Baiting Guests with Underutilized Fish Species: Serving Delectable, Sustainable Seafood

Michael Cimarusti is the Executive Chef at Providence in Los Angeles and Connie and Ted’s in West Hollywood, both seafood-centric restaurants. He also opened his own seafood market, Cape Seafood and Provisions which heavily promotes sustainability.

So Cimarusti is clearly a seafood expert, so he’s the guy you should talk to before you cook any fish dish.

When people cook fish, they usually stick to a number of classic preparations but in an interview with The Splendid Table’s Russ Parsons, Cimarusti shares some of the best techniques you may not have heard of for cooking certain species of fish and supporting sustainability.

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Brining

The most common preparation for fish is, ironically, wet brining. Best for use with fish you plan to grill, brining in a 5-7 percent salt solution is a classic step in allowing fish to form a pellicle, a sticky coating on the surface of the fish that seals in flavor. Dry brining is another option, especially for those looking to eat fish raw. Simply put sea salt on a filet of fish and let it rest until the fish begins to sweat.

Roasting

With larger fish, you can roast a large filet, let it rest and then separate into single serving portions. When applying roasting to fish, Cimarusti says, you wind up with different results and textures and a cooking that’s far more consistent.

In the below excerpt from the interview, Cimarusti explains that just because a species is not a classic does not make it any less delicious. In fact, these species can be top of the line and cost much, much less.

Russ Parsons: One of the big problems with seafood in America is that we still concentrate on one or two species – shrimp, salmon, things like that – but those are getting scarcer and less sustainable.

Michael Cimarusti: And more expensive.

RP: But, there are lots of other fish that are plentiful, delicious, and completely sustainable. What are some of the ways for a cook who may not be familiar with those fish to approach them?

MC: There are so many different ways. Smaller fish like sardines and anchovies, anchovies specifically, if you are going to cook them at all, the best thing you can do is salt them and throw them on the grill. It's almost true for sardines as well, unless you get really big sardines, in which case you might filet them or butterfly them open and cook them in different ways. Mackerel is sort of the same thing. I love mackerel grilled. When we get what are called tinker mackerel – which are smaller mackerel – we take them, debone them, butterfly them open, and grill the skin side just briefly. We then pull them off the grill and brush them with an herb oil. At this point, the flesh has not been touched by any direct heat at all. Brush the flesh with a little herb oil, a little squeeze of lemon juice, and put breadcrumbs over the top of it with lots of extra-virgin olive oil. Finish it in the broiler so it gets crispy and golden brown. Underneath, you have the grilled flavor of the fatty fish and this beautiful herb oil that's just a little spicy from red chili flakes, and it's incredible. That's a fish that, at the most, it's going to cost you six or seven dollars in a fish market, but they're incredibly delicious. They're low on the food chain and they're plentiful. But go and try to find one; it’s a very difficult fish to find. That's because it's a low-value species. It's not worth a lot to the fisherman, so you don't see a lot of them on the market, which is a real shame.

Read the whole interview at “The Splendid Table.”