Tales From The Fish Market
To many, the island of Oahu and the city of Honolulu mean two things; Waikiki Beach and tourists – lots of them. But I have another thought in mind, fish, lots of them…
I have been buying fish from Hawaiian waters for years. The islands are surrounded by thousands of square miles of water and with little large scale industry there is theoretically, lower pollutants in the water and less mercury laden fish.
Hawaiian fisheries also have the greatest respect for their environment which eases my guilt when I consider the environmental impact my purchases of awesome Ahi, Uku, Hapu’upu’u, Opakapaka and Ono.
Recently I had an opportunity to stop in Oahu for one night, which meant only one thing; go see my man on the land - Big Wave Dave from the Honolulu Fish Company and take him up on the offer of a trip to the fish auction.
Getting out of bed at 4am is never easy, but after a quick coffee and a slap around the face I was out of the door and following my blackberry’s GPS directions. I finally met my guy and Big Wave Dave went from being a voice on the phone to an actual person.
Honolulu Fish runs out of a small office space, crammed with sales guys and decorated with several clocks displaying the various times zones that the team sells to. Sitting center show is a large flat screen T.V. beaming not the commercial laden CNN but a video feed from the auction house, “by 4.30 AM the boys can get a feel of what the day’s inventory will shape up to be” Dave explains. We jump in the car and take a fifteen minute drive to see the action.
You would not have to be a literary genius to describe the auction; it’s a simple, super clean, super cold building with pallets and pallets of fish on display. A dozen or so guys are huddled around a couple of pallets big eye, getting ready to make their offers on it. The bidding is a calm affair.
Honolulu Fish Co. has a couple of big lads already there, they are taking a back seat for the moment, Chris Silver, the Senior Buyer from Honolulu Fish Co. joins us and explains “not all the fish are worth buying, we only want the best. The guys on the auction floor can tell how long the fish has been caught and if it a winner almost just by looking at it, the same way a chef only need glance at a cooking vegetable to know if its cooked or not - they live and breathe this stuff”.
The majority of the days catch is opah, one of the fish has a big gouge in its side, Chris sees me stare at it, “that’s a shark bite” he says, “and you can bet that it will be a good fish. Sharks cherry pick which fish they are going to snack on when the find them on a boat’s line.” “That could be great marketing” I quip “Shark bite sashimi; I could sell that to a customer!”
The tuna too have some cuts in them, but this time it’s an intentional portion of their tail cut out and a thread of meat from close to its head on display, both of these are surveyed to determine quality. Fish buyer Tipasa Godfrey shows me the removed tail section from one of the tuna, it looks good but a piece of the flesh appears to have a pearl like ball texture, “no good” he says “sahshi”. Sahshi is a protozone that occurs in some big eye tuna. Once they have been killed an ezyme developes and the the fish breaks down and become mushy you could not tell by looking at it, it takes a trained eye.
Once Tipasa makes a purchase he uses his computer to generate a bar code on the spot for the fish, that bar code stays with the fish so there is traceability in place. “This means if there is a negative comment from a chef about the quality of a fish that they get, say a loin of tuna, we can call the chefs who purchased the other loins from that fish and get their feedback” Dave explains. “We can see if there is a pattern, it could be shipping, handling or the boat that we bought it from. We can cross check their information and see where the problem occurred and make sure it does not happen in the future, buy from the best, deliver better service and product”.
Within an hour or two the fish company’s purchases are trucked to their plant to be ozonated, cut, wrapped in state-of-the art packaging and shipped by 1pm. “It’s a tight deadline” says Dave “but Fedex and chefs wait for no one!”
By: Jeremy Emmerson
Jeremy is a British born, Texas living, professional chef of twenty-something years. He is the founder/publisher of GlobalChefs.com, kinda cheeky, somewhat dyslexic, but pretty much an okay sort of guy.