What the hake and other lesser known fish

What the hake and other lesser known fish

Maine’s most famous fisherman, Linda Greenlaw, was in Portland recently when she and some friends stopped into Street and Company for dinner. On the menu, along with the expected sole, salmon and swordfish, was an unexpected offering: pan-seared hake. Greenlaw gave it a try and deemed it “wonderful.”

Greenlaw knows – from her experience co-authoring two seafood cookbooks with her mother in the last two years – that it’s possible to substitute different kinds of fish in most recipes. But her dinner at one of Portland’s upscale seafood restaurants showed her that even the best gourmet chefs are experimenting with lesser-known fish species, such as hake, pollock and ocean perch.

“Going out to dinner now, you see different varieties of fish,” says Greenlaw. “The better chefs are looking for opportunities to use it.”

Hake is just one of several underutilized groundfish species that many people have heard of, but never tried. These fish are being promoted by the state as an alternative to the more traditional haddock, sole or swordfish. It’s all part of a wide-ranging marketing campaign geared toward creating a buzz among consumers in the hope that demand for some of these underutilized fish species will grow – increasing the prices and making it worthwhile for fishermen to devote their time to catching a wider variety of fish.

Maine’s promotion campaign seems to be catching on with cost-conscious, but health-minded consumers. As the price of haddock and flounder soared in the 2000s, and the swordfish fishery was closed for a time because of depleted stocks, many consumers turned to other choices when shopping for fish at their local grocery store. Tilapia and catfish were two lower-priced substitutes for many families who couldn’t fit $9 for a pound of haddock into their weekly budgets.

But let’s face it, tilapia and catfish aren’t native to Maine and aren’t caught wild. Reports of subpar farming practices have made many people wary of consuming them on a regular basis. Having a naturally caught, wild groundfish from the Gulf of Maine selling at $3.99 a pound is a big reason why the idea of replacing the haddock with hake and the cod with pollock in home-cooked recipes is gaining converts.

At the same time, Greenlaw says, the traditional fishing stocks in the Gulf of Maine couldn’t be healthier. The industry has seen a huge shakeout, with a fraction of fishing boats in the water than there were 10 years ago. Greenlaw herself returned to swordfishing a year ago. She and her retooled boat, the Hannah Boden, which was immortalized in Sebastian Junger’s classic book, “The Perfect Storm,” took part in the most recent season of the Discovery Channel’s show, “Sword: Life on the Line.” Those episodes, which followed four swordfish boats and crews during a recent fishing season, aired last summer.

Greenlaw says fishermen are now using more sustainable fishing practices that eliminate waste and are more environmentally friendly. Consequently, eating fresh Maine fish should be a guilt-free, healthy, affordable experience.

“Anything caught off the coast of Maine has been through such scrutiny,” Greenlaw says. “So, eat it and enjoy it and feel good about it.”

Greenlaw, who lives on Isle au Haut now, is fishing for giant bluefin tuna off the Maine coast. Unlike swordfishing, which sends a crew out to sea for weeks at a time, Greenlaw and her crew can set out in the morning and be back by evening with a decent return. This schedule allows her time to promote her two most recent books, “Seaworthy,” about her return to swordfishing, and “The Maine Summers Cookbook: Recipes for Delicious, Sun-Filled Days,” which she wrote with her mother, Martha Greenlaw.

The Greenlaws’ latest recipes highlight the variety of fish found fresh off the coast of Maine. There’s coconut panko cod, flounder florentine, swordfish kabobs, striper ceviche, and tuna seared with sake-soy reduction and fried ginger, along with the grilled lobster, clam dip and scallops baked in mushroom caps. Greenlaw says she and her mother are devotees of gourmet magazines such as Bon Appetit, but their goal was to write a homestyle cookbook with recipes that any Mainer could make without having to hunt for an unusual spice or some ingredient they’d never use again.

“Living on an island, you don’t have access to a lot of those things,” she says.

Greenlaw advises that hake, which she describes as a mild, flaky fish, is best substituted in any recipe that calls for grilling or baking fish. She says she wouldn’t use hake in a seafood chowder because it’s too flaky and the texture wouldn’t hold up. Pollock, on the other hand, which is actually a kind of cod, is a better choice.

Linda and Martha Greenlaw were invited to be presenters at the Harvest on the Harbor events Oct. 21 and 22 in Portland. While Martha was slated to do a cooking demonstration, Linda expected to sign books and talk about her life as a writer/fisherman, a combination she describes as an ideal one.

“Writing supports my fishing habit,” says Greenlaw. “It has allowed me to continue fishing even when the fishing isn’t good.

“Several years ago, it was all gloom and doom in the fishing industry, but things are turning around and looking good,” she adds. “I’m happy and proud to be a Maine fisherman.”

Here are two recipes from the Greenlaws’ “The Maine Summers Cookbook: Recipes for Delicious, Sun-filled Days.”

A daily newspaper reporter for many years, Joanne Lannin is now well into her second career: English teacher at Bonny Eagle High School.

Linda Greenlaw shows a prize catch. Greenlaw, who lives on Isle
au Haut, says the traditional fishing stocks in the Gulf of Maine
couldn’t be healthier.
A daily newspaper reporter for many years, she is now well into her second career, English teacher at Bonny Eagle High School.

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