Did you know that two-thirds of the seafood we eat comes from only four varieties: shrimp, salmon, tilapia and canned tuna? While there are many fish in the sea, apparently we choose to eat only a few, with devastating effects on those stocks. There's got to be a better way, right?
The good news is that there has been a growing appreciation of so-called “trash fish.” (But wait, it's not what you think!) These are overlooked or underappreciated fish that often get tossed away as a byproduct of more desirable catches. Some of these fish have names—like bearded brotula and squirrelfish—that might sound a little unappetizing at first. Despite their off-putting names, these fish are often incredibly tasty, something chefs have started to showcase.
Trash fish are often less expensive than their more desirable counterparts, which is good for eaters’ pocketbooks, not just their palates. They’re good for fishermen, too, because higher demand for a diversity of fish means fishermen can cash in on more of their catch, saving money as well as lightening their ecological footprint.
So casting a wide net benefits fish, fishermen and eaters alike. But I don’t want to lecture you; I’d rather show you how delicious these fish can be.
One under-loved fish local to us here in New York is porgy. Porgy has tender, white meat with a mild, sweet flavor, similar to snapper. In this dish, I pair porgy with a summery addition of squash and corn. The squash is prepared several ways for a variety of flavors and textures: shaved and raw, diced and sautéed, cooked and pureed. So not only does this recipe highlight an under-loved fish, it also takes another stab at solving the problem of what to do with all of that summer squash. Win-win.
Porgy with Summer Squash
Adapted from the Gramercy Tavern Cookbook
½ onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, 1 minced, 1 smashed
1 pound zucchini, diced
2 ears corn, cut off cob
Handful parsley, chopped
4 porgy fillets
2 tablespoons butter
2 sprigs thyme
Zucchini puree (recipe below)
Pickled summer squash, drained and blotted with a paper towel
1. Coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds more. Add the zucchini and cook until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the corn and cook a few minutes more. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Stir in the parsley. Set aside.
2. Coat a medium skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Season the non-skin side of the fillets with salt. Place the fish skin side down in the skillet and cook until golden, a few minutes. Flip the fillets over, add the butter and thyme, and baste the fillets with the flavored butter with a spoon until finished cooking, a few minutes more. Don’t overcook. Remove the skin.
3. Spoon the zucchini puree on to the plates. Top with the zucchini and corn mixture. Top with the fillets. Cover the fillets with the pickled squash.
¼ cup tightly packed parsley leaves
¼ cup tightly packed cilantro leaves
¼ onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
½ pound zucchini, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil
1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt as if making water to boil pasta. Meanwhile, make an ice bath by filling a large bowl with water and ice. Using a strainer, blanch the herbs in the boiling water briefly, about 15 seconds, then shock in the ice bath. Squeeze the excess water out of the herbs. Place the herbs in a blender.
2. Coat a medium skillet with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until beginning to soften and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds more. Add the zucchini and cook for a few minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add ½ cup water, bring to a simmer, and cook until the zucchini is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini along with the cooking liquid to the blender with the herbs. Blend until smooth. With the motor running, stream in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lime juice. For a very smooth sauce, strain through a fine mesh strainer.