Posts Tagged: sustainable fishing

May 13

Vancouver Spot Prawn Festival: five things you need to know about spot prawns

They love their spot prawns here...

They love their spot prawns here…

So, today was the much-heralded Chefs’ Table Society Spot Prawn festival down on Fishermen’s Wharf. In its seventh year more than 2000 sustainable seafood fans poured into False Creek to dive into the new season of spot prawns. Sweeter than many other prawn varieties and much-loved by BC chefs, there are several spot prawn festivals and dinners (like this series at yummy Italian Campagnolo)  across BC for the season. Try to get along to one of them because oh, those prawns are good!

Gotta get 'em while they're here

Gotta get ‘em while they’re here

1. No one knows how long the season will be. I chatted with Chris Sporer, the Executive Director of the Pacific Prawn Fishermen’s Association, who told me that, “In 2009 the season lasted for 66 days and in 2012 it was just 44 days. The fishery is monitored to check the health of the stock and count the number of spawning prawns. When the threshold is reached, that’s it, season over.” This is what makes the BC Spot Prawn season one of the most sustainable there is.

2. Prawns change sex. Seriously. Spot prawns have a natural four-year life cycle. All prawns are born male but around aged two, they become female and then start to spawn in their last year, so every adult prawn you eat is a female.

Boil 'em up for two minutes...

Boil ‘em up for two minutes…

3. Commercially-fished BC Spot Prawns go through vigorous checks. Spot prawns are caught in traps which get dropped to the ocean floor – so there is no trawling. The traps stay on the bottom and the fishermen can only haul up once a day. The first check comes from the prawns themselves – the holes in the traps are fairly large, so first the smaller ones swim in, then the larger ones arrive and chase the little ones out. Once they are hauled in, because they are hand-sorted, any remaining young prawns are thrown back in the ocean and those that remained are checked against a size requirement.

Buy your prawns fresh off the boat - the queues were huge!

Buy your prawns fresh off the boat – the queues were huge!

4. If you buy them fresh – off with their head! Yup, turns out that unless you want to cook and eat those prawns immediately, if you’re keeping spot prawns at home in the fridge, you need to take their heads off as soon as you get them home as they start decomposing and that affects the taste. I drove home from Fishermen’s Wharf with my bag of prawns jumping away on the floor next to me, raced upstairs, boiled them (heads on to get the best taste) for a minute and a half and then doused them in cold water to stop the cooking. Then I ate them dipped in aioli. Oh, yes please! So when you buy them from a fishmonger, make sure they’re live in a tank or already have the head off.

Just an hour from dock to table. That's what I call fresh

Just an hour from dock to table. That’s what I call fresh

5. Support sustainable fishing – ask where the prawns came from You can buy spot prawns from Washington State or Alaska – but nothing beats the taste of a fresh-off-the-boat BC spot prawn. And nothing feels better than knowing that you’re supporting one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world. Sure, the season’s short but that makes it all the sweeter… Ask questions and make sure you support the good guys!

Nothing tastes as good as sustainable seafood!

Nothing tastes as good as sustainable seafood!

Everything you ever wanted to know about spot prawns from Organic Ocean

May 13

In which I get all fan girl-ish about Organic Ocean’s Steve Johansen… and eat a LOT of Spot Prawns

So... these are mine. What are YOU having?

So… these are mine. What are YOU having?

If there was any kind of polite or non-insulting way to compare someone to ‘Moby Dick’ I would absolute declare that right now, I feel a little like Captain Ahab. For the past four years I’ve heard tales of this mythical character who roams the oceans… I’ve listened to stories about him from every single great chef I’ve met in Canada and I’ve gleefully cleared my plate whenever one of his fish has been on it. So when I realised that the ‘Steve’ I was sitting next to tonight at dinner was Steve Johansen from Organic Ocean I had this sudden flash of fan-girl Ahab-ness, but there the metaphor kind of breaks down because A) he’s the fisherman and really, B) you can’t call someone ‘Moby Dick’ and hope to not be slapped in the face with a haddock next time they see you – but I hope you see my hideously laboured point? You do? In that case, I’ll go on…

I’ve been so inspired by Steve’s vision of sustainable fishing; it simply wasn’t something I gave a lot of thought to before but the more I stay here in Vancouver eating the freshest, most seasonable produce and learning more from the excellent folk at Ocean Wise about sustainable fishing, the more I see he’s quite the visionary.

The A Team

The A Team

I’ve been reading and hearing about the Spot Prawn festival for so long and this weekend I’ll finally get to experience it. I quizzed Steve about starting it along with Chef Robert Clark seven years ago: “For years almost all our Spot Prawns went to Japan, and here we were in BC eating farmed Tiger Prawns – all exported.” he said, rolling his eyes, “Robert and I were talking one winter and he said,  ‘I want these prawns to stay here.’ So we came up with the idea of the Spot Prawn festival. The first year there were 300 people, last year there were 2500 people. People love the idea of a local sustainable seafood and these prawns right here,” (he jabs the glistening silver-pink raw prawn on his plate for emphasis) “They were caught just six miles from this table.”

I was booted out of the way by iPhone-waving seafood fans - so apologies for this not-great image!

I was booted out of the way by iPhone-waving seafood fans – so apologies for this not-great image!

He’s right – it’s a great story and one that Chef Ned Bell is telling from the kitchen at the Four Seasons Yew Restaurant. I’d been invited along to taste the very first of the season, and for once being late paid off for me, I skittered across the steps by the hotel just in time for the first catch of Spot Prawns to come in. There were TV crews there, hordes of eager photographers all to snap the first sight of the Spot Prawns. Steve and his fellow fisherman Frank bounded out of the back of the truck with their haul and raced inside to the kitchens with the chefs.

Quivering slightly and translucent, the raw ones tasted candy-sweet

Quivering slightly and translucent, the raw ones tasted candy-sweet

We were treated to five courses of table-bangingly wonderful food – a joint venture between the chefs Clark and Bell that was a deft masterclass in showcasing wrigglingly-fresh ingredients. I ate raw candy-sweet Spot Prawns and Thai-style pickled ones with a peanut-y crunch, spiked with mint. I could have happily inhaled a satin-smooth pea soup made rich with prawns cheerily bobbing under the surface and spangled with salty crisp fork-shatter bacon. But best of all, a ‘Surf ‘n’ Surf’ where Spot Prawns met the most juicy succulent halibut and basically made out all over my plate.

Oh. My. God.


Thai-style with an un-Thai like (but perfect) Mascarpone-lime swirl

Thai-style with an un-Thai like (but perfect) Mascarpone-lime swirl

There are just a few short weeks of the Spot Prawn season, Yew are running a ‘Fans & Followers‘ five course menu from Saturday May 11th till Friday May 31st. Dive in; it will be wonderful.

I was a guest of Yew but – as ever – my words are 100% my own. I loved this. Really, really loved it.

Feb 13

The Best Crab Cake In Canada

I’ve often said that one of the things that I love most about living in Canada is the culinary discovery of it all. Not one week goes by when I don’t try a new fish, fruit or vegetable or discover a new way of cooking – or sometimes – a whole new cuisine. After seeing (and eating) sablefish on all the Ocean Wise restaurant menus, I decided to try making it at home and cooked my very first marinated sablefish this week. It was gorgeous but so expensive!  ‘Pay day fish’ @CarolynAli called it on Twitter, after giving me this fabulous recipe.  so perhaps I’ll save it just for special occasions.

But there’s another West Coast sustainable speciality that I see everywhere and had never tried before; Dungeness Crab, but after a trip to Coast, I figure I’ll not even bother trying to cook one as they have spoiled me forever by making The World’s Best Crab Cake (a title previously held by a tiny restaurant in Cork. Sorry guys, it’s time to hand over the trophy).

Look at it! All gorgeous and mouth-watering

Look at it! All gorgeous and mouth-watering

A confession: I’m never usually a crab fan; it’s not that I don’t like it, it’s more that I don’t love it, but I think I may have just been eating the Wrong Kind Of Crab. Turns out, I’m a West Coast girl all the way, as I was smitten after just one bite. So – what is a Dungeness Crab? They’re unique to the coastal waters of the pacific, they look just like a regular crab and Hiro Amano, Chef de Partie at Coast, told me that he thinks the Dungeness Crab is the “showcase fish for the crab family.” A little sweeter than say, king or snow crab, with an almost buttery flavour, this is just perfect on its own.

So why is this the World’s Best Crab Cake? Well, unlike most others this has almost no ‘filler’ at all. It’s 99% pure Dungeness Crab, bound together with a roasted-garlic aioli (no salt added) to enhance the natural sweetness and the smallest dash of panko to add a little crunch. It’s extraordinary. I went back a few days later just to have another taste as thoughts of its sweet juiciness had been swimming through my head. That second portion convinced me; this is just about as close to a perfect fish dish as anything I have ever tasted.

I’m sure there are a million things I can learn to cook with Dungeness Crab, but I shan’t ever bother replicating this. Go, eat it, but beware – just one bite may have you hooked.

I ate as a guest of COAST however, as always, my views are 100% my own.

Nov 12

Chowder Chowdown at the Vancouver Aquarium

The only accessory any smart Vancouverite needed tonight was a wooden spoon and voting slip from the Ocean Wise sustainable seafood Chowder Chowdown event at the Aquarium.

Forget designer bags or statement shoes: this spoon is all you need…

Twelve chefs, twelve delicious chowders, all competing for the honour of being voted the People’s Choice at the end of the night. I had such a great time; I hopped on the free old-fashioned trolley bus service that was laid on for the evening and rattled through town towards the Aquarium in Stanley Park. Once there, I was given my wooden spoon and slip and so galloped inside to start tasting.

What goes with chowder? Beer, of course! From the Granville Island Brewing Co.

What crowds! This was a sold-out event. I love that people turned out on a drizzly November evening to find out more about sustainable seafood and celebrate the great food culture of Vancouver. One of the first meals I ever ate in Vancouver, two years ago, was at C restaurant which was where I first read about the Ocean Wise initiative, the brainchild of the Vancouver Aquarium, dedicated to teaching consumers about how to make smart choices when it comes to sustainable seafood.

Better move fast…

In a nutshell this is the idea: overfishing is a huge threat to our oceans. The world’s marine life is quickly being depleted. A recent scientific study predicted a world-wide fisheries collapse by 2048. The only solution is to turn back from the brink, and to begin consuming seafood in a sustainable manner.

Definitely the winners of the best presentation award!

So, when you visit Vancouver, make sure you choose Ocean Wise seafood. It’s guilt-free eating because it fits these criteria:

  1. Abundant and resilient to fishing pressures
  2. Well managed with a comprehensive management plan based on current research
  3. Harvested in a method that ensures limited bycatch on non-target and endangered species
  4. Harvested in ways that limit damage to marine or aquatic habitats and negative interactions with other species.

100% sustainable AND delicious

All the restaurants that took part tonight work within those guidelines. I’ll be doing my best to support them — and so should you. It was a tough choice; I adored the spicy tomato-y flavour of Chef Alex Tung from Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria’s chowder and the amazing citrus foam on Chef Dana Hauser’s chowder from Herons -The Fairmont Waterfront, was superb. But the winner of the People’s Choice was new opening Chef Chris Whittaker for Forage at the Listel Hotel. I will definitely be stopping by to see what else they do… as well as feast on sustainable seafood!

The winners! Forage – whizzing about so fast I couldn’t catch’ em.

Inspired? You should be! Keep Exploring Canada…


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