The Once and Future Fish Trans

A Supermarket of the Future

            AB's Granddaughter

[AB is portrays himself as his futuristic older self, he's shopping with his granddaughter in a very white-themed, sterile-looking, futuristic supermarket, at the end of the aisle is the fish counter] WHOLE SQUID      5,000,000 CREDITS
SQUID TUBES        700,000 CREDITS

GRANDDAUGHTER: [puts a few items in her basket]
What you getting there? Soup capsules.
GD: [runs down to the unattended fish counter] Come on, Grandpa.
AB: Okay, I'm coming. I'm coming. I'm coming. Hold your horses here. What do we got? What do we got? Oh, what do we got? What do we got?
GD: Well, we have Loligo vulgaris and Pandalus borealis.
AB: So, squid and shrimp.
GD: Yep.
AB: Fabulous. More like a bait shop in there. I remember a time when you came to a fish counter and you got real fish. They had bullet-shaped tunas and, and, and salmon that smelled like melon in the summertime. And we had these big black grouper with mouths as big as buckets.
GD: What happened to them all?
AB: What happened? Overfished. Depleted, they call it. We got so good at getting them out of the water that after a while, well, there weren't enough of them to go back and fish for. Plenty of squid, though. That's good.
GD: Buffalo.
AB: Hmm? What's that?
GD: The Great Plains used to be covered up with furry cow things, buffalo. There were so many that people shot them from trains just for fun. Then one day, they were gone.
AB: Hmm. Hairy cow things. You're talking about buffalo. Buffalo. Yeah, they're gone too.
GD: [sighs]
AB: Humans have never been too good with the concept of sustainability.
GD: What's sustainability mean?
AB: Well, it's a way of managing your resources so that you can have your cake and eat it, too. But money, oil, rainforest, buffalo, tuna, you name it, we're pretty lousy at sustaining it.
GD: Did you talk about sustainability on your show?
AB: Did I? No. People don't like it when entertainers get up on soap boxes.
GD: But, grandpa, people listen to you. Maybe you could have convinced them that eating sustainably was ...

[Good Eats theme plays]

A Supermarket of the Future

AB: Nah. Never would have worked.
GD: Well, just pretend. What if you could have made a difference?
AB: Could have made a difference? Well, to do that, the first thing that I would have had to have done is to tell them the truth, even the really ugly parts.

The Kitchen

    Americans have a big appetite for a short list of large fish like tuna, swordfish, and salmon. In fact, commercial fishing operations sweep them out of the water so quickly that the populations simply cannot sustain themselves. What's more, for every 3.7 million metric tons of fish we do want to catch, we also pull in one million we don't want. They simply die on the decks and are shoveled back into the sea. 3.7 million metric tons
1 million wasted
    But wait! There's more. Because they live so long, big, top-of-the-food-chain predators can store pollutants like mercury and other harmful chemicals in their bodies that are then passed on to the eaters, like us.

Levels of toxins increase in large predator fish with age

    The answer? We need to aim our forks lower down the food chain and dine on smaller fish that grow quickly, breed quickly, and frankly, die quickly, all on their own.

Aim forks lower
down the food chain

    If we don't, well, here's a graphic representation of our wild fisheries just 100 years ago. [a fish tank with many fish] Here's what today looks like. [fewer fish in tank] And if projections bear out, by 2048, here's what we'll be looking at. [just a few fish] Get the picture

100 years ago



A Supermarket of the Future

GD: Wait a second. Why not just raise these big fish like cattle? Farm them.
AB: Ah, we tried that, too. The problem is is Americans like these big pelagic predators, and they've got a terrible conversion rate.
GD: A conversation what?
AB: It means you have to feed them a lot in order to gain even a little bit of weight. Take your average bluefin tuna. You got to feed him 12, 13 pounds of food just to gain a pound of weight. No, it's like, it's like farming lions.

Lion Farm

    Trying to farm lions? Imagine how many gazelle, deer, and antelope and such that you and I could eat, that we'd have to raise, slaughter and grind into lion chow just to grow a few cats big enough to take to market. And what are the living environments? I mean, here, you've got these animals, born to roam wide-open spaces in search of a varied diet, and you're sticking them in a pen together and feeding them manufactured food. I'm telling you, sooner or later, some ... AAHHHH! [AB is attacked and pulled own]

A Supermarket of the Future

GD: Oh! So I guess you're not a very big fish farm fan.
AB: No. Now that depends on the fish. And more importantly, it depends on the farm.


    Fish farming, or aquaculture, has been around for thousands of years. The Chinese were cultivating carp captured in small ponds from receding flood waters as early as 2500 B.C. While the Alekoko fishponds in Kauai were a robust source of protein for native Hawaiians a thousand years ago.

    Today, farmed fish and shellfish account for more than half of the seafood consumed on this planet. What effect that has on our little spinning orb depends on three factors: Species, method, and location.




    If the fish in question requires a great deal of space, gobbles massive quantities, and leaves equally massive biological deposits, then penning up said creature with a few thousand of his fellows in the cramped conditions will probably lead to disease and waste seepage into the surrounding ecosystem. Imprisoned thusly, such fish rarely grow to market dimensions without the aid of pharmaceutical agents such as antibiotics and hormones. Although large open-water pen operations are changing things for the better, the farming of large predatory fin fish does not yet qualify them for good-eats status.

    Other species, however, including catfish, tilapia, and trout, are very efficient at converting feed to body mass. They don't mind living in close quarters and are often cultivated well inland, where their waste and contamination can be effectively contained and managed.




    The real key to aquaculture success is in protective legislation, regulation and management. Although we are far from perfect, the U.S. leads the world in such matters. So if you're going to buy farm-raised fish, do us all a favor and buy American.

Trout were the first farmed fish in North America.

A Supermarket of the Future

GD: So granddad, what's so good about trout?


AB: Oh, what's so great about trout? Trout, trout's a sweet, sweet fish. It's got enough fat to where it doesn't overcook very easily. It has omega-3 fatty acidseniors like that. And they're, they're small enough to handle whole at home. And you know what? They're really good ramp fish.
GD: Ramp to what?
AB: Oh, ramp to other smaller, even tastier fish, things like anchovies, sardines. And it's also a ramp to unorthodox cooking applications.
GD: So what would you make?
AB: Well, I might just draw some inspiration from my old pub-crawling days in Berlin.

Berlin Pub

    Before the advent of refrigeration, the herring, not the deer, was a vital source of protein and calories for northern Europeans, mostly due to the fact that their fat content make them very very easy to preserve via salting. Now scooped from the North and Baltic seas by the boatload, these cousins of the sardine were either pickled or smoked, packed into barrels, and shipped via rail across the continent.
    Although the English have always preferred their herring smoked—a delicacy they now call kippers, which they eat for breakfast—Germans have always preferred their little fishies with a pickling punch. And they prefer to have theirs when they're drinking beer. In fact, during the Biedermeier period, drinking establishments in and around Berlin became known for tall jars called "hungerturm" or hunger towers, which were often filled to the brim with pickled herring rollmops: 'roll' from 'rollen' or rolled, and mops meaning 'blockhead' of all things. They also used the same word to describe pug dogs. I don't know what to say about that.
    This tasty treat was little more than a piece of fish preserved, rubbed with mustard, wrapped around a pickle and marinated. Now herring's mid-millennial popularity eventually led to overfishing and populations that are, well, still a little shaky to this day. But that's okay, because we've got trout.

The Kitchen

    [at the refrigerator] When it comes to pickling fish, a process I happen to adore, I use a two-tiered approach: a brine and then a pickle.

    Now the brine, although it will affect the flavors, is primarily about changing the texture, firming up the flesh of the fish, by using salt to manipulate the protein structure, okay? In this case, we're talking about three and a quarter ounces of salt—that's half a cup of kosher—dissolved in a quart of clean cold water. A pound of trout fillets go in, and we refrigerate overnight. Unless, of course, you live in Alaska and it's winter. Then overnight would be too much. So let's just say eight hours and leave it at that. ½ Cup Kosher Salt
1 Quart Water
1 Pound Trout Fillet
    [at the stove] All right, time to get into a pickle. Combine two cups of apple cider vinegar with two cups of good old-fashioned H2O in a saucepan with a two-quart capacity. 2 Cups Cider Vinegar
2 Cups Water
    Add to that one tablespoon of sugar, eight whole allspice berries, eight whole cloves—very nice—six black peppercorns, four bay leaves, which, of course, would be dried like that, and a teaspoon of red pepper flake. Crank the heat to, we'll say, medium-high, and stir until you have brought it to a boil. Then kill the heat and cool to room temperature. 1 Tbs. Sugar
8 Whole Allspice Berries
8 Whole Cloves
6 Whole Black Peppercorns
4 Bay Leaves, Dried
1 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

    [back at the refrigerator] Allow the flavors to fully develop overnight in the fridge. Oh, same Alaska rule applies.
    [at the sink] The next day, drain the brine off of the fish, and give the fillets a really really good rinsing. And drain that off, and then fill it again with cold water, and allow the fillets to just soak for about an hour. Then dry them off very well with paper towels. There. That's what we're looking for.

    [at the refrigerator] And now we build. Extract our pickling liquid. We'll also need more pickles, some of these little pickled onions, little cocktail guys. Some cornichons, which are small, French, very, very sour pickles. Love those. Some Dijon mustard, okay? And last but not least, one medium onion, which you would never store in here [the fridge], now would you? Good. Pickled Onions
Dijon Mustard
1 Medium Onion

Onions tend to decompose quickly in the moist environment of the refrigerator. Whole onions should be kept dry and around 45 degrees.

A Supermarket of the Future

GD: Granddad?
AB: Uh, yes, dear?
GD: This sounds really complicated.
AB: No, no, no. It's easy. It's easy. Just julienne the onion, and then take the toothpicks and ... I did mention the toothpicks, didn't I?
GD: What toothpicks?
AB: Oh, yeah. You're going to need toothpicks for sure. Next ...

The Kitchen

    Our assembly line is, well, assembled, and I have taken the liberty of cutting the fish into strips. Let's remember, the application was devised for herring. Usually a little bit smaller. This will be a lot easier to work with, and it won't be so much in the mouth. So we build.
    I like to work just one strip at a time, so a piece of trout goes down. It's about four and one-half, five inches long. Brush on a little Dijon, just enough to cover, and then either grab yourself a pickled onion or a cornichon, and a stout toothpick. Now stick the toothpick through the center food first, and then into the trout. That'll keep things from getting mushed. Pull the toothpick through, roll it over and push it back through the fish on the other side until you have a secure roll like that.
    And then just add until you have one layer in your jar. Cover with some of the [julienned] onion, add another layer, more onions, until you are up to the top of the jar. Then it's time to pour on the pickle [juice]. There you go. Very nice, indeed.
    [at the refrigerator] Now stash these back in the fridge for a minimum of five hours, although two days would be better. After that, you can serve, or drain off the pickle and refrigerate for, say, up to two weeks. If you leave the pickle in place, well, the fish will start to dissolve, and, well, that won't be good eats.

If you find yourself in a pickle without any trout,
try herring, sardines, or smelt.

The Kitchen

    Rollmops may look funny, and yes, they've got a funny name. But they may also may be the best friend a cold beer and a slab of pumpernickel ever had.

A Supermarket of the Future

GD: What's pumpernickel?
AB: Oh, it's another show. But as much is the case with herring and anchovies and sardines and whatnot, if you're willing to just brine your trout for a few hours, well, the culinary possibilities are endless. [nods off]

Idaho's Hagerman Valley, produces more than 80% of the trout sold in the U.S.

A Supermarket of the Future

GD: Grandpa!
AB: [waking up, startled] Huh? Huh? What? Hello.
GD: You kind of nodded off there.
AB: I did not. That's ridiculous. I was, I was resting, resting my eyes. Now where were we? Ah!

The Kitchen

    [at the refrigerator] Let's say you've brined your trout, this time two pounds of the orange fleshed variety—very pretty—for three hours in the very same brine as before. Well, interesting options would be available to you. For instance, you could rinse it thoroughly, pat it dry, position it on a rack and re-enter in the refrigerator for 24 hours. 2 Pounds Trout Fillets

    [narrating through a television set] During this time, water-soluble proteins coaxed to the surface of the fish by the salt will dry, forming a very thin and slightly tacky layer called a pellicle. Now this pellicle is interesting because it performs kind of like a molecular plastic wrap, preventing those healthy fish oils inside from seeping out during cooking. The pellicle is also highly attractive to things like smoke.
    [back at the refrigerator] Of course, this means we'll need a smoker.




The Front Yard

    If you happen to be a fan of this show, you are no doubt familiar with my predilection for smoking and cooking in unorthodox, and, some might say, unauthorized contraptions: cardboard boxes, flowerpots, that kind of thing. Much like Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaists, I find high art in the repurposing of the ordinary and the mundane. And I really like hanging out in army surplus stores, where I found this super sweet wooden box.
    Now I've got no idea what the military designed this to actually do, but I do know if you drill a few holes in it for air and smoke and load it up with some cheap oven racks, you got yourself a nice smoker. The exterior insignia, optional, but highly recommended. Did that myself.
    If you are keen on using a charcoal grill for smoking, feel free to do so. Just know that you're going to have to manage the heat, keeping it very low, ideally between, say, 150 and 160 degrees. And that is tough with charcoal, okay? Now, let's take a look at the inside.
    Ahh, here are the inner workings. Very, very simple. I have just a pan, about a $10 electric hot plate from the hardware store, and on top of that, an eight-inch cast-iron skillet. Inside that, about two cups of hardwood chips.
    Now I live in the south, so I use hickory chips. But it really doesn't matter as long as they are hardwood. I've got this cranked to high, but since I've got smoke starting, I can turn it down to medium, which is where I'm going to leave it throughout the smoking process.
    Now I got really lucky with this box, because not only does it look cool, but look. On the side, I've got these little kind of ribs, and I've just put some binder clips on them to extend them to make it easier to load the fish, which goes right like that. Couldn't be more simple. All right, we lid up.
    Now I'm interested in the temperature of the air inside this: the smoke, not the food. So I've taken the probe from my digital thermometer, stuck it through a wine cork, and that goes in the top of the box. You'll notice that I've set the temperature alarm to go off at 160 degrees, and just for fun, set the time for two and a half hours, which is the average for this dish. At this point, there's nothing to do but, I don't know, go enjoy a lovely beverage.

LOVELY BEVERAGE: [whistle off-camera]

And there's one calling me now.

Smoking fish was originally used as a preservation technique.

    When your fish is done, it will be noticeably darker due to the smoke. And you may also see a few whitish droplets that are simply protein that's been pushed up by the heat.

    Nothing to worry about. I should also point out that other small sustainable fishies, such as sardines, smelt and mackerel, take to smoke just as well as trout.

Sardines, Smelt & Mackerel are good for smoking.

The Kitchen

    Besides eating out of hand or off the stick, smoked trout is delightful in a wide range of products. Consider making it into a dip with sour cream and chives. Serve it along apples and cheese, on a sandwich, with a salad, on top of eggs, or, of course, instead of bananas in a banana split.

A Supermarket of the Future

GD: You're kidding, right?
AB: No. [laughs] Of course I am. Or am I?
GD: I mean, what if somebody didn't want to go to all the trouble of brining and stuff?
AB: Oh, you young people. You're always in such a hurry. But where are you going?
GD: [laughs]
AB: Oh, it's all right. Don't worry. There's a Spanish dish I know of called, uh ... uh ... uh ...

Rainbow trout have been known to weigh as much as 50 pounds.

The Kitchen

    If you're looking for a darn tasty but practical procedure for a small oily fish like, say, trout, you might consider escabeche [pron: es-ka-BAY-chay]. Which is a Spanish dish, but the word is actually Persian for "acid food," but it's better than it sounds. Although sardines would be the authentic ingredient, trout will do just fine. And it all begins with a simple fry procedure.

    I have here four head-on dressed trout in the six to eight-ounce range. I'm going to dredge them. I just have a zip-top bag here with a third of a cup of all-purpose flour, seasoned with a teaspoon of kosher salt, and a quarter teaspoon of black pepper. Knock off as much of the flour as possible, and then into one third of a cup of olive oil that has been heated over medium-high heat in a 12-inch sauté pan. 4 (6-8) Ounce Whole Trout,

1/3 Cup Flour
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground Black

1/3 Cup Olive Oil

    Let each of the fish cook for a minute on each side, just like that. And be careful when you turn, because there could be a little bit of splattering. There. Now as the fish are finished, move them off into a 9" x 13" glass baking dish. Don't worry about draining them or anything.

    And then add one red onion, julienned, to the pan, and turn the heat down to medium. Stir that often, and then let it cook for about five minutes or until it is just barely translucent. At that point, you are going to add three cloves of garlic, sliced thin, and cook for an additional minute. 1 Medium Red Onion,

3 Cloves Garlic, Sliced

    There. Now everybody else in the pan. That will be one half teaspoon of salt. There we go. A quarter teaspoon of pepper, one and a half cups of white wine—any vintage will do. There we go. One half a cup of plain old white wine vinegar. There. And then the spices: half a teaspoon each of smoked paprika and ground coriander, and about three strips of lemon zest, and six sprigs of fresh thyme right in. Now drop the heat to low, and barely simmer, uncovered, for ten minutes, or until it looks, well, just like this. ½ tsp. Kosher Salt
¼ tsp. Freshly Ground Black
1½ Cups White Wine
½ Cup White Wine Vinegar
½ tsp. Each Smoked Paprika
    & Ground Coriander
3 Strips Lemon Zest
6 Sprigs Fresh Thyme

    Then you're going to kill the heat and pour the marinade, and yes, that's exactly what this is, onto the fish, all the chunks and everything. Then refrigerate uncovered for anywhere from one to 12 hours. Then bring back to room temperature to serve to a thankful audience. There.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Zoey Brown, AB's daughter

[granddaughter from the future now appears in the present-day scene]

ZB: [still dressed in her futuristic garb] So you marinate the fish after you cook it?
AB: That's right. Pretty cool trick, huh? Oh. [removes latex mask, to reveal that grandpa AB is, in fact, AB, father of Zoey]
ZB: I wish you wouldn't take your face off at the table, Dad.
AB: Oh, I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

    And I apologize for all the theatrics. But sustainable seafood ...

ZB: ... and healthy oceans...

... are worth subjecting your face to hours of uncomfortable latex. You know, we have some pretty serious seafood and conservation challenges ahead of us. But as Jacques Cousteau said ...

ZB: ... "We are human beings, and we have faith, we have hope, and we can work."

    And here's the work I want you to do. I want you to become sustainable seafood savvy. You can start by checking out web sites with some sound science on the subject, like

ZB: And next time you go to your favorite restaurant or local market, ask for sustainable seafood. If they don't have any, demand to speak to the management immediately.

Extreme, but I like it. I like it. And of course, above all, eat more fish. Just try to eat small fish, because they tend to be more sustainable.

ZB: And not to mention, good eats.
AB: Why don't you get your own show?
ZB: Fine.
AB: Eat your dinner.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010