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First, it was the BSE scare with beef, and then came the avian virus affecting chicken. Naturally, sales for both suffered a deal. In some cases, losses were significant enough for a few small restaurants to go bankrupt.
Persons addicted to animal protein turned to seafood, and feeble fish stocks are now more threatened then ever before. In addition, researchers tell us that fish represents a better protein source. Japanese, Spaniards, and Portuguese have always been avid seafood consumers due to their geography and economic development. Japanese per capita fish consumption is approximately 35 kilograms, whereas the world average stands at 14.5 kg. Total world seafood consumption of 140 million metric tonnes of which 1/3 is farm raised. Modern aquaculture (or pisciculture) was developed mainly by Norwegian entrepreneurs to farm salmon in an attempt to utilize their deep fjords with rapid water circulation. Soon Canada and the U S A started to farm salmon. Now even Chile operates salmon farms, and exports by airfreight, fresh salmon to North America.
Norwegian are planning to farm cod to the tune of 200 000 metric tonnes per year by 2010, and of course Spanish entrepreneurs with financial and scientific help from Norway have been at it for over a decade farming turbot, plaice, and other valuable species.
French farm most of their oysters on the Atlantic Coast from Arcachon in Bordeaux, all the way up to Brittany, raising Concale, Belon, Baie de Quiberon and Special de Claire. American oyster farming occurs in Louisiana and on the Atlantic Coast. In Canada, oyster beds in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island supply the country and export markets. They are particularly sought after due to their firm texture and deep flavour. Bras d’or and Malpeque oysters are particularly famous.
Prince Edward Island is famous for cultivated mussels trade marked as muscults, and practically all restaurants use them. They are clean, uniform in size and suit the needs of chefs well. Belgians and Dutch operate many mussel beds to supply European markets.
Seafood restaurants do brisk business selling a range of grilled, roasted, broiled, deep- and pan-fried fish, now more than ever, but this has caused among other excessive demand, oceans to deplete much faster than nature can replenish. Highly efficient trawlers engineered to catch even small fish and greedy boat owners have contributed too.
Seafood restaurants of the past used to sell Dover sole, salmon, trout fillets, shrimp, oysters, lobster, spiny lobster, and crab, all relatively free of bones and easy to eat. In fact most presented them ready-to-eat either filleted or peeled and deveined. Most chefs treated delicate fish as if they were red meat. Today, the treatment is more respectful of delicate texture and flavour. Trout is poached or pan-fried, salmon grilled or baked, shrimp sautÃ©ed or marinated.
Dover sole and scampi have literally disappeared from menus due to their exorbitant cost.
Now there are associations of chefs in large cities actually boycotting certain fish species in an attempt to preserve them, but as always, there is never full agreement as to which species are in danger of vanishing.
Most chefs, if not all, agree that the following fish species are endangered:
â€¢ Caspian sturgeon
â€¢ Wild salmon
â€¢ Chilean sea bass
â€¢ Atlantic cod
â€¢ Atlantic swordfish
â€¢ Florida red snapper
â€¢ New Zealand orange roughy
The majority of chefs agree that aquacultured fish will have to replace at least some of the wild species presently used, but even farmed fish requires other fish species for feeding among other feed. For example, it takes two kilograms of sardines to fatten a salmon by one kilogram.
Regardless, the following farmed fish are abundant and relatively inexpensive. Their taste differs from their natural counterparts due to diet and environment. Arctic char, sable fish and paddlefish are abundant and tasty if prepared properly.
Concerned chefs’ associations recommend farm raised red mullet, John Dory, salmon, catfish, halibut, trout, red snapper, shrimp, and carp. Farmed fish raised in cold waters is firmer in texture and tastes better. Those raised in warm waters grow faster, but yield soft flesh and have an excessively salty taste.
These days, undoubtedly, restaurants treat fish with more respect and cook expertly, but there are still many chefs content with frozen fish fillets, and worse, breaded, frozen, processed seafood.
The most popular seafood in North American restaurants are: salmon, shrimp, tuna, crab, halibut, oysters, sablefish, lobster, spiny lobster a k a langouste, scallops, arctic char and mussels.
Knowledgeable restaurant patrons distinguish between fine seafood restaurants and those that are essentially glorified fast seafood operations.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu
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