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Here's Looking At You, Squid.

What a whirlwind of a start to the year!  Its funny how quick the hustle and bustle of the 8-12 hour work day can negate a three day trip up in the mountains where the serenity of the panoramic vista views line you on both sides, while you are laying in steaming shallow pool in a river of hot springs, with a temperature of -15 degrees outside that's literally freezing the little hairs in your nose, all while being taunted by the prettiest snow covered 14'ers that you've ever seen. But as you have to work first in order to play hard, here we are.  (My father always told me that if it was fun, it wouldn't be called "work" - LOL, jokes on you dad!) Don't worry - we made our reservations to go back for next New Years while we were there.  Only 348 more days to go... but its not like I have a countdown clock on my desktop or anything.

Now, on to business.  I'm off today (Thursday) and am so excited to catch up on some work and then have a delicious dinner ready for Cortney when she gets home.  I think I've only cooked at home once or twice so far this year, so I'm bursting at the seams to throw on an apron and break out the knives!  I asked Cortney before she left today if fish sounded good, and she said absolutely (which works out for all parties involved because that's what I am getting anyway).  So off to run some errands and stop by a local big box chain grocery store to procure some tasty tidbits for tonight's feast!  It was 11:00 in the morning and I was elated as the fish was probably just put out for the day, and there wouldn't be a line yet - so I'd have the pick of the litter.  This was not the case.  What I saw was so frightening and discouraging, that as I walked away in dismay, I had to amend my whole plans for dinner. The worst part of it is, as we are in a land locked state, our local fishmongers should be making a solid extra effort to ensure that our seafood here looks as great and fresh as it does on the either of the coasts.  This is 2019 in America.  No one lives where they were born anymore.. we're a country of transients. Heck, there's 5 military bases in this town alone.  If you stood on a cloud above Colorado Springs and looked down on the city, there's so many people coming and going that it probably looks like a beehive some kid just whacked with a stick.  It really makes me upset to see the quality of the fish that is being peddled on us here.  The fish I saw today was brown and sully, with curled tail edges and sunken, cloudy eyes, and a sliminess on the flesh of a few of the fish that reflected in a way that I could almost see my reflection in. As hard-working, money paying consumers, this tomfoolery should not stand, and most importantly - you can get very sick from old fish! But the stark reality is that this IS a land-locked state, and because of that, we, the dollar bill wielding customer suffer.  Or maybe those big box grocery chains think we don't notice or know any better, or just plain don't care... I don't have the answer for that.  So, for those of you out there that have ever wondered about fish: what to look for when purchasing, what the different terms mean, the market forms available for general grocery chain store supply, the differences in shellfish, etc... this one is for YOU!  A couple of weeks ago, Cortney put together a Spice Guide & Index in a blog over on the Gather blog site that is a work in progress, but is being continually updated as new things get thrown into our cooking class repertoire - this is going to follow along the same lines, just about fish and shellfish, and is meant to be another addition in the guide of resources that we are working hard to build over the coming year, for our Gather Food Studio community.

I highly recommend a restroom break right about now, this is about to get long.

Fish & Shellfish: A Buyer's Guide -

There are over 30,000 species of fish that inhabit oceans or freshwater. Learning how to purchase fish - what to look for, and those telltale signs that will distinguish great from grim is paramount to preparing, serving, and consuming fish or shellfish at its highest quality.

Nutritional Breakdown of a fish –

Fish, like other meats, are composed of protein, fat, water, vitamins and minerals. Fish and shellfish are naturally low in calories. Most fish are naturally very lean and benefit from cooking process which are low in or void of fat.

The fat content of fish and shellfish range from .5%-20%. Fish that are low in fat include:

  • Cod
  • Flounder
  • Halibut
  • Snapper
  • Sole
Fish that have higher fat contents include: (fish that have higher fat contents are poor for stock making)

  • Anchovies
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
Just because a fish has a higher fat content doesn’t mean it is less nutritious. Fish with higher fat contents are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids are great for the body because they help in the prevention of heart disease and are great boosters for your immune system.

Inspection & Grading –

The FDA requires that all fish and shellfish producers adhere to the strict HACCP process for food safety. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points. Inspection of fish and shellfish is voluntary. There is a fee for service inspection program run through the USDC (department of commerce) and there are specific inspection marks that designate the type of inspection performed.

  • The US Grade A mark for fish and shellfish means all products have been processed under federal inspection in an approved facility. The stamp also means that the products produced have been done so to meet the highest standards for quality. Grade A fish and shellfish is of the best quality, texture, flavor, and odor. Grade B & C refer to quality that is only fair. Fish and shellfish that have been graded below a B are considered substandard.
There are also other stamps to consider when purchasing fish or shellfish.
  • The PUFI stamp means that the products have been inspected and are from a facility certified to be safe.
  • The Lot Inspection Mark indicates that the fish or shellfish have been officially sampled and inspected and have met all approved criteria for purchase.
  • The Retail Mark for fish and shellfish means that retail establishments use products from USDC approved facilities and ensures that the facility adheres to the proper procedures for handling and sanitation of fishery products.
  • The USDC HACCP Mark for fish and shellfish can be used in conjunction with any other mark and just identifies that the fish or shellfish produced were done so in a HACCP program approved facility.
The structure of a Fish: Round Vs. Flat
  • Round fish swim upright. A round fish has 1 eye on each side of its head, and its body can be round, or oval. The backbone lies along the upper edge of the fish’s body. Salmon and Trout are examples of round fish.
  • Flat Fish swim flat, and spend most of their time on the ocean floor. The backbone of a flat fish runs horizontally through the center of the body, and its eyes are located next to each other on the top of the heat. Halibut and Flounder are examples of flat fish.

When selecting fish, there are 3 important things to consider. The smell, the feel, and the appearance.

  1. Smell – the odor of the fish should be that of the ocean or maybe reminiscent of seaweed. The fish or shellfish should never smell fishy. The older a fish or shellfish gets, the more the odor will intensify.
  2. Feel – Top quality fish will feel firm to the touch. The fish should spring back when touched, and there shouldn’t be any indication of an indention from your finger. Check that the scales are still firmly attached. The fish should feel fresh, older fish will feel slimy.
  3. Appearance – Examine the fish thoroughly before purchase. The eyes should be very clear and not cloudy. The gills should be bright red. Older fish will have gills that are pink. In very old fish, the gills will start to turn brown. When bent, the flesh should not separate – that is a sign that the meat has begun the breaking down process.


Popular Varieties of Saltwater and Farm-Raised Fish

  • Anchovy - Tiny, round, firm texture
  • Catfish - Firm texture, mild flavor, muddy
  • Cod - Lean, firm texture; mild flavor
  • Flounder - Lean, fine texture, delicate (FLAT)
  • Grouper - Very lean; moderately firm texture, tough skin that has a strong flavor
  • Halibut - Firm flesh, mild flavor (FLAT)
  • Mackerel - Oily and full flavored
  • Mahi Mahi - Firm, flavorful flesh
  • Monkfish - “poor mans lobster”, flake free with a texture similar to lobster, only the tail is edible
  • Salmon - Lives in the ocean but returns to freshwater to spawn, light pink-orange pink, oily – lean depending on the species
  • Snapper - Lean fish with a soft texture, good fish to use carcasses for stock
  • Sole - Lean, firm flesh, delicate flavor (FLAT)
  • Swordfish - Grows up to 15 feet, firm texture, slightly pink flesh
  • Tilapia - Mild flavor, firm texture
  • Trout - White–orange-pink flesh, delicate, moderate fat content, very bony, small bones
  • Tuna - Part of the mackerel family, deep pink to dark red, mild flavor, very meaty

There are many Market Forms for Fresh Fish. When purchasing fish, take into consideration what you can do with a fish in the form that it is in. For example, Whole fish are great broken all the way down and with the carcasses eventually used for stock. But if you are cooking for multiple guests, maybe it is easier and more cost and time effective to purchase fish that has been slightly more processed.

  • Whole – the whole fish as it comes out of the water. Fish is completely intact – containing organs. Fish in this form have the shortest shelf life.
  • Drawn – refers to fish whose belly has been cut open and the internal organs are removed. A drawn fish has the longest shelf life.
  • Dressed – internal organs, gills, fins, and scales removed. Heads may or may not be intact.
  • Fillets – most popular market form, easiest preparation. Fillets can be purchased with the skin on of off. Round fish produce 2 fillets, 1 from either side, and flat fish produce 4 fillets, 2 from the top on either side of the backbone and 2 from the bottom of the fish. Flat fish are sometime popular to being prepared and consumed whole.
  • Butterflied – dressed fish that are cut open so the two sides lay flat like an opened book.
  • Steaks – cross cut sections of fish that are opposite from the fillet. There is usually a cross section of the backbone with the belly meat attached and is usually found skin on. Steaks are great for grilling.
  • Cubes/Nuggets – leftover pieces from the fish breakdown process. Cubes and nuggets are used in kabobs, stews, soups, and stir-frys.

Market Forms for Frozen Fish –

  • IQF- individually quick frozen. Ice glazed. IQF refers to fish that is flash frozen and sold individually or can be used individually in bulk packaging.
  • Block – common for shrimp. Block frozen fish or shellfish are pieces that have been frozen in a mass block form. The entire block must be unfrozen for use.
  • Shatter Pack – the combination of IQF and Block. Fish/shellfish are IQF and then laid between sheets of poly or plastic and frozen. The fish/shellfish is then vacuum packaged or sealed together which allows for easy separation.

Shellfish -

Shellfish have shells to protect their bodies. Shellfish do not have internal skeletons or backbones. There are many different forms of shellfish.

  • Mollusks – live in salt water and have shells that protect their bodies. There are 3 types of Mollusks.
  1. Univalves – have a single, open pieces shell that covers the body. Also known as gastropods, univalves are marine snails that use a single foot to attach themselves to rocks. Univalves include: abalone, conch, and snails.
  2. Bivalves – have two large shells on a hinge. Includes: oysters, clams, mussels and scallops.
  • Clams – bivalves that are harvested from the ocean or freshwater. There are two major kinds of clams – soft and hard shell. Softshell clams are tender and sweet. Shells are not really soft, but thinner than that of hardshell clams.
  • Oysters – bivalves with rough, asymmetrical shells. Market Forms – live, in shell, shucked, fresh or frozen. Shucked oysters are graded by size.
      3. Cephalopods – have thin, internal shells, with no outer protection. Cephalopods have               developed tentacles that attach near the mouth. Squid, octopus, and cuttlefish are types of cephalopods.

Types of softshell clams are: (this is not an all inclusive list)

  1. Steamers/longnecks
  2. Geoducks

Hardshell clams have thicker shells are classified by size - (this is not an all inclusive list)

  1. Surf Large, white, grow to 8 inches
  2. Quahogs Aka chowder clams, 3 inches across, great for stews
  3. Cherrystones 2-3 inches, 5-7 per pound
  4. Littlenecks 1.5-2.25 inches, good for steaming
  5. Pacific littlenecks Small, west coast clams, tougher than an east coast littleneck
  6. Manilla Pacific coast, 1 inch
  • Market Forms for Clams – available whole, live, in-shell, frozen, fresh, canned, chopped, minced

Mussels – bivalves that are farmed and harvested world-wide. Resembling clams, mussels are smaller with thin, dark colored shells, and tan colored meat. Common types of mussels include: PEI (Prince Edward Island) and New Zealand Green Tip Mussels. Green tipped mussels are larger and more expensive than the blue-black mussels typically found in grocery stores and restaurant menus.
  • Market Forms for Mussels – sold live, fresh, in-shell, or frozen, vacuum sealed in shell or shucked. Mussels are also found canned in a variety of cooked and smoked forms.
Scallops – bivalves collected all over the world. Mainly the abductor muscle is eaten. The adductor muscle is what opens and closes the shell. There are 3 popular varieties of scallops that are widely available for purchase.
  1. Sea Scallops / Diver Scallops – the largest and most popular scallop. Delicate and sweet with a firm texture. Diver scallops are generally harvested individually and by hand so they are more expensive yet than regular dry scallops.
  2. Bay Scallops – come from the waters from the Atlantic coast. Harvested October- march they are very small, but have the sweetest and most desirable flavor of the common American scallop varieties.
  3. Calico Scallops – resemble little marshmallows, smaller than bay scallops. Flavor isn’t as developed as bay scallops.
  • Market Forms for Scallops – most commonly fresh shucked. Sold by the pound or gallon. Scallops are labeled as dry and wet. Dry scallops have not been injected with any liquid and caramelize easily. Wet scallops are injected with a solution that makes them appear larger, but when combined with heat, the liquid leaches out a shiny opaque color, and due to the moisture loss, do not caramelize well, if at all. Wet scallops are less expensive than dry scallops, but beware of the difference.
Squid – a cephalopod with 8 short tentacles and 2 long ones. Squid is often listed on menus as calamari (the Italian name for squid).
  • Market Form for Squid – available cleaned or uncleaned, whole, cut into steaks or rings, tentacles whole or sold separately from the body. Make sure the beak inside the body is removed before cooking.

Octopus – cephalopod with 8 tentacles of equal size. Can range in size from 1-50 pounds, but most common sold between 2-3 pounds. All of the octopus is edible, but it is very firm and chewy. Needs a delicate or mulit-parted cooking process. Octopus is great pickled or with raw preparations; also delicious grilled.

Crustaceans –found in fresh water and salt water.

Crustaceans have hard, segmented shells, jointed legs, and breathe through gills.

Lobster – Maine lobsters are to be of the highest quality. The cold water produces a delicate and very flavorful meat. Lobster has a white meat when cooked with a firm texture.
  • Market Forms for Lobster – whole, live, frozen, cooked meat, tail, claw, IQF
Shrimp – Most consumed shellfish in America. Come in range of colors from white, pink, brown, and blue. Graded by size.
  • Market Forms for Shrimp – fresh or frozen, head on or off, tail on or off, deveined or whole. Shrimp are available commonly by their count per pound. Common sizes include U/10, 16-20, 21-25, 41-50. The larger the size of the shrimp, the more expensive the shrimp. Avoid shrimp that has been farm-raised, as it has a diminished texture, and greatly lacks flavor. Gulf Coast shrimp and Argentinean Shrimp are among the favorite and most popular shrimp in the US.
Crab – there are thousands of varieties of crab worldwide. Crabs that are harvested in different parts of the United States will greatly vary in size, shape, texture, and taste. Popular types of crab in America –
  1. Alaskan crab – includes snow and king crab. The king crab is very large and can weigh up to 20 pounds. King crabs are very meaty and have large, long, sweet tasting meat. Snow crabs legs are thinner than those of king crabs, and the meat has a mild, salty flavor.
  2. Pacific Crabs – Dungeness crab is the favorite among pacific coast crabs. These crabs are known for their sweet, pink meat. Dungeness crabs weigh in between 1.5-4#’s.
  3. Atlantic Crabs – the blue crab is the east coast crab, average weight of 5 ounces. Harvested with hard or soft shells, has a very white and succulent meat. Soft shell crabs can be eaten whole – shell and all. Hard shells are often found steamed in Old Bay seasoning.
  4. Caribbean Crabs – stone crabs come from the Caribbean and are only harvested for their claws. The claws are cut off and the crabs are thrown back in the water where their claws will re-grow within a year. Stone crab has a flavor that is close to lobster.
  • Market Forms for Crabs – fresh, raw, cooked, frozen, whole, meat only, soft shell, cake.

Crawfish (Crayfish) – freshwater crustaceans. Resemble miniature lobsters, and grow to 3-6 inches in length. Prominent in Cajun and Creole cuisines. The tail meat is small, but packed full of flavor, and firm.

  • Market Forms for Crawfish – live, fresh and frozen, whole, tail meat.

Whew.. that was a lot!  Well, now you know.  Next time you go to the seafood counter at your local big box grocery chain store, this should help you in your quest for the perfect seafood dinner.  Now that you know how to buy, why don't you try out one of these recipes that Cortney and I find "fin-fully" delicious!  See you next week when we talk about how heat works; caramelization and browning (the Maillard Reaction). 

Lemongrass Shrimp with Thai Noodle Salad

For the Noodle Salad:


• 2 limes, juiced

• 3 T. soy sauce

• 1 T. brown sugar

• 3 T. fish sauce

• 1 T. chile garlic sambal

• 4 garlic cloves, grated

• 1-2 tsp. ginger, grated

• 2 T. cilantro, chopped



• 1 pack thin rice noodles, cooked

• ¼ C. carrot, julienne

• 5 green onions, sliced thin

• 1 red bell pepper, julienne

• ½ cucumber, peeled, seeded, julienne

• ½ C. snow peas, sliced on the bias

• 2 cloves garlic, minced

• ¼ C. basil, chiffonade

• 1 recipe dressing, from above

• Toasted sesame seeds, to garnish


Lemongrass Vinaigrette (Shrimp) –

• ½ lime, zested

• ½ C. lemongrass, chopped fine

• 1 shallot, chopped

• 2 garlic cloves, chopped

• 1 T.+ 1tsp. ginger, microplaned

• ¼ c. rice vinegar

• ½ T. Dijon mustard

• 3-4 cilantro tops

• Salt and pepper, to taste

• 3/4 C. oil

1 # shrimp, cleaned and de-veined

For The Dressing:

  1. Mix all ingredients together and set aside until needed. Use as a dressing for the noodles and vegetables.

For The Noodles:

  1. In a bowl, combine the rice noodles, carrot, green onion, bell pepper, cucumber, snow peas, garlic and basil. Right before serving, toss with the dressing and serve immediately. Top with the Lemongrass Shrimp and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and fresh cilantro.

For The Lemongrass Vinaigrette and Shrimp:

  1. Place all ingredients except for the shrimp in a blender and puree. Strain if the lemongrass stalks have a lot of stringy pieces. Divide half and half. Use one half as a marinade for the shrimp, reserve the other half to use as a sauce when the shrimp are cooked. Skewer shrimp and grill.

Cedar Plank Salmon with Miso Ginger Glaze

• 1 whole side pacific salmon

• ½ C. sherry

• ½ C. miso paste

• ¼ C. brown sugar, packed

• ¼ C. soy sauce

• 2 T. grated ginger

• 1 clove garlic, grated

• Toasted Sesame Seeds, for garnish

• Green Onions, for garnish

1. Soak a cedar plank in water for 1 hour.

2. Whisk together the sherry, miso, brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. Season with ground pepper. Set Aside and divide, 1/3 1/3 1/3.

3. Place the salmon on a baking sheet and brush with the 1/3 of the glaze. Cover and let sit for 30 minutes.

4. Heat up the grill. While the grill is heating up, remove the cedar plank from the water and towel off. Spray with pan spray and grill the plank on both sides to unleash the cedar aroma.

5. Preheat the oven to 425. Place the cedar plank on a baking sheet and place the salmon on top, skin side down. Brush again with 1/3 of the glaze.

6. Bake on the hot plank in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until desired doneness.

7. Strain remaining 1/3 of the glaze and drizzle over the top of the salmon when it comes out of the oven. Garnish with sesame seeds and green onions.

Cocoa Crusted Scallops with Ginger & Vanilla Beurre Blanc

• 8 oz scallops (about 4 U10’s)

• 1 T. cocoa powder

• 1 T. Jamaican jerk seasoning

• 2 T. butter

• -

• ½ C. white wine

• 1 ½ T. ginger, minced

• ½ red fresno pepper, split in half

• ½ vanilla pod, split in half, seeds scraped out

• 1 tsp. sugar

• 4 T. butter, cut into pieces

• Salt and pepper

• -

• Carrot tops

• Truffle oil

• Scallop Shells

1. Combine the cocoa powder and Jamaican jerk seasoning in a small bowl. Heat the butter in a saute pan until hot until almost browned. Dip one side of the scallops in the cocoa mixture and place, crusted side down in the butter and sear. When the first side is seared, flip over and sear the other side for 1-2 minutes. Remove the scallops to the scallop shells.

2. Wipe the saute pan dry and add the white wine, ginger, pepper, vanilla, and sugar. Let reduce to 2 T. over medium low heat. Turn the heat off and let the pan sit for about 20 seconds to come down in temperature a little bit. Add the butter and stir in to emulsify. Do not place the pan back on the heat. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

3. In a small bowl, toss the carrot tops with a little truffle oil and salt and pepper.

4. Drizzle the beurre blanc (try to avoid getting any chunks, just the smooth butter sauce) over the scallops and garnish with the carrot tops.