The name of my blog tips you off. I'm rather fond of seafood. You'd be correct if you were to assume that a person willing to praise the common sardine just might be the type of person who would attack a plateful of more celebrated delicacies from the sea with the voracity of a shark (I'd be the shark wielding the fish knife, of course).
I have only one criteria when it comes to evaluating the products that swim through that liquid that covers 70% of our planet: freshness.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Hardly earth-shattering. Thanks for the brilliant insight, Brett.
Here's my additional 2 cents.
What I've learned from my experiences in Spain rubbing elbows with those shoppers, diners, and cooks whose collective national fervor for impeccably fresh seafood is matched only by the Japanese is this: there is a huge difference between fresh and FRESH.
Seafood in Spain is pristinely FRESH. Unlike stores in the Bay Area, fish markets in Spain do not smell fishy. There is no odor at all (Do you hear that, managers and owners of Andronico's and Whole Foods?). Respected fishmongers in Spain would sooner be caught wearing the jersey for the British national football (soccer) team during the upcoming World Cup than sell fish on Mondays, because everyone knows that fisherman do not fish on Sundays. If you want seafood on Monday, you eat salt cod (which in Spain is hardly a sacrifice).
In my dining and cooking experience in Spain and here in the Bay Area, I follow one rule of thumb. If you wan the freshest, most immaculate seafood, eat locally.*
As this year's Eat Local Challenge officially ended yesterday, I want to report that I was repeatedly frustrated and thwarted in my attempts to source truly FRESH locally caught or raised fin and shellfish in my home town. Since I am not working in restaurants right now, I have to buy my seafood in local stores like any home cook. With few exceptions (Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco and Monterey Fish Market in Berkeley usually carry a few local items and can place special orders), the fish stores here are mediocre at best. It takes tremendous effort to find fresh local fish. Are my expectations too high? Is it simply a case of me being, yet again, a food snob?
Despite these disappointments, I did have quite a few foraging successes, though, which I'd like to share, chiefly to promote those who supplied the goods.
May marks the beginning of the local wild salmon season, but this year, due to heavy (and controversial) federally-imposed restrictions on the local catch, finding local salmon has never been so difficult nor so expensive.
Fortunately, at the local market I can buy freshly caught local wild King salmon directly from my favorite fisherman, Larry Miyamura. If you want to know the difference between fresh and FRESH, stop by Larry's stand, Shogun Fish, at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market on Saturday and buy some of his salmon (pictured above with sweet peas and champagne butter sauce). Despite the restrictions, Larry has thus far been able to supply our market with his succulent king salmon, missing only a couple of weeks in May. He has been catching the fish just south of Pigeon Point lighthouse near Half Moon Bay, which is the furthest north that he can legally fish this season. Enjoy his fish while you can, because he's warned me that there will be many weeks when he won't be allowed to catch a thing.
I've also been feasting often on the same thing that many of the local salmon eat: anchovies and a whole lotta sardines* (pictured above, fried). Although in Spain, for example, sardines and anchovies are considered summertime fish, in the Bay Area I tend to find the biggest sardines during the winter and spring (my solution: go to Spain during the summer!). I regularly buy my local sardines from the stand operated at the Saturday market by the Fresh Fish Company, a company run by the aptly named Tim Ports that has supplied many of the restaurants where I've worked.