Image courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Researching and writing The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook has given me an appreciation for traditional and authentic recipes and eating the way our grandparents’ generation ate. It’s been a perfect complement to my other passion–sustainable foods.
Many of us shop at the neighborhood farmers market (or even work at one; I just got a job as a manager at the Pacific Grove Certified Farmers’ Market but more on that later) for fresh, seasonal produce and to support sustainable agriculture and small family farmers. But have you ever given sustainable seafood a thought?
I have to admit that I’ve only become more in tune with this important issue in the last two or three years. But since moving to the Monterey Peninsula and living so close to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the nation’s leaders in ocean conservation, it has risen to top of mind. Their Seafood Watch Program encourages us as consumers to play a role in protecting the health of the oceans to:
- Ensure a bounty of seafood for this and future generations.
- Support environmentally responsible fishing and fish farming.
- Increase the demand for ocean friendly seafood.
- Give species that are in peril a break so that they may recover
So what is sustainable seafood? According to the Aquarium, “Sustainable seafood is from sources, either fished or farmed, that can maintain or increase production into the long-term without jeopardizing the affected ecosystems.”
To help you guide you in your sustainable seafood decisions, you can download a regional pocket seafood guide here. Both Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and the Blue Ocean Institute have also produced sustainable sushi lists. Yes, that sake, toro and–woe is me–unagi served at American sushi restaurants aren’t sustainable. (Read more about this issue in a post I wrote for National Geographic Traveler’s Intelligent Travel .) Another tool is the Green Guide’s nifty fish finder. Just plug in the name of a fish and learn how ocean-friendly it actually is.
To celebrate National Seafood Month, fellow food-blogger Jacqueline over at the Leather District Gourmet launched Teach a Man to Fish 2008, a blog event to create awareness about sustainable seafood.
I’ve chosen to focus on shrimp. Over the last decade, shrimp has become American’s favorite seafood but with a high cost to the environment. According to this article in the San Francisco Chronicle , “some 85 percent of shrimp eaten in the United States comes from China, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Taiwan, Ecuador, Mexico and other Asian and Latin American countries, as well as Australia… Yet most guides to sustainable seafood consumption advise against buying imported shrimp because the way these are farmed or caught is generally destructive to the environment.”
As cheap as they are, I’ve had to slap my hands many times to stop them from picking up that pack of tiger shrimp from Thailand at the market. Along the coast of Thailand, as well as numerous other tropical nations, mangrove forests once sheltered wild fish and shrimp which the locals caught to feed their families. Mangroves also filter water and protect the coast against storm waves. However, with increasing demand from Europe, Japan and America, many mangrove forests have been cut down and replaced with shrimp farms. After a few years, waste products build up in the farm ponds and the farmers have to move on. The end result: no shrimp farms and no mangrove forest.
So, farmed shrimp from Thailand is a big no-no. According to the Seafood Watch guide, pink shrimp from Oregon (the tiny shrimp used for shrimp cocktail or salads) is a best choice (green), U.S. and Canadian farmed/wild shrimp and U.S. and British Columbia spot prawns are good alternatives (gold), but imported farmed or wild shrimp should be avoided (red!!). Click here for the details.
I have to tell ya, shopping for sustainable shrimp isn’t an easy task. I made a trip to Trader Joe’s the other day and found that their frozen farm-raised shrimp is imported from various sources: Bangladesh, India, Mexico, Thailand, and Vietnam. At Safeway, the frozen shrimp hailed from China and Thailand. The shrimp in the refrigerated section wasn’t even labeled!
Ack! Where was I to find shrimp that I could buy without treading on my conscience? At Nob Hill Foods it turned out. Here, I found wild white shrimp from the U.S. at $12.99/pound–ouch!–as well as Canadian farmed shrimp ($8.99/pound) and Thai tiger shrimp ($4.99/pound). I bought a pound of Canadian shrimp. I made a mental note to explore local fishmongers next time. I live right next to Monterey Bay for goodness sake!
At home, I transformed my shrimp into tom kha goong, using a recipe from Nicky and Jill Sriprayul who own Thai Bistro II in Pacific Grove, CA (if you visit the Monterey Peninsula, dine here for some yummy Thai food!). As I sipped the fragrant soup, I relaxed knowing I was doing good by my taste buds, my conscience and the environment.
I’m a practical person. I realize that not everyone is fortunate enough to live in a locale where sustainable shrimp (or sustainable edible anything for that matter) is readily available or affordable. It’s easy to follow this mantra if we don’t have to go too much out of our way. But if it’s beyond our means or pocketbooks, we can do one of two things–abstain or go easy. Abstaining is a little drastic. If you’re not prepared to go full-throttle then I believe that everything in moderation is a good thing (yes, that means no more all-you-can-eat shrimp buffets!). You’ll still be making a difference, albeit with baby steps.
Thai Hot and Sour Soup with Shrimp and Coconut Milk (Tom Kha Goong)
Like all home-cooked dishes, tom kha comes in many guises. Remember tom ka kai? The Sriprayuls’ version is spicier and has a little more kick. Substitute the shrimp with chicken (perhaps chopped-up chicken wings as Nicky likes) or a mixed seafood medley. For tom yum, omit the coconut milk entirely.
Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tablespoons sweet chili paste
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 cups shrimp, chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
5 thin slices fresh galangal
2 stalks fresh lemongrass, using white parts only, chopped into 2-inch pieces
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves, crumpled
8 mint leaves, hand torn
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup sliced button mushrooms
1/2 cup straw mushrooms
1/3 cup red onions cut into thin slices
12 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined with tails intact
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1/4 cup loosely-packed cilantro sprigs
1 teaspoon finely chopped Thai red chilies (optional)
Mix the first 4 ingredients in a small bowl to form a chili sauce.
In a large pot, bring stock and coconut milk to boil over medium heat. Add galangal, lemongrass, and lime leaves. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes for spices to infuse broth.
Stir in chili sauce, mint leaves tomatoes, mushrooms, and red onions. Bring to boil and cook for 2 minutes.
Stir in shrimp and cook until pink, about 1 minute. Do not overcook!
Fish out herbs and ladle soup into a serving bowl. Garnish with green onions, cilantro, and chilies, if desired.