This post comes to us from talkingfish.org, a project of the Conservation Law Foundation and other sustainable seafood partners around New England. Evan Mallett is Chef and Owner of Black Trumpet Bistro in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
TalkingFish.org: You are known for your commitment to local and sustainable food. Tell us about your philosophy regarding seafood.
Evan Mallett: My first priority when sourcing seafood for my menu is flexibility, which promotes the idea of diversity. I have felt for a few years now that it is irresponsible, given our volatile wild stocks of finfish, to run a menu with any one single fish for any significant duration. Rather, I prefer to offer lesser-known fish whose populations tend to be more consistently robust, and I am committed to working with whole fish whenever possible, which makes it possible to get fresher fish landed by local fleets.
TF: What seafood questions do you get most often from your customers?
EM: “What is it like? Is it white and flaky? Does it taste like haddock?”
TF: How do you balance offering something fresh and local against having customer favorites always on hand?
EM: I change the menu so often that there are no customer favorites. I have obstinately built my restaurant’s reputation on the idea of change. Nothing lasts, including fisheries, and our guests seem to get that, although I do have trouble selling pollock and scup–both very good-tasting fish, but their reputations as trash fish supersede our guests’ desire to embrace biodiversity.
TF: You might be aware that a new management system went into effect a year and a half ago for bottom dwelling species like cod, haddock, flounder and pollock – New England best sellers. Over the past year and a half, have you noticed any changes that have affected your business? E.g. In how much seafood is available, price fluctuations, diversity of species, size of fish?
EM: Sometimes, the fish I’m hoping to receive is not available. That happens more now than it used to. As a chef concerned with long-term fisheries management, I can’t get too worked up about not having halibut or even cod. I am fortunate that I can change my menu on the fly. I recently heard from a chef friend who oversees forty units that a single menu change costs him $60,000. That’s where we have to focus attention in coming years.
TF: Would you like to share a recipe featuring a New England seafood item?
2 Large Shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. Northern Shrimp meat
2 oz. Sherry
1 Cup Heavy Cream
2 oz. Unsalted Butter
3 sprigs Thyme
Salt to taste
In a large saucepan over medium flame, gently sauté shallots until soft. Stir in garlic and cook another minute. Deglaze pan with sherry. Cook off alcohol and add cream. Simmer for a minute, add herbs and spices, salt, and a quarter of the shrimp. Let mixture cool to room temperature. Puree in blender until smooth consistency. Pour contents back into saucepan and add remaining shrimp meats. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and turn off heat when shrimp are just opaque, about two minutes. Stir cold butter into the warm mixture until it is evenly melted. Adjust seasoning if necessary and pour into small jars, cans or bowls. Seal or wrap well.
Refrigerate for at least three hours before serving. Potted shrimp can be kept for several days in the refrigerator.