Tuesday, February 13

Cheese & Seafood: Scrumptious or Sacrilegious?

My daughter crushing broiled scallops
My wife was traveling for work recently, so I was solo-parenting our two children for a couple of days.  Arts and crafts, hide and seek, the mall, and Disney Junior can only go so far with toddlers, especially in the dead of winter.  Luckily, my parents were kind enough to have us over for a casual pizza night, providing me a little respite.  It takes a village, right?  As we often do, my mom and I found ourselves talking about restaurants, cooking, and my favorite, old family recipes.  We got so deep into conversation that my mom even pulled out her old recipe decks.

I certainly don't long for the internet-less days of past, where home-cooking knowledge was almost exclusively obtained through cookbooks, word-of-mouth, and scarce PBS programming.  It's quite convenient to stand in the kitchen and Google the dozens of ways to brine a turkey or braise short ribs.  However, there's always something incredibly charming about thumbing through old recipe catalogues.  Newspaper and magazine cut outs.  Gravy stained index cards.  Photocopies from neighbors' cookbooks.  People even had their own, personalized recipe cards they would fill out and share with friends.  "Easy Chicken Cacciatore - from the kitchen of Debbie Wanamaker."  I won't lie, I'd prefer a personalized recipe card over the random TikTok videos of El Burrito Monster my neighbor DMs me.  Don't get me wrong.  I like the viral cooking video hits just as much as the next person.  But there's something delightfully endearing about personalized recipe cards.

Recipes that call for Cheese & Seafood
Anyway, my mom and son stepped away to play trucks, leaving my daughter and I plenty of time to start rifling through decades' worth of recipes.  
Chicken a la king.  Beef stroganoff.  Countless mayonnaise based salads, green bean casseroles, and everything in between.  The Tupperware generation certainly had its own, unique taste, for better or worse.  The big thing that started jumping out at me was the number of cheese and seafood recipes.  Three cheese oyster gratin.  Shrimp and artichoke divan.  Cheesy crab puffs.  Lobster strata.  I'll definitely be making Pinky Jordan's impossible scallop pie at some point.  Admittedly, the majority were clam or crab dips.  But still, look at the sheer number of recipes calling for various seafoods and cheeses.  I found this particularly astounding given the age-old adage:
ever pair cheese and seafood.

But why shouldn't we pair cheese and seafood?  The credo is relatively common knowledge throughout North America, and frequently pops up on competitive cooking shows such as Top Chef, Chopped, etc.  We also know it's not 100% true.  There are several beloved dishes that fly in the face of this culinary injunction.  Lobster mac and cheese, tuna melts, smoked salmon and cream cheese, crab rangoon, clam pizza, shrimp and grits.  Lobster Thermidor is often finished with a crispy, cheesy crust.  Caesar salad mixes anchovies and parmesan cheese, not to mention anchovies as a pizza topping.  And the dishes are not limited to the States.  Moules al Roquefort, or mussels in a blue cheese sauce, are enjoyed all over coastal towns in Northern France.  You'd be hard pressed to find a fish tavern in the Greek Islands not serving Garides Saganaki, an appetizer of shrimp and feta cooked in a tomato sauce.  There's Jarlsberg torsk in Norway, Machas a la Parmesana in Chile, and Fish Pie in the British Isles.  Hell, even McDonald's puts a slice of American cheese on its fish sandwich.  I'm certainly not a fan of all these preparations.  Some even gross me out.  Sorry, but seafood alfredo is disgusting.  However, there is well established, global precedent for cheese and seafood acceptably working together.  So where and how exactly did the epicurean edict of never pairing the two originate?

Garides Saganaki - courtesy of
The Greek Food Alchemist
It seems widely agreed upon that the cheese and seafood doctrine has its roots in Italy.  This explains why it's so widely observed in North America, given the massive influence of Italian cooking across the continent.  It also explains why many people are so uncompromising and emphatic about not pairing cheese and seafood.  Few cultures are as fiercely defensive of their gastronomic traditions as Italians and Italian-Americans.  This British TikToker went viral 
by documenting his culinary trolling across Italy, getting him 2.9 million followers and global press in the process.  Ice in red wine.  Ketchup on pizza.  Just look at some of the viscerally horrified reactions to his antics.  Italy don't play that shit.  

The most common, contemporary rationale for the prohibition is that seafood is subtle and delicate, and must be prepared simply.  Cheese is strong and robustly flavored, and will overpower any seafood dish.  Sure, in some instances.  You wouldn't catch me broiling a piece of halibut with a slice of sharp, aged cheddar on top.  But we all know there are very strongly flavored seafoods like anchovies, sea urchin, blood clams, and mackerel, and equally mild cheeses like burrata, mozzarella, havarti, and queso fresco.  I'm not saying salmon fondue is a good idea, but there are enough examples proving the logic at least partly unsound.  "I before E, except after C.  Weird, right?"    

Some speculate the tenet stems from the hyper-regional foodscapes of Italy.  The best cheese producing areas of Italy have primarily been the mountainous, landlocked regions.  The best seafood, naturally, has always been sourced from the coast.  Thus, the two rarely had the pleasure to meet.  This kind of makes sense, from an "if it grows together, it goes together" culinary perspective.  But trade around Italy goes back millennia, so the two most certainly crossed paths with some frequency.  Cheese and garum, an ancient fermented fish sauce, were even part of standard rations for Roman soldiers.  A few of Italy's oldest and most famous cheeses are also made exclusively in coastal areas.  Pecorino romano, for example.  I fully understand Italian food is very regional, and treating it as one, homogenous cuisine is incredibly ignorant, insulting 
even.  But it does seem there are at least a few dishes from around the country that pair cheese and seafood.  Just sayin'.  

Machas a la Parmesana
Courtesy of Chocolate.co.ao
Lastly, there are some old world dietary and medical considerations behind the cheese and seafood ban.  Ancient physicians Hippocrates, Galen and Aristotle reportedly warned against the combination as it would imbalance your humors, or your four essential bodily fluids.  Dairy and fish were both "cooling" foods that slowed down the body's metabolism.  Eating them together would increase your chances of humoral imbalance.  Seafood also required full digestive capacity, as it could "corrupt" the body easily.  Thus, the two should never be paired.  While not entirely medically accurate, there is sound reasoning here.  Dairy and seafood are both highly susceptible to spoilage and pathogens.  The separation of meat and dairy in the Kosher diet has a similar foundational logic.  Combining the two, particularly before the advent of refrigeration, would be doubling down on your digestive roll of the dice.  And while modern day food safety measures mostly protect us from these concerns, the restrictive practices around cheese and seafood have simply never left us.  We can't completely knock humoral theory, though, as it was the original proponent of some wonderful pairings like lemon and fish.  

These ideas are all likely contributors to the present day cheese and seafood ideology.  But even when combined and considered together, they're not enough to warrant the vehement backlash you get when sprinkling parmigiano-reggiano on your spaghetti alle vongole.  Then I came across this Atlas Obscura article by Dan Nosowitz.  The article cited everything above: seafood's delicate nature, Italy's geography, and the humors.  However, it added one more that deeply resonated.  As noted earlier, few cultures are as fiercely defensive of their traditional cuisine as Italians.  How we determine "traditional" or "authentic" cuisine is another conversation.  But in Italy, there are clear culinary commandments and it's sacrilegious to break them.  Why?

In short, World War II.  After the war, Italy was devastated.  Political upheaval, economic collapse, unrestrained globalization, and aggressive outsider influence from the looming Cold War.  When all cultural and societal stability is eroding around you, food identity is one of the few things you can define, control, and defend.  Speaking very generally, that's exactly what post-WWII Italy did.  They took their notions of traditional and authentic Italian cuisine, essentially their Nonnas' cooking from the early 20th century, and made that canon.  Never pairing cheese and seafood happened to be part of that orthodoxy. 

Seafood Alfredo from Olive Garden
Globalization offshored and appropriated classic Italian dishes, turning them into things like seafood alfredo.  I too would feel the need to protect the 
cuisine so near to my heart and heritage from such bastardizations.  Several foundations for modern day 
geographic protections of food and drink immediately followed WWII.  It's no coincidence the 1951 Convention for the Use of Appellations of Origin of Cheeses was held in Stresa, Italy.  Parmigiano-reggiano and parmesan cheese are very different, not just in taste but by law.  I'm not saying deep Italian culinary traditions don't go back centuries, or at least a few centuries.  Pasta and tomatoes, after all, aren't native to Italy.  But the modern day safeguarding does seem to stem from the acute, cultural shock of WWII reconstruction and a reactionary preservation. 

Half way around the world, there's another country with similar post-WII devastation and equally ardent culinary traditions: Japan.  Soy sauce is for dipping, never pouring.  Nigiri is eaten with your hands, not chopsticks.  Never rest chopsticks in your food.  Seem familiar?  Twirl your spaghetti, don't cut it.  Cappuccino is a morning drink only.  Never pair cheese and seafood.  Japan and Italy aren't the only cultures with widely employed food rules, practices, and etiquette.  Far from it.  But they are well known as some of the most disciplined and passionate about them.  And in the context of preserving your culture and identity, particularly in times of turmoil, I can't think of many things more important to defend than your food.  Respect.  That being said, I've always enjoyed breaking the rules a bit.  Time for some flippant disregard of cheese and seafood dogma.  

Coquilles Saint-Jacques 

Coquilles Saint-Jacques Ingredients
Coquilles Saint-Jacques literally translates to the Shell of St. James, but is actually the French word for deep sea scallops.  How scallops became synonymous with the apostle is a much longer and often varying story involving pilgrimages, shipwrecks, miracles, and even food rationing.  More recently, the classic French preparation of Coquilles Saint-Jacques Gratinées, or scallop gratin, was so popular in mid-20th century America, the dish became simply known by its eponymous ingredient.  And the dish, very basically speaking, is sea scallops, covered in a rich sauce, and broiled.  

The one thing I learned about Coquilles Saint-Jacques is that nobody makes it the same.  All the recipes I read had everything from slight to considerable variations.  Some with mushrooms, some without.  
Some with breadcrumbs, some without.  Several had a béchamel base for the sauce, others just cream and egg yolk.  Most poached the scallops, a few seared them.  Maybe vermouth, maybe white wine.  Some didn't even have cheese, the whole reason I started researching the dish.  So, with a few dozen recipes reviewed and a few cooking videos viewed (Julia Child's of course), I dove right in to making my own.  Much like Italy and Japan, France is also vociferously protective of its cuisine.  I figured I'd already offended the former two, so why not the French as well with my take on a classic.

I grabbed some dayboat scallops from Hill's Quality Seafoods, a few other ingredients from a local market, and borrowed a couple of OG baking scallop shells from my mom.  With the kids watching Bluey, I quickly prepped and began.  After sauteing shallots, garlic, and mushrooms in some butter, I hit the pan with a cup of sauvignon blanc.  I threw in an ad hoc bouquet garni of thyme, tarragon, and bay leaf, then the scallops to poach.  While a pan-seared scallop is hard to beat, poaching made the most sense in order to capture all the flavorful essence scallops release when cooked.  A big focus of the dish is the creamy, scallop-rich sauce, and I didn't want to burn off any scallopy liquid gold.  O
nce partially cooked, I removed the scallops and strained the mushroom mixture.  The reserved liquid went back into the pan with some butter and cream to reduce further.  Even with some time, the sauce wasn't coming to the thickness I was hoping for, so I added in a tempered egg yolk.  Glad I had the arsenal of recipes fresh in mind.  A few minutes later, desired thickness achieved and the taste was spot on.  Next, assembly and broiling time.  I layered in the mushroom and shallot mixture into the scallop shells, added three scallops to each, and generously covered it all with the cream sauce.  Topped with some panko and a healthy portion of gruyere cheese, into the oven they went.

Coquilles Saint-Jacques a la Bari
Once beautifully golden brown, I removed them from the oven and plated with some sliced lemon and chopped tarragon.  I wish I could say I waited before digging in, or at least my burnt tongue wishes I could.  Fortunately, that was my only regret.  The Coquilles Saint-Jacques were delightful.  The scallops were perfectly firm yet tender, surrounded by a buttery, briny cream sauce with a flavor that only deepened with broiling.  The mushroom and shallot mixture brought a nice earthiness and textural contrast.  But the cheese.  I mean, come on, crispy browned cheese is the best.  You know, those little bits that spill onto the pan while you're making your quesadilla or grilled cheese.  They're everyone's favorite part.  This dish is simply enveloped in all of that, paired with rich, indulgent scallops and cream sauce.  The French know what's up when it comes to culinary decadence.  And forgive me, but I did have one more regret.  I only got a couple of bites before my son and daughter devoured everything, so I wish I had made more.  But few things make me happier than seeing my children eating adventurously.

Tacos Gobernador

For working parents with kids, Taco Tuesday is an absolute godsend.  All you really need is a pound of ground meat, tortillas, and a few fixins'.  Fifteen minutes in front of the stove and you've got an economical and 
tasty dinner for four that everyone will enjoy.  And if you're like me with picky eater toddlers, you can sneak in healthy bits like riced cauliflower with the kids being none the wiser.  I'm not ashamed to admit we've had Taco Tuesday and Taco Friday during some particularly challenging weeks.

Tacos Gobernador Ingredients
On one such Taco Tuesday, I found myself with a little extra time in the kitchen.  I poked around our fridge and freezer, and realized I had the ingredients to try my hand at a modern Mexican classic pairing of cheese and seafood: Tacos Gobernador.  Legend has that the governor-to-be of Sinaloa , Francisco Labastida, was visiting Los Arcos Restaurant in Mazatlán during his campaign in the late 80's.  The owner of the establishment had heard the future governor was a huge fan of shrimp tacos.  Hoping to impress, the chef trialed a few novel ideas and ended up serving griddled tortillas filled with shrimp, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and tons of melty cheese.  Labastida enjoyed them so much, he asked for a second serving and the name of the dish.  The owner simply replied "the governor's tacos, of course."  Since then, Tacos Gobernador have skyrocketed in popularity and can be found all across Mexico and beyond.

For my makeshift version, I started by slicing a cooking onion and Anaheim chile and chopping up garlic. I also opened a can of chipotles in adobo, thawed a bag Trader Joe's Chilean langostine tails, and shredded some Queso Oaxaca (essentially Mexican mozzarella).  Like I said, taco night is a staple in our household, so you know I'm hittin' the Latino markets often to liven it up.  I briefly pan-fried the langostine tails, being sure to remove and reserve excess liquid so they could properly sear.  Once browned, I removed the tails and added in the chile, onion, and garlic.  After those softened slightly, I returned the reserved langostine liquid, along with the blended chipotles in adobo.  Only a bit, because the chipotles pack a serious spicy punch.  I let this simmer and concentrate for a few minutes.  Lastly, to go that next level, I wanted to make crispy cheese exteriors for the tacos, kind of like a variation on quesabirria tacos.  Again, those fried cheese bites are the best, so why not cover an entire taco in that?  I placed some shredded queso in a separate pan with a flour tortilla on top, then added more cheese along with the chipotle, onion, chile sauce and some of the langostines.  In less than a minute, the exterior cheese had crisped with the interior cheese slightly melting and melding with the langostines and sauce.  I folded the Quesolangostino Gobernador franken-tacos over and plated with lime and cilantro.        

Tacos Gobernamija
Please excuse the hastily and shoddily chopped cilantro.  I had a little extra time in the kitchen, but it was still a school night and the kids were getting hungry.  The tacos were pretty legit.  Salty, crispy cheese exterior with a gooey, melty interior that popped with briny bites of seared langostines and peppers.  I'd gone a little too light on the chipotles, as the spice and flavor level hadn't come through as much as I'd hoped.  A squeeze of lime brightened them up, but they still wanted for something.  On the next go, I'll definitely add more chipotles in adobo or top them with a spicy jalapeno and cabbage slaw.  Even better, I could riff quesabirria tacos even further and serve them with a shellfish consommé for dipping.  The possibilities are endless, just like our family's Taco Tuesdays, so I'll keep y'all updated on my Tacos Gobernador 2.0.

Yellowfin Tuna Double Cheeseburgers

Tuna Cheeseburger Ingredients
From the start of this whole project, I knew I'd be referencing chef and author Josh Niland's work, yet again.  Over the past seven years, he's completely changed the landscape of seafood butchery and cookery, receiving global recognition in doing so.  He's championed nose to tail fish utilization, wasting nothing including the gills, guts, and bones.  Everything gets used in innovative ways, ranging from swim bladder chicharrones to fish eye ice cream.  He's also revolutionized how to approach fish, treating it with a versatility usually reserved for meats.  Dry-aged opah chops, swordfish prosciutto, glazed cobia hams, coral trout sausage rolls.   With his wide array of radical techniques, surely he's messed around with cheese and seafood.  As expected, one of the biggest sellers at his Fish Butchery and Charcoal Fish locations is the Yellowfin Tuna Double Cheeseburger.
I picked up some basic burger fixins' from my local marketand a yellowfin tuna steak from Hill's Quality Seafoods.  Niland's recipes called for tuna trim, sinew, even some bloodline.  His goal with the tuna cheeseburger is whole fish utilization, not wasting any off cuts.  Makes perfect sense for burger patties.  Unfortunately, a curse of being in the 'burbs is not having access to more obscure things like tuna trim.  A fishmonger I'd asked even questioned "Tuna trim?  Like, for bait?"  I'm sure some Asian markets or larger seafood retailers in Philadelphia have such offerings, but there isn't exactly a public clamoring for tuna trim in Chester County.  Lastly, I picked up some suet and thick cut bacon from Worrell's Butcher Shop.  Niland's recipes also called for rendered fish fat, something very difficult to procure, and I didn't have the bandwidth to make my own.  Beef fat would have to do.  As for the bacon, well, a cheeseburger isn't a cheeseburger unless it's a bacon cheeseburger, in my opinion.  Perhaps on the next go I'll make swordfish bacon like Fish Butchery.  And lastly, I picked up 
arguably the best bread in the Philadelphia area from Corropolese's Italian Bakery.  Great burgers may not result in great buns, but they definitely start with them.
I pulsed the tuna in a food processor until roughly ground, then combined with the beef suet and some Noble Made steak seasoning.  Say what you will about using jarred spice blends, but those coarse ground Montreal-style steak seasonings always make for a smackin' burger.  I formed the mixture into four equally sized patties and chilled them for 30 minutes to set.  Next, I got a cast iron pan ripping hot and quickly seared the patties, smashburger style.  Once one side was golden and crisp, I flipped the patties and topped them with a slice of Andrew & Everett American cheese.  The buns were lightly toasted, and I assembled the burgers next to a Claussen dill pickle spear and some Checkers oven ready seasoned fries.  Don't judge me.  The kids love the bags of frozen Checkers seasoned fries, and so do I.  

Bear Bear Double Burger
The end result was positively fantastic.  It was hands down one of the best burgers I've ever made, all proteins considered.  Salty, savory, cheesy, unctuous.  Sure, the beef fat and bacon added quite a bit, but it was notably a tuna burger first, especially with a squeeze of lemon.  And that Andrew & Everett's American cheese is much more flavorful than your traditional Kraft's single.  My wife had actually just returned from a kid's birthday party and "wasn't hungry," of course.  She's always a little wary of my seafood experiments to begin with, doubly so if already having eaten pizza and birthday cake.  However, she ended up eating an entire burger.  I'm taking that, and my daughter having a few bites, as confirmation of quality.  Tuna cheeseburgers have definitely been added to the family dinner rotation.

I really enjoyed my investigation into the precarious world of cheese and seafood pairings.  I never knew so much history, culture, and consideration was behind the prohibition.  There's sound logic behind it, as some cheese and seafood pairings are straight up gross.  Sorry Philadelphia sushi rolls.  But the logic should serve more as a loose guide rather than strict regulation, as several dishes marrying the two are phenomenal.  At the end of the day, I realized that a seafood dish is just like a dad joke.  Cheesy isn't always great, and sometimes it's even terrible.  But when thought out and well-executed, cheesy can be the absolute best.  Hopefully you'll brave some cheese and seafood pairings yourself soon. 

The SF Oyster Nerd

Saturday, September 16

Oyster & Seafood Flavored Potato Chips

I spent almost thirty minutes the other day watching my 3-year-old peacefully organize and categorize his dinosaur toys.  Green with green, blue with blue, big with big, small with small.  It was shocking, as the kid rarely sits still for more than five minutes, and that's only while eating chicken nuggets.  Once all set up, he proceeded to show them off.  With some Toddler-ese translation, I realized he was explaining all the different features and attributes of the dinosaurs.  "These have big, sharp teeth."  "This one has a long tail."  "Check this one out - wings!"  It was really more "toof! teef! big tail! wings!," but I understood.

My Oyster Tin Collection
It felt like foreshadowing, as I pictured him getting older and talking my ear off about his Fortnite cosmetics collection or Minecraft modpacks.  I vividly remember my nephew, who's now 13, doing the same with Marvel superheroes.  I also remember being obsessed with Pokémon and baseball cards myself as a kid.  And at least for me, these interests haven't stopped; they've simply been repackaged.  To this day, I maintain modest coin and oyster tin collections.  But the repackaging goes beyond the traditional digital or material collections.  I'm completely consumed by what varieties of tomatoes, peppers, and squash I might grow in my garden each year.  Learning the intricacies of the Star Wars universe has fascinated me while watching all the new Disney series.  Even exploring the subtle nuances of oyster flavor profiles could be classified as a form of collecting.    

Apparently 70% of us, as children, collect something.  Rocks, trading cards, action figures, seashells, bottle caps, dolls, postcards, state quarters, whatever.  I'm sure there's a ton of research out there as to why.  "Pre-historic peoples had their children gather and sort berries.  Modern day children collect and categorize to fill this evolutionary void."  Or "psychologically, children compartmentalize control anxiety by collecting and organizing."  Freud claimed it was a result of an "unresolved potty training conflict."  It seems there's no scientific consensus as to why we collect, and that existential debate isn't the subject of this post.  

However, according to the same studies, only 15% of us have hobby collections as adults.  This, I would argue, isn't really the case.  Rather, our desires to collect are simply rehashed or reimagined in other ways.  Few of us are filling out the collection-cliché stamp books or setting eBay alerts for Elvis memorabilia.  But I'm guessing several of you enjoy and preserve your Wüstof knife set, Christmas tree ornaments, or DeWalt power tools.  Maybe it's an exotic fish tank, PXG golf clubs, or Martha Stewart cookbooks.  Perhaps you treasure your passport stamps or your Instagram feed full of selfies from various national landmarks. You might curate your Spotify or Pandora playlists daily.  Who wasn't obsessed with the complexity of Westeros and the Game of Thrones for nearly a decade?  And among wine tastings, ice cream flavors, coffee varieties, beer tastings, spice assortments, scotch flights, cheese samplings, and hot sauces, I'm sure you enjoy at least one. 

Sure, in some 
Emersonian way it could be argued that all consumerism is a form of collection.  However, even if seemingly a stretch to classify as such, the interests above are much more akin to the classical view of collecting than we'd like to believe.  They're consumption or accumulation of variety within specific categories.  Travel, food, music, fiction.  They are really just repackaged, adult-approved versions of your childhood comic book or stuffed animal collections.  You may not be a hoarder, but you're most certainly a collector in one way or another.

My latest iteration of collecting manifested itself in seafood flavored snacks, so maybe only semi-adult-approved in this instance.  As you can see from the picture, it teetered on hoarding pretty quickly.  20 odd bags of chips from 12 different online purveyors.  As I'll explain later, even these 20 were sourced with strict parameters and notable exclusions.  I've got two young kids, a mortgage, car payments, college savings accounts, phone bills.  Spending an exorbitant amount on shipping for international treats didn't quite agree with the budget, or the wife.  A $250 credit card charge from UmamiCart and potatoes wouldn't be the only thing getting sliced as a result of this blog post.  Just kidding.  No SF Oyster Nerds were ever in harm's way.  Anyway, with crispy-fried and oceanic-laden delights in my sights, I jumped right into the deep end of seafood flavored potato chips. 

I started in the States, and much to my expectation and chagrin, there wasn't a whole lot.  The only widely available offerings were crab spiced chips.  Utz Crab ChipsRoute 11 Chesapeake Crab.  Herrs Old Bay.  Simply put, we don't eat many seafood flavored snacks in the U.S.  Yes, the keto-craze has made products like salmon skin chipstuna jerky, and seaweed snacks a bit more popular, but certainly not mainstays or staples.  Even Route 11 sees it best to overtly advertise "Contains No Seafood" on their chips.  Cape Cod Kettle Chips made a New England Bisque flavor that I couldn't track down, and Lay's Tastes of America series had a New England Lobster Roll flavor I'd tried back in 2018.  Beyond that, there wasn't much.  If I'm missing any major domestic ones, please share.  This research, primarily from taquitos.net, did open up the world of Lay's international variations.  Lay's takes potato chip flavor diversity pretty seriously.  They're a driving force in the industry with a crazy-awesome 300+ flavors globally, mostly throughout Asia.  It is a shame that seafood-seasoned chips get the cold shoulder domestically.  I guess it's based off market research on American palates and preferences, or we're just too busy making everything Flamin' Hot.  Seriously, we need to chill on that, all pun intended.    

Before I opened the Pandora's box of Asian Lay's seafood flavors, I had to look into other snacks available internationally, specifically Europe.  At this point, I really started boiling down my search to just potato chips, as there were quite a few dried fish snacks about, mostly from the Nordic countries.  Maybe it was availability, or maybe it was a language barrier in my research, but I ended up mostly finding British Isle's chips, or crisps, rather.  Walkers, the Lay's-owned UK subsidiary, made a Fish & Chips version that I couldn't source.  I was able to procure their Supreme Prawn Cocktail flavored chip.  Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly my cup of tea.  They tasted more like ketchup chips with hints of the crispy bits from shrimp tempura.  Then I stumbled across quite a few oyster flavored chips.  Dublin based Keogh's made a collaborative, limited release Guinness & Oyster flavored crisp in 2022 that's sadly no longer available.  Yorkshire Crisps makes an Oyster, Chili & Lemon version, but they don't ship to the U.S.  Luckily, I found Kent Crisps' Oyster & Vinegar for delivery via Goodwood's British Market.  More on these in a bit.  

Last but far from least, I went down the real rabbit hole: Asian seafood snacks.  My potato chips-only approach was tripled-stamped and locked-in here.  The sheer volume of tapioca starch based seafood snacks available, just varieties of shrimp chips alone, was mind blowing.  This doesn't even account for all the other dried, jerkied, or candied ones out there.  And with just potato-based snacks, the amount was still overwhelming.  I ended up buying the bulk from Yami for convenience purposes, with some key finds peppered in that had to be sourced elsewhere.  As expected, the majority ended up being Lay's, given their hegemonic flavor empire.  A lot of these seem to be marketed throughout all of East Asia and Oceania, so I found it best to categorize by where they're produced.  Disclaimer that this is by no means an exhaustive list of what's out there.  I tried to get as wide a swathe as possible based on what was available for shipment to the U.S.

Going through the entire clip in comprehensive detail would be fun, but undoubtedly overkill.  My blog posts are too long as is.  It would be a disservice not to mention a notable few, though.  Lay's Fried Crab was particularly interesting.  It tasted distinctly like crab roe or crab tomalley, as opposed to crab meat with seasoning.  The Spicy Crayfish was the same in tasting just like the juices from a crawfish head.  Both delicious, but definitely not for the faint of seafood-flavored heart.  As for the more broadly or Western-palate appealing, the Roasted Fish and Hot Chili Squid were the best.  They both surprised me with more of a chili, ginger & garlic sauce taste and subtle charred fish and fried squid flavors underneath.  The Takoyaki chips were delightful as well, tasting exactly like the savory-sweet teriyaki-esque sauce that frequently tops the iconic, namesake octopus donut holes.  

I needed to reign all this in somehow.  Hell, someone could write a blog post on the art and design of the chips' packaging alone.  Several were quite aesthetically pleasing.  In figuring out how to narrow, I ended up going back to my roots.  This is, after all, an oyster blog, so I decided to focus on the oyster flavors I'd obtained.  They provided a touch point on a few different countries and brands while compartmentalizing the adventure to a manageable niche of seafood flavored potato chips.  Sadly, the one site I located the Taiwanese Lay's Oyster Vermicelli had it listed as unavailable at the time.  And of course, as I write this, it's now available.  Murphy's law felt oddly appropriate when dealing with potatoes.  Four products did seem enough to do the project justice, though.    

Japan - Maruichi Shoten Oyster Marugoto Senbei: Technically potato "crackers" as opposed to the classic potato chip.  Prized Maruaka potatoes are made into a dough, hand-rolled and pressed with a whole oyster inside, then cooked.  The aroma and flavor was overbearingly low-tide.  The potato cracker dough had a pleasant sweet-salinity to it, but the gaminess of the dried oyster was a bit much.  I'm sure the oysters were high quality as they're harvested near Kumamoto Prefecture, but this preparation was a little too intense for my taste.  

United Kingdom - Kent Crisps Oyster & Vinegar: More of a kettle chip as thicker, heartier, and with pleasing, bubbly air pockets.  In terms of texture and mouth feel, these were the best chips.  However, the reported inspiration of enjoying Whistable oysters on the Kentish seaside fell short.  They honestly just tasted like a sea salt and vinegar variation with a hint of sweetness.  The ingredients told the tale as not a single seafood essence, extract, or product was listed.  Not surprising they didn't taste of oysters.  

Taiwan - Hwa Yuan Oyster Omelette
: Tightly ridged and much lighter and softer than a traditional potato chip, like Ruffles.  I've never had a true Taiwanese oyster omelette, but there were definite notes of sea brine and egg yolk.  The predominant flavors were much more clove, allspice, onion powder, and fish sauce.  A great bag of chips I'd happily eat again, but by no means did they scream "oysters."  
China - Lay's Roasted Garlic Oyster:  Identical to the Lay's Original potato chip in texture and crunch, right down to that all-too-familiar greasiness they leave on your finger tips.  Even so, this chip won hands down in delivering that oyster taste.  They were strongly garlic forward, but the roasted oyster flavor hit me wave after wave, and even remained after I finished the whole bag.  Pure potato chip wizardry.  Also, perhaps I'm just a cheap date when it comes to potato chips, but Lay's are always pretty damn tasty.

With four oyster flavored potato chip varieties under my belt, I hope you were able to anticipate where this was heading.  I had to make my own oyster flavored potato chip.  During the entire tasting process, the ideas came flooding in.  Hangtown fry.  Oysters Rockefeller.  Grilled oysters with chorizo butter.  Oyster pan roast or stew.  All tried and true taste combinations.  However, my absolute favorite way to eat oysters has always been raw with a dash of malt vinegar mignonette.  It's damn near impossible to replicate that bright and beautiful sea spray pop that fresh, raw oysters deliver.  Nothing can match that, not even some self-reported quality raw bars, in my experience.  But if I focused on the malt vinegar, shallots, and pepper from the mignonette with hints of the oyster's salinity and minerality, I might just come close.

First, I picked up the ingredients to traditional raw oysters with malt vinegar mignonette: two dozen Wellfleet oysters from Main Line Seafood and Holland House Malt Vinegar, shallots, and peppercorns from a local grocer.  Next, I broke out my Cosori Food Dehydrator, an expensive impulse buy from years ago that I now had a reason to use.  To concentrate all these flavors into potato chip seasoning, I had a simple plan of dehydrating them into powders.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Most commercial potato chips have a slew of additives for preservation, artificial flavoring, coloring, anti-caking, etc.  Maltodextrin, citric acid, potassium chloride, magnesium sulphate, and so on.  I'm not knocking those from some all-natural, granola-proselytizing, Portlandia perspective.  I just don't know how they work or how to use them.  Science is hard.  So, after a little ad-hoc research, I threw a bunch of stuff in the dehydrator, switched it to 145°, and waited.  The vinegar I actually had to cook down with some baking soda first as pure vinegar dissolves completely and doesn't crystalize.  But the oysters were shucked, placed in their liquor, and dehydrated, and the shallots were sliced thin, seasoned with some pepper, and treated the same. 

The shallots took 24 hours to become dried and workable into a powder.  The oysters took a little less than 48 hours.  The malt vinegar, on the other hand, took five full days until completely crystalized.  Wrong temperature, wrong ratio, wrong reduction time.  I'm not quite sure, but it eventually worked.  Side note - when dehydrating shallots, oysters, and malt vinegar at home, do so in the garage or outside.  The Mrs. wasn't too pleased with the smell that lingered around our house for a few days, and I can't say I blame her.  It definitely stung the nostrils.  Either way, each went into the blender for powderization and I was on to mixing the perfect seasoning for my chips. 

It took a couple of trials mixing all three powders in different ratios with a little salt.  Dried oyster powder is intense, to say the least.  The first few smelled and tasted like tide pools at the Jersey shore on a 95
° day.  Just a little bit of oyster powder goes a very long way.  I even toasted what I thought was my final mixture to replicate it hitting hot potato chips fresh out the fryer.  The oyster powder's aroma bloomed so strongly that I had to walk it back even more and add in some fresh lemon zest.  One more toast-test and taste and I was happy with where I'd landed. 

At last, it was spud-fryin' time.  He's turned into a bit of an online troll and mitch as of late, pretentiously picking comment fights for no real reason, so I've become less and less of a fan.  However, I can't deny that Kenji's approaches always deliver, and his potoato chip logic seemed pretty spot on.  I thinly sliced two pounds of russet potatoes and soaked, rinsed, and repeated in cold water a few times.  Next, I par-boiled the chips with a touch of vinegar and dried them.  Finally, in they went to a 325° peanut oil bubble bath.  It took four batches at about 15 minutes per batch, and each batch that came out immediately got a healthy dose of the oysters with malt vinegar mignonette spice blend.

Uncle G's Oysters & Malt Vinegar Mignonette Chips
As anticipated, the spice mixture instantly bloomed when hitting the hot oil soaked chips and aromatized the whole kitchen.  The deep golden brown crisp and crunch of the chips was exactly what I'd hoped for.  Like I said, Kenji's recipes never disappoint.  As for the smell and taste, it was noticeably more oyster forward to the nose than when I'd lightly toasted the seasoning.  Glad I'd walked the ratio back.  The first bite was a magnficent mix of caramalized vinegar and peppery shallot cut with bright lemon notes and salty-sweet oyster undertones.  The oyster taste was there, but not nearly as prominent on the palate as it was on the nose.  I gave my neighbor a few to try and he loved them.  Proof of concept, check.  No, the chips didn't transport either of us straight to a seat at the raw bar.  But pair them with a cold glass of champagne and some imagination, and you might come close.    

Brand marketers, please hit me up.  I'm keen on some stylish packaging and spreading the word about my debut line of Oyster & Malt Vinegar Mignonette Chips.  Investors, based on labor and ingredient costs, I'm pretty sure we could make a modest profit selling 2 oz. bags at $59.99 each.  Quite the steal, no?  All jokes aside, my collection-driven desire to experience as many varieties of seafood flavored potato chips as possible was a whirlwind.  I braved some intense flavors, discovered some hidden gems, and learned a ton about the global diversity of snack foods.  Whenever you see an obscure, or even intimidating potato chip flavor, please don't hesitate to at least give it try.  You never know what interest it might pique or where it might take you next.

The SF Oyster Nerd   

Sunday, June 11

A Fish Out of "Wudder" - Philadelphia Retail Seafood

In getting to know the Philadelphia seafood scene, I've admittedly been a bit of a fish out of water. "Wooder" or "wudder" might be more appropriate, for those of you familiar with the local dialect.  Living a solid 45 minutes outside of the city, and having two fingerlings of my own, has made it challenging to dissect the true culinary bounty of Philadelphia.  A real shame as there are so many oceanic offeringsdeep-sea delights, and even a nautically-focused renaissance of sorts.  Don't worry, Father's Day is quickly approaching.  New barbecue set or whiskey stones, no thanks.  Reservations at Kensington Quarters or Vernick Fish, yes please.

Five course fish tasting at Elwood
I was fortunate enough to attend a luncheon at Elwood in Fishtown recently with a lecture on Philadelphia's historic seafood culture by Dr. Teagan Schweitzer.  It included an impressive five course fish tasting: sturgeon head cheese, potato ramp soup with shad, smoked catfish and waffles, sturgeon with asparagus and spaetzle, and strawberry panna cotta that was thickened with sturgeon gelatin.  Each course was paired with a heaping side of history on the respective fish and its impact on 18th through early 20th century Philadelphia.  For those of you who know me, you immediately understand this was my happy place.  Well executed fish cookery matched with discussions of historic, local foodways.  Better than sex?  Not quite, but close.  Every fish, every topic, every dish was deserving of its own extensive exploration and blog post.  Hell, Dr. Teagan wrote her disseration on many of the subjects and even a scholarly article on catfish alone.  I certainly couldn't do them any justice with my armchair seafood historian approach.  That being said, I definitely want to dig deeper into catfish and waffles; it was basically the 19th century equivalent of the modern day Philly cheesesteak. 

The whole conversation on Philadelphia's aquatic abundance of past made me think about the city's current seafood state.  Where does the average Philadelphian go to get fresh fish?  Sure, there are dozens of seafood eateries to try.  All in due time.  But where's the best place to get a pound of swordfish, a dozen oysters, a bushel of blue crabs, or even some once highly prized shad roe?  It's most definitely not Whole Foods or Acme.  So, I decided to call in sick on a beautiful, Spring Friday and head East on I-76, diving right into the depths of Philadelphia's retail seafood scene. 

Quick disclaimer: this is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few I was able to profile.  There are several other great places I've omitted, such as John Yi's in Reading Terminal or Hill's Seafood in the western suburbs, and specialty outfits like Phil's Live Crabs or Philadelphia Caviar Co.  There are also many others I look forward to checking out like Small World Seafood or Bywood.  If you've got suggestions, please do share.  I'm always fishing for new spots.   

The Classic - Anastasi Seafood

Anastasi Street View from 9th St. 
Where better to start than the heart and soul of the city's culinary history, the Italian Market in South Philadelphia.  Dating back to the 1880's, the Italian market has been a mainstay for shoppers seeking the city's best produce, meat, cheese, pastries, fish, and so on.  It certainly showcases the titular cuisine.  However, it's more broadly representative of a diverse immigrant food culture, housing some of the best Latino markets, Asian grocers, and everything in between.  Cheesesteaks, chorizo, chocolates, ceviches, carrot cake, cannoli, coconuts, caramels, curries, craft beers.  If you're keen, chances are the Italian Market's got it.  And the epitome of the Italian Market's fish peddler tradition sits at 9th and Washington in Anastasi Seafood.

Anastasi's various selections
A fourth-generation, family-owned establishment opened by Sicilian immigrants over 100 years ago, Anastasi has had a few different locations along the 9th Street corridor.  Sadly, I couldn't revisit the brilliance I'd experienced as a kid at their full service restaurant and market location in the late 90s.  It closed recently and was demolished to make way for some new restaurants and adult dorms.  The community has had mixed reactions to the project, though it will objectively be a financial boon to the neighborhood.  I just hope they can gracefully maintain the cutty character that defines the Italian Market.  Fortunately, Anastasi relocated right across the street with retail operations and a full kitchen.  While it no longer boasts the full service dine-in option, their kitchen is still cranking out high caliber dishes for carry-out and delivery platforms.  Tuna antipasto, fried calamari, pescatore pasta, shrimp scampi.  It's got a definite Italian-American theme mixed with some familiar Continental staples like crabcakes and broiled seafood platters.  The fresh fish market has the basics adequately covered, and then some.  Whatever your likely seafood need, Anastasi can deliver, literally.  Most endearing was the street-side shellfish selection.  Buckets of blue crabs, bivalves, crayfish, and lobsters, all right there on the sidewalk for your perusing and choosing.  It's quite charming in an almost Dickensian way; how I imagine the Italian Market was over a century ago.

Clams Casino from Anastasi Seafood
The staff was incredibly pleasant and accommodating.  I spoke with Mia, a fifth-generation Anastasi, for well over half an hour, discussing the establishment's history, recent transition, and things to come.  She was more than welcoming of all my inquiries, ranging from when fresh sardines would be available to the ingredients of their Oysters Rockefeller.  She even mentioned a special dinner they'd be hosting this Summer, appropriately named "Dinner with the Fishes."  I'll be keeping an eye on their 'gram for updates.  As they've been so famed for their kitchen prepared items, I had to go with something take-and-bake.  Clams casino seemed like a good litmus test, and it certainly delivered.  Sweet bell peppers, ample amounts of bacon, and well-seasoned breadcrumbs all mixed with salty, toothsome bites of clam meat.  A spot on classic dish from a classic place.  The whole experience reminded me of how a house is just a house, and it takes a family to make it a home.  Anastasi's new location is just a seafood shop, but the history, staff, and quality continue to make it the Italian Market institution it's always been.

The Comprehensive
 - Samuels & Son Seafood Company / Giuseppe's Market / Ippolito's

Entrance to the market
First and foremost, Samuels & Son Seafood Co. is a wholesaler.  It's located on South Lawrence St. in what's best described as the shipping/industrial neighborhood of Southeast Philadeldiphia, along with several other seafood distributors.  Samuels primarily caters to local and national restaurants, retail purveryors, and larger scale seafood operations.  However, cozily tucked in the shadows of Lincoln Financial Field, between all the 18-wheelers and expansive warehouses, sits Giuseppe's Market, Samuels' retail outlet.  Samuels' foundation was actually in retail seafood, with Giuseppe Ippolito opening Ippolito's Seafood near the Italian Market in 1929.  This humble shop eventually grew into the Samuels' seafood empire.  So, when Ippolito's closed its storefront in 2018, Samuels shifted retail operations to the warehouse under the name Giuseppe's Market.  And oddly enough, as you can tell by the lead-in, the establishment still goes by all three names.  A bit of brand confusion, but hey, they're fishmongers, not marketing experts.  When I asked one of the staff about the naming conventions, he said "oh, ya know, it's like the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit - different, but also the same."  You've got to love the Italian and Irish Catholic parlance of Philadelphia.

Giusseppe's various fresh selections
The main thing you notice when stepping into Giuseppe's is that it's truly a seafood warehouse/wholesaler first, and seafood market second.  Giant tubs of iced whole fish and fully-PPEd staff are constantly scurrying through factory, dual-swinging doors.  That strong aroma of processing seafood muted by industrial sanitizers lingers.  And there always seems to be three or four employees taking their five for smoke break just outside the shipment bay.  Let me be clear that these are all positive indicators of being closer to the source on the supply chain, which is always a good thing when it comes to seafood.  But what really hits you with Giussepe's is the sheer size and variety of their selection.  Bluefish, salmon, swordfish, tuna, red snapper, branzino, Chilean sea bass, halibut, fluke, hake, cod.  Blue crabs, snow crabs, stone crabs, king crabs, dungeness crabs.  Live scallops, snails, cockles, mussels, clams, oysters.  A total of twelve different types of lobster tails based on size and region.  Every cephalopod you could possibly imagine.  Most impressive were the unconventional or often difficult to find marine delicacies they casually had on hand.  Whole langostines, pacu ribs, periwinkles, kampachi collars, Arctic surf clams, even the elusive shad roe.  And what they didn't have fresh or frozen, they could most certainly source with a simple inquiry.

Brazilian and Maine Lobster Tails
Lobster Tikka Masala w/ Cilantro Rice and Spinach

With the near anxiety-inducing selection, I scrambled and ended up with two each of Maine and Brazilian lobster tails.  Believe me, I really wanted to bring home some fish ribs or collars, even some squid ink or monkfish liver.  However, family dinner plans were still pending and I know those wouldn't have been well-received.  The wife and kids both love lobster, and love tikka masala.  A combination of the two felt unorthodox enough to appease my obscurity-seeking interests Samuels had spawned, while still being agreeable for the whole family.  I can assure you the next time I'm looking for those less common cuts of fish, Samuels will be the first place I check.  It's definitely one of the most comprehensive seafood retailers I've ever encountered.    

The Conscientious - Fishtown Seafood

Storefront of Fishtown Seafood
Fishtown Seafood
 was opened 
by Bryan Szeliga in January 2022, right in the heart of, you guessed it, Fishtown.  He parlayed his popular 2021 seafood delivery service into a brick and mortar, and has been the talk of the 'hood ever since, putting the fish back in Fishtown.  It's a modest yet chic establishment, very attuned to a new generation of at-home seafood consumers.  That's not to say it's exclusive, but it's certainly hipper than more traditional seafood outfits.  You can tell by its social media presence alone, particularly when compared to something like Samuels' old school newsletter.  To be competitive, small businesses need to differentiate themselves, providing novel or niche products and experiences.  Fishtown Seafood does exactly that in some of the best ways, well beyond its debonair storefront.

Fishtown Seafood's various selections
First, you won't find the conventional, store-length deli cases packed with ice and fish fillets at Fishtown.  Bryan's focus is reinventing the retail seafood industry with a culinary conservationist approach, from catch to supply chain to consumer.  This translates to superfrozen seafood, something historically only available to sushi restaurants and wholesalers.  A lot of "fresh" fish from markets is often a week or more out of the water by the time we eat it, frequently longer.  It's also usually packed in melting ice, and few things decompose fish more quickly than fresh water.  You may be familiar with this concept from the sukibiki and dry-aged fish trend, but that's for a whole other blog post.  The majority of seafood Fishtown sources is immediately superfrozen after harvest, and kept well below -70° F to ensure peak quality, texture, and freshness.  This also allows Fishtown to source conscientiously, only bringing in human rights observant, sustainably caught, chemical free, and responsibly transported seafood.  Yes, something as simple as your shrimp scampi recipe can impact others' livelihoods, ecosystem welfare, your health, and every level of our environment.  There's a lot of disinformation and greenwashing (cough, Whole Foods, cough) when it comes to seafood, and Fishtown provides amazing product while cutting through all the bullshit.

Fishtown Seafood Best Practices Cards
Second, Fishtown doesn't just sell seafood, but offers a unique and educational seafood experience.  This manifests in several ways, from regularly partnering with other small businesses to hosting weekly classes on knife sharpening or sustainable fisheries.  They carry a wide variety of tinned seafoods, plant-based seafoods, dried seafoods, seaweeds, sauces, and seasonings, all meticulously and resolutely selected.  My favorite part, however, is the oysters.  Fishtown consistently carries anywhere from twelve to eighteen different varieties of oysters, something almost unheard of in the retail seafood world.  I spoke with Bryan for a bit on my visit, and most interesting was how Fishtown serendipitously became one of the premier oyster retailers in the city.  He said when they opened, they needed a fresh but less-perishable product to fill two giant refrigerated coolers leftover from the previous owners.  Obviously, superfrozen fish wouldn't work, so "shell-stable" bivalves came to mind.  And targeting that novel or niche small business experience, Fishtown dove head first into the world of nuanced oyster flavors and textures.  Their selection, and infatuation, quickly grew.  Traditionally, trying just six different varieties of oysters would cost you $30-$40 + tip at a local raw bar.  With their $1 oyster deal every Friday, Fishtown has essentially democratized the costly raw bar oyster tasting experience, albeit with a little do-it-yourself shucking.  But hey, they've got classes for that too.   

Fishtown Seafood Medley
Prosciutto Wrapped Scallops
 I must admit, having worked in and out of the seafood industry for almost 20 years, frozen fish has always given me pause.  Sure, I've had some very good ones on occasion, but my retail experience with it has largely been less than positive.  Fishtown changed that.  I purchased a combo fish box of New Zealand raised king salmon, wild-caught Peruvian mahi-mahi, wild Mexican U15 shrimp, and Maine sea scallops, all superfrozen.  I also grabbed a package of skipjack tuna (katsuo) and a tin of Limfjord Cockles.  Suffices to say I was picking up what Fishtown Seafood was putting down.  I wanted it all.  I thawed the scallops recently for a family BBQ, wrapped them in prosciutto, grilled them, and served with a side of horseradish thyme cream sauce.  Honestly, they were much better than many retail dayboat scallops I've had.  The mahi-mahi and cockles were amazing too, and I fully expect the rest of my purchases to be the same.  Fishtown Seafood is a true inspiration, and should be a model for anyone opening a seafood outlet.  It's one of the best, most conscientious establishments I've ever come across, and is genuinely the future of the industry, especially with all those 'sters.

The Community Driven - Fishadelphia 

I'll be transparent right from the start, Fishadelphia holds a special place in my heart.  The previous establishments were all either brand new to me, or I'd had a fleeting familiarity with them from my childhood, decades ago.  However, I have been following Fishadelphia all the way from San Francisco since its inception back in 2018.  I used a similar vendor, The Seaforager, in the Bay Area, and was ecstatic to the see same thing happening in Philadelphia.  So when we decided to move to the area in the Summer of 2021, at the very top of my to-do list was trying out Fishadelphia.

Fishadelphia pick up stall - source - Hakai Magazine 
For starters, Fishadelphia isn't a brick and mortar like the other establishments.  You can't simply walk into their shop on a casual Tuesday afternoon and step out with two dozen little neck clams or a pound of bluefish.  It's a subscription program known as a community supported fishery (CSF).  Much like community supported agriculture memberships (CSAs), you sign up for a specific time period, pay a flat rate, and pick up a fresh catch at a Fishadelphia stall or cooler every two weeks.  Same as CSAs where you get a mix of random seasonal produce, your fish is chosen for you and you don't know what it is until the day of.  Dogfish, scallops, oysters, skate wings, fluke flounder, tilefish.  You get whatever's in season and being raised or landed by South Jersey aquaculturists and fishers.  It's a brilliant way of connecting local seafood harvesters directly with local seafood consumers.  Not only does this support small fisheries committed to ethical and responsible practices, it ensures you're getting the freshest product possible.  Remember how a lot of market fish is often over a week out of the water before we eat it?  Not Fishadelphia's shares.  Staff members pick up the product straight from the docks, process it, and have it in your hands no more than 24 to 48 hours later, depending on how much butchery or packaging is required.  Every share I've received has been absolutely impeccable.  Also, supporting Fishadelphia is supporting our aquatic ecosystems by eating a variety of sustainable sea life.  No, you won't get your beloved center cut salmon fillet.  But who wants to eat that over and over again anyway?  To protect our oceans while continuing to enjoy seafood, we must choose from a broader diversity of fisheries, eating smaller and lower on the food chain.  Who knows, you might just find whole roasted porgy is actually tastier than IQF tortilla crusted tilapia...trust me, it is. 

Fishadelphia Scallops - source - Facebook
If you're not sold just yet, Fishadelphia's merit goes well beyond providing top-notch, sustainable seafood.  As their website says, "we bring fresh, local seafood to Philadelphia's diverse communities."  However, as is the case with most great things, actions are much louder than words, and Fishadelphia's undertakings speak volumes.  First, they offer a tiered pricing structure.  This means people from all economic backgrounds can partake by signing up for subsidized or even free memberships.  Healthy, fresh seafood shouldn't just be available to the rich, and Fishadelphia acts on this food justice principle.  Conversely, members who are financially able can sign up at "supporter" or "sustainer" rates, contributing to those aforementioned subsidizations and much more.  Fishadelphia prioritizes robust youth education projects, running after school programs on business and marine ecology for high school students in South and North Philly.  Staff and producers all receive living wages and fair compensation.  They regularly organize educational field trips to local providers, docks, and farms and participate in local events.  Their outreach and messaging is acutely focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.  They champion local businesses, organizations, and initiatives, amplifying traditionally quieter voices.  The only thing that may surpass the quality of their seafood is the quality of their mission. 

Oyster Bánh Mì Po' Boy - a.k.a Oyster Bánh Boí
Scallop Wrapped Bacon

I've picked up dozens of shares of Fishadelphia product over the last two years, and as noted, each time the fish or shellfish has been incredible.  It's hard to pick a favorite from the countless dishes we've created.  One of the most memorable was a bánh mì and oyster po' boy mashup, what we affectionately named an oyster bánh boí.  Another was the Kris Kross-esque scallop wrapped bacon.  Maybe I'm just a nerd, but whimsical seafood dishes always make me smile.  Trust me, though, it's on brand when using Fishadelphia product, as they've got more dad jokes than you can shake a fishing rod at.  They always give me a chuckle when I'm scrolling through Instagram.  I can't think of many businesses I'm happier to patron for so many reasons.  Sure, Fishadelphia could be considered just a seafood provider on paper, but in practice, they're truly a pillar of the community.

My foray into the world of Philadelphia retail seafood was an overwhelming joy.  I met some wonderful people, tasted some great food, and was introduced to some phenomenal products.  I look forward to exploring and discovering more.  More importantly, I look forward to supporting these business again and again, and becoming a part of the Philadelphia seafood community.  I hope you have the chance to do so as well.  

The SF Oyster Nerd