The thing that I love most about Jamie Oliver is his relentless optimism. The man will not be daunted! Whether taking on the lunch ladies or the FDA or kids from the inner city, he will never sway from his fundamental conviction that it is possible for anyone to prepare healthy, fresh food from scratch.
Now, I agree with Jamie. I too am all about fresh, healthy, organic, locally-sourced food. I grew up in Sonoma, a bastion of back-to-the-land foodie culture if there ever was one, not to mention I put in several years in Portland surrounded by vegetarians, vegans, freegans and the odd fruititarian. That said, I no longer live there.
I now live in a majority Mexican neighborhood, within a short drive of Monterey Park, a diverse Asian community. Which is to say, I have to go out of my way to buy hummus. However, I have no problem getting a wide variety of great produce, any cut of meat and practically any ingredient needed for any ethnic cuisine. The issue is fish.
For Christmas, I got Jamie’s book “Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook.” I was particularly excited by the sections on fish and meat since I’m not particularly adept at preparing either of these, nor do I know anything about how to select the right items at the market. I realized Jamie is from another planet when I reach the section: “At the Fishmonger’s.” I have never seen a fishmonger in my life, which will probably make it tough for me to befriend him and call him in the morning to check on the latest catch. So I moved on to the other tips.
Fresh fish shouldn’t smell fishy.
Ranch 99, the massive Asian supermarket, has a vast selection of fish. That said, the entire place reeks of fish – all the way over to the produce on the opposite side of the store. I’m not sure about the particular fish I’m considering buying because the stench of fish is overpowering me as I sniff it. Is that a bad sign?
The eyes should be clear, bright and shiny.
One day I was at Ranch 99, when suddenly there was a stampede. I had a pretty great view, since I am a full head taller than all other people in Monterey Park, which would be awesome if there were more rock concerts over here. I realized one of the guys had just popped out with an enormous tub of live fish that he dumped into a vat in the aisle. People went CRAZY, grabbing the wiggling fish and wrangling them into their bags. Confirmed: the eyes were bright and shiny. On the down side, they were all gone by the time I got up there. Jamie, you might want to add a tip about the need to be assertive and not hesitate to use your elbows in the quest for fresh seafood.
If there are sustainability issues with a particular fish, it’s probably a good idea to use something similar in its place.
Since going to Monterey Bay Aquarium years ago, I’ve been carrying their Seafood Watch Guide in my wallet. Talk about buzz kill. Mercury in tuna!? Overfishing of Chilean sea bass!? Will it never end?! This guide has a bajillion varieties of fish in it – however, it was no match for the staggering selection at Ranch 99. There were varieties that I googled that only came up on the some sort of international fishing website that sounded like it was written by the CIA.
I was able to pretty conclusively decide that farmed anything wasn’t going to cut it and imported was generally a hit against it. That left me with U.S. wild…fish paste. It looked like quivering gray mass of fish-based jello. And no-go on the salmon, usually my staple. At the end of the day, the only two items I could decisively conclude met sustainability standards were the lobsters and crabs. So I guess I’ll be eating like a queen…
So, Jamie, I could definitely use a hand over here pinning down this fishmonger business. I know you’ve been slumming in LA lately, so I’m not asking you to take a transatlantic flight or anything. Those westsiders you’ve been hanging with will probably not actually be able to locate my neighborhood. Just go east. You’ll know when you get there. I’ll treat you to a taco – and a boba tea.