you pick up a copy of Barton Seaver’s For Cod and Country, get right to the kitchen and start cooking, and don’t halve any recipes. Cook them to the full, surround yourself with others to share the experience, and develop those relationships with each other and the ocean for yourselves.
Care for Seconds?
Get facts and tips about making more sustainable choices with our Seafood Decision Guide.
Follow Barton in the Cook-Wise videos as he goes on location to meet fishermen, farmers, and scientists, and explores how individual ingredients can make a difference for our planet.
All food photos by Andrew Howley. Portrait photo courtesy of Barton Seaver.
And How About a Midnight Snack?
Watch a quick time-lapse video of Barton Seaver and crew preparing a similar tasting at Starfish Brasserie in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.