atlantic maritime islands
| November 2002|
Recently, I was invited by the Canadian Consulate in Chicago
to meet producers in my trade, on Canada's Eastern provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland/Labrador. The
birthplace of commercial fishing as chronicled in a most
informative book, "Cod, A History Of The Fish That Changed
What did I discover? Well, there's still some cod, but
not nearly as much as there once was, and wild Atlantic
salmon stocks have dwindled dramatically. Lobsters? Well,
that is a different tale (N.P.I.). There is a goodly amount
Canada has 25% of the world's coastline and 16% of its
fresh water. The commercial fishing industry is valued
at 5 billion dollars annually and provides more than 125,000
jobs. Seventy-five percent of its production is exported
to more than 80 countries. In 2001, seafood exports were
a record 48,000 tons. The U.S. is Canada's largest export
market representing 73% of its trade.
As a young boy, I traveled to Nova Scotia in the summer
several times with a close friend who was born there.
We would drive with his family to Portland, Maine and
take the ferry to Yarmouth, which was always a big thrill.
I have wonderful remembrances of our visits with his grandparents
and extended family. A highlight each summer was fishing
from a schooner for mackerel with his aunt's neighbor
in Peggy's Cove. A great appreciation for an abundance
of natural beauty and purity of earth and sea was certainly
fostered in me during those summers.
The inhabitants of these islands are very warm and interesting
folk a community that is mainly of Celtic heritage with
many fifth and sixth generation residents. The dialect,
which spans from Gaelic to a local Scotch-Irish brogue,
is sometimes difficult to understand. The landscape reminded
me very much of the Irish and Scottish coast. And it seems
most appropriate that this is where their descendents
chose to settle.
A good example would be Duncan (86 years old), who along
with his son raises some of the finest oysters I have
ever had. Much of Duncan's stock is from Bras'd Or Lake
which happens to be the world's largest salt-water lake.
I also learned that the oyster's fiercest predator is
the otherwise innocuous starfish.
After many hours of discussions on my second day in Halifax,
Duncan showed up toting a box of his perfectly shaped
bivalves. Armed with an oyster knife, he sat at my table
and proceeded to open up a dozen or so for my enjoyment.
No lemon or hot sauce, just an ethereal, briny liquor,
surrounding meaty, translucent oysters that he had taken
from his stock that morning! I've always felt the oysters
from this lovely part of the world were unrivaled, and
I thanked Duncan for reminding me just how very good they
Tatamagouche, Cape Breton and Malpeques (Prince Edward
Island) are just a few of the other names you may have
heard of. Basically, all the oysters on the island are
terrific and usually are named after the small village,
bay, or cove from which they come. I mentioned Duncan
because he was so charming and affable. He promised to
send me all nicely shaped oysters, and I believe this
will come to pass, as he has a ready market for his "standards"
or misshapen oysters elsewhere on the island.
Most of the world's saltfish (Cod, Pollock, Hake, Cusk,
and Ling) is still produced here. Several of the producers
I met bemoaned the fact that in today's fast-paced world,
there is a dwindling demand for this noble product so
rich in heritage. "Who has time to prepare a boiled dinner
these days?" one gentleman remarked. Many were turning
to lobster production as a result, and pondering getting
out of the saltfish trade. I found this immensely sad.
I prepare my own version of brandade (cod, potatoes, olive
oil, and a touch of lemon zest, truffle oil, and parsley)
each Christmas holiday to give to my customers as a gift
to try. Many of you may be surprised to discover that
these guys have a point. Unfortunately most people don't
have the foggiest notion of what the main ingredient is.
Most of the world's consumption is in various island nations,
and Western Europe. I'm sure we all know folks of Scandinavian,
Portuguese, and Italian etc…descent who consider it a
holiday staple. But the sad fact is, it's just not selling
as it once did.
When you consider this great land was founded on saltfish,
it is most distressing to think that its tradition is
on about to fade. So put a salt dish on your menus, it's
wonderful and just maybe a few of these fellows will keep
What else did I encounter? How about Solomon Gundy (marinated
herring)? Digby Chicks? No, not a Canuck girl band, but
a heavy smoked, skinless herring filet - marvelous with
a nice cold pint of ale. Stimpsons surf clam? Wonderful!
Tastes uncannily like lobster. How about propeller clams?
Tastes like a garden fresh cucumber. Amazing! Speaking
of cucumbers, a large export trade of "sea cucumbers"
has been developed for the Asian trade.
I was honored to discover that a type of surf clam, which
I had dubbed almost 25 years ago "Mahogany clam" (because
the surface of the shell is grained like wood), has now
come full circle. One producer proffered a photo for my
inspection and remarked, "Some people call them Mahogany
clams." I beamed! I knew the name had circulated around
the monger community in the U.S. but really; I was thinking
they should give me a key to the city or make me honorary
Try a little dulse? What is it? Well, it's a dried seaweed
which to date I've only seen in small quantities in over-priced
bath salts. But let me tell you, folks up this way use
it as a seasoning in place of salt, and it is awesome.
Quite frequently used in chowders and bisques.
Digby bay scallops are some of the sweetest and tenderest
in the world. The provincial government prohibits the
use of try-polyphosphate and they are always "dry". Many
of my clients make their decision on scallops based largely
on size, and although 10/20's are quite obtainable, most
weigh-in at a 30/40 count. Maybe .5% are U-10's although
if you buy out of Boston they will be happy to artificially
inflate them for you using the aforementioned try-polyphosphate
- yum, yum! Some ambitious producers have tried their
hand at forming smaller scallops into a sausage and slicing
them on a slight bias to sell them as a large scallop
at-market. Another wonderful "scallop product" Jumpin'
jiminies, it's like Cheez-Whiz from the sea. A bad idea!
Well, I've got to get up in a few hours to visit a mussel
farm before we push off to St. Johns, Newfoundland. I'll
report back on the "Newfies" once I get there. I am curious
to see why they are the butt of Canada's jokes i.e. "How
do you get a Newfie out of a tree?" Etc… (Join us next
month for the second part of Bill's adventures in Newfie)
Written By Bill Dugan-owner/operator of Superior
Ocean Produce and the Fishguy Market, both located in
Chicago. He is also the outside sales representative for
the unique line of SeaTech products produced in Chile,
Argentina, and China. He serves on the board of advisors
for the culinary arts program at Robert Morris College.
Contact-email: [email protected]
Phone-1-888-FISHGUY or 1-773-283-8400
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