Sustainable seafood is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but it’s something that I’ve never fully understood.
As an avid consumer of seafood, I want to do my part in protecting our oceans and their wildlife. When I see things on labels like “pole caught,” it sounds good, but, to be honest, I never know how it truly relates to sustainability.
For a long time I thought that “wild” labels meant good for the environment and “farm-raised” meant bad. Unfortunately, like many things in life, the answer isn’t always that clear.
There are many wild caught fishing methods that are downright cruel and incredibly destructive to ecosystems and fish populations. On the flip side, farm-raised fish has its share of problems, but if done in a eco-friendly way it can actually be a good alternative to depleting wild fish populations.
To add to my confusion, the particular types of seafood that can be defined as sustainable vary according to species and the location in which you are purchasing them. It all left me with a lot of questions about how to buy seafood with the least environmental impact.
Thankfully, I found some answers during a trip the the Monterey Bay Aquarium over the summer. I was visiting the area as part of a strawberry farm tour with the California Strawberry Commission and had an opportunity to stop by while I was in town.
Aside from having beautiful, awe-inspiring exhibits, the aquarium is doing a lot of work in making sustainable seafood choices less confusing for the average consumer. While I was there, I found some great pocket seafood buying guides based on different regions of the country. I also learned that the aquarium has created a helpful app called Seafood Watch.
Simply search for the kind of seafood you are looking to purchase and it will display the best choices for sustainability. While the best option might not always be available at your local supermarket, at least you can avoid truly harmful ones or try to find a better alternative choice. You can download the app here.
Seafood Watch helped me locate some sustainable cod, a fish that has historically been decimated by overfishing, for this Thai-style Lemongrass Poached Cod recipe.
Japanese sweet potatoes provide a hearty base to this dish while adding some sweetness to the flavor profile. To avoid having the potatoes turn brown from oxidation, soak them in some cold water immediately after slicing them into thin rounds.
Cut a stalk of lemongrass into 3 inch pieces and give it a good pounding with a mallet or the back of a knife to break the fibers and release more of the flavor.
Heat a tablespoon of coconut oil in a large pot or high-walled saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute some red onion and thai chile pepper for a few minutes, then add minced garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant.
Drain the potatoes and add them to the pot along with 4 cups of seafood stock, the lemongrass, fish sauce, lime zest, and cilantro. Bring everything to a low simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are just fork tender, about 12-15 minutes.
Pour a can of coconut milk and the juice from one lime into the pot and bring it back to a gentle simmer. Carefully slip in the cod fillets, nestling them to make sure they are fully submerged. Cover the pot and cook until the internal temperature of the filets reaches 135°F. This could take anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of your filets; just try to avoid overcooking them.
Remove the cod and sweet potatoes with a slotted spoon and divide them into shallow bowls. Season the broth with salt and pepper to taste, then ladle it into the bowls. Garnish with more cilantro and lime wedges. Enjoy!
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 1 Thai chile, diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and minced
- 2 pounds Japanese sweet potato, peeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
- 4 cups seafood stock (or chicken stock)
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 3 inch sections and lightly pounded
- 1/2 cup cilantro, plus more for garnish
- zest and juice from one lime
- 1 14.5 ounce can of coconut milk
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
- Heat the coconut oil in a large, high-walled sauce pan or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and pepper and sauté until tender, about 4-5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and ginger and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the sweet potatoes, seafood stock, lemongrass, cilantro, and lime zest. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 10-12 minutes.
- Pour in the coconut milk and lime juice and return the pot to a gentle simmer. Season the cod filets with salt and pepper, then nestle them in the liquid so they are fully submerged. Cover and cook until the cod is opaque and flakes easily, about 5-7 minutes.
- Remove the cod and sweet potatoes with a slotted spoon and divided into shallow bowls. Season the broth with salt and pepper to taste, then ladle it into the bowls. Garnish with fresh cilantro and lime wedges.