As if we didn't already have more than our fair share of incredible bounty, Dungeness Crab season opened this month in Sonoma!
The "dungies'" return draws throngs of hopefully bobbing kayaks to the the coast and captures headlines throughout the region, but there's ample local seafood to be had year-round in Sonoma - especially if you aren't afraid to broaden your palate!
Wild Salmon and Dungeness Crab steal a lot of the buzz from less flashy varieties of seafood, such as Black Cod or Anchovies, which are available most of the year. And there's even more to be said for purchasing locally-harvested (often smaller) species of fish with longer fishing seasons: they are frequently less expensive (and shorter lifespans means lower in contaminants). Perhaps even more significant is the fact that supporting fishing operations responsibly harvesting these populations strengthens those systems seeking to preserve our ocean's bounty - a cause I think all of us can get behind!
Lastly there's the flavor - like vegetables, buying seasonally and regionally where possible also means a fish (or crustacean) that will make the farmed, frozen, and imported-from-afar product pale in comparison.
So, today, a few suggestions for enjoying some of the less-glamorous - and frequently underutilized - seafood options from the Northern Coast! ~
These silvery schools of whitefish are typically available year-round in Northern California. Ranging in size from one to fifteen inches, the pungent taste we all remember from childhood has more to do with the curing and canning process than it does with the fresh fish. Prized for their rich, fatty flesh (super-high in healthful fatty acids!), they are delicious fresh or cured. Boquerones are the tangy, less-salty Italian counterpart commonly served in tapas.
Olive Tomato's Roasted Anchovies
Pacific Black Cod is considered one of the most sustainable fish on the California coast. Despite this, it doesn't get much love from the home cook. It's worth getting to know this plentiful local whitefish as it is high in omega 3's, has a nice moisture content and skin that crisps up well. Be sure to look for "line-caught" when purchasing; the trawler-caught fish are not a friendly choice for the ocean.
From our kitchens: Salt Cod Croquettes
California mussel season is year-round; however, advisories are typically in place from May to October to protect consumers from naturally-occurring bio-toxins which can accumulate in warmer months. That said, you can rest assured that any commercially-available mussel you're served during this window has been tested for safety. California mussels are characterized by their sweet orange flesh, and take approximately three years to reach maturity. We love the tender, briny bites of ocean flavor, as well as the fact these creatures are constantly filtering the sea of phytoplankton, which keeps our waters clear.
From our kitchens: Pernod-scented mussels
Of course we have mention the superstar salmon. As the pale and watery off-season tomato is to its summer cousin, so is farmed salmon to it's wild, local counterpart. In the peak of salmon season from May to August, these beauties are line-caught directly off of the Northern California coast (and a better choice than the highly-polluting farmed assortment). Fun fact: the deep red coloring of a healthy Pacific salmon comes from their diet of local krill.
From our kitchens: Apricot-cured salmon
Sand dabs have been called "the secret of the California seas." These tiny flatfish are not widely known, nor are they widely available commercially - though that is slowly changing. Sand dabs possess a sweet, buttery flavor, and their delicate skin does not require scaling - making home preparation a breeze. Pacific sand dabs' fishing season is year round, and they're listed as one of Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Best Choices" for sustainable seafood.
Siren Fish Co.'s Pan fried Sand Dabs
COMMUNITY SUPPORTED FISHING:
...or your local farmers' market!
Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch APP here!