Seafood is delicious, not to mention extremely healthy. But from where TED Book author Maria Finn sits, there are even more benefits to eating fish and shellfish — because they offer anyone the opportunity to lessen their impact on global systems. An advocate of “whole food” cooking, Finn knows that nearly every part of a fish can be delectable. In The Whole Fish: How Adventurous Eating of Seafood Can Make You Healthier, Sexier, and Help Save the Oceans, Maria Finn shares seafood recipes from top chefs, from fish head soup to skins broiled into “fish bacon.” Even fish bones can be consumed — if they are ground into “salt.”
Below, the TED Blog reached out to Finn with several questions, to hopefully whet your seafood appetite.
What is important about the whole fish/whole food movement?
Most people love the ocean and we are coming to the realization that we have done a lot of damage to it, through overfishing, pollution, plastics, global warming and in many other ways. We are reaching a critical point and really need to turn things around before the destruction is irreversible. Right now people in the United States are really shifting how they approach food. We have seen a rapid rise in farmer’s markets throughout the country. More and more, people want to connect with their farmers and fishermen, support their local communities and have fresh, local food that has been sustainably produced. People are also becoming more aware of how what we eat impacts our overall health. Eating the whole fish addresses all of this: there are ways to eat seafood that don’t hurt the ocean and that support our coastal communities. And we are then also eating in a way that is healthy and economical.
Eating the whole fish is also a way to show respect to the animals we eat. We are becoming a nation of foodies. Food blogs, pop up supper clubs, food carts and many new additions to our culinary landscape make eating in creative ways a fun and social adventure, so I think this concept taps into the foodie movement as well as the sustainability movement.
Why did you write this book now?
I have been reading and reporting on recently published studies in regards to sustainable seafood, particularly salmon and forage fish. As well, I’ve been spotting trends in restaurants with chefs who are making fish collars and sardines delicious. I really enjoy pulling environmental and lifestyle elements together in writing projects. While many people in the United States might not be using fish heads and bones right now, they’ve been to France, or Thailand, where this is normal. Or their grandparents did it and I believe they will be open to it. This book explains why we should change our eating habits when it comes to seafood by taking fewer fish and using more parts of them. The recipes show readers how they can do this at home.
You were a female fisherwoman in Alaska. How did that shape the content and structure of the book?
I originally went to Alaska to earn money so that I could travel around the world. I never earned much money, but had the adventure of a lifetime.
I was immersed in true wilderness—working out on the ocean or in remote field camps was like visiting another place in time. The abundant animals, the awe-inspiring landscape, and the generosity of nature forever changed how I view the world. I narrated some of these first person stories in the book as I hope that they relate to people what a marvel the ocean is and how amazing these fish really are. I also lived in a fishing town and came to know many fishermen and women throughout Alaska during these years. These men and women who go out and catch fish are tough, hard working, and a rare breed. Knowing them motivates me to try and help preserve their ways of life. I hope this book encourages people to support small, family owned fishing operations who are very invested in maintaining sustainable fisheries, but often lose out to large factory trawlers or draggers and industrial salmon farms. These industrial fisheries are often doing great damage to our ocean and putting the small boats out of business.
Many of us like sushi, but you caution that the practices used in getting that food to our plate have created dangers to the fish population. What are they?
Some of the most popular dishes in sushi restaurants are unsustainable choices. These include farmed salmon, farmed shrimp, farmed hamachi tuna, and ranched eel, as well as bluefin tuna, red snapper and king crab. Oftentimes consumers see the term “sushi grade” or “sashimi grade” and assume it means fresh or high quality, but in actuality, there is no official certification for this. It’s just a marketing term and has no real meaning. As well, tuna may start off a deep red color, but as it ages, it will start to brown. To stop this, it is sprayed with carbon monoxide, which gives it that bright red glow, so it can be old and the consumer has no idea. As well, most fish found in sushi restaurants have been flown in from Japan, so it’s really not that fresh, and there’s no transparency as to how and where it was caught. Fortunately, there are some sustainable sushi restaurants in the United States. These are listed in The Whole Fish, and include places like Tataki in San Francisco and Miya’s Sushi in New Haven. They are leading the way for a new paradigm in sushi — they are serving local, fresh fish that is 100% sustainable.
This book has a number of great (and bizarre) recipes that use the whole fish. What were some of your unexpected favorites and why?
I love the salmon salt — it’s so simple and I had never heard of this before. Grind up salmon bones, mix with salt, and sprinkle on your food for added calcium and omega 3 fatty acids. I also really like frying the skin like “salmon bacon.” The recipe in the book directs people to put it over the salmon salad, but I use it for a second meal, with rice or ramen noodles. It’s easy, delicious and adds a whole new use to a part that’s normally throw away.