Cassady Pappas, chef at Havana South in Portland, knows that people think of fish sticks when they hear the word “pollock.”
But Atlantic pollock is not the same thing as Alaska pollock, the fish that goes into fish sticks, imitation crab meat and other seafood products in the grocery store that many people think of as “filler fish.”
That’s not Atlantic pollock’s only image problem.
The flesh is a grayish color that turns some consumers off. But when it’s cooked, it turns white like cod or haddock.
“It’s very similar to cod and haddock, and I think it’s a great way to showcase a species that isn’t over fished right now,” said Pappas, who has been using pollock to make fish tacos at Havana South. He soaks the pollock in buttermilk, then breads it in flour, salt and chili powder before frying.
Pappas will be making his fish tacos at the Ultimate Seafood Splash at Harvest on the Harbor in Portland on Oct. 20. Four other chefs will be joining him in preparing dishes made from seafood that’s harvested responsibly but doesn’t have the culinary cachet of halibut or flounder.
In addition to pollock, the event will showcase redfish, whiting, northern shrimp and farm-raised cod.
Scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute have been working on a project they hope will raise public demand for these species, which in turn would make them more profitable for local fishermen. By connecting fishermen with chefs, the project is teaching the former how the fish need to be handled in order to be served in restaurants.
Events such as the Ultimate Seafood Splash serve as a public education component so home cooks and restaurant customers can learn there’s plenty of flavor in these least fashionable of fish.
Here’s a look at each of the species and how the chefs plan to use them at the Ultimate Seafood Splash:
These sweet, tender shrimp have become much more sought after in the past few years as chefs and home cooks have come to appreciate their delicate flavor. But fishermen still only get about 40 cents per pound for them, says Sam Grimley, coordinator of the Sustainable Seafood Project at GMRI.
Michael Ruoss, a New Orleans-based chef who grew up in Old Orchard Beach and has worked for celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, returns to Harvest on the Harbor festival to work his magic on northern shrimp.
Ruoss says that, despite living in Maine for many years, this is his first experience cooking with the tiny shrimp.
“I’m going to do a version of what we call barbecue shrimp down here, which has nothing to do with any kind of barbecue you’ve ever heard of,” he said. “It’s a local dish. It’s also like a scampi, but it’s got a lot more flavor going on than just garlic and lemon juice and butter. It’s got Worcestershire sauce and beer and chili powder, and a lot of coarse ground black pepper.
“It’s really rich and intense, and with the northern shrimp, the cook time is literally, like, two minutes.”
Ruoss will be serving the shrimp with French bread at Harvest on the Harbor, but it can also be served over grits, angel hair pasta or polenta.
Sam Hayward has served both Atlantic mackerel and redfish at Fore Street in Portland, and his first choice for the Ultimate Seafood Splash was mackerel — another one of the under-used species the GMRI is trying to promote to restaurants and the public.
But mackerel is out of season this time of year, and it doesn’t freeze well, so redfish — also known as ocean perch — has replaced it on Hayward’s Harvest on the Harbor menu. Redfish is usually available year round, but it comes closer to shore in summer and fall, according to Grimley.
A favorite of fishermen often relegated to the baitfish bin, redfish tastes similar to cod or haddock, but is a smaller filet and a little more dense.
“It cooks relatively quickly because it’s so small, and it’s great fried or broiled,” Grimley said. “I like using it in tacos because it is small, and you can just cut up a few pieces and make tacos with it.”
Hayward isn’t sure yet what he will be doing with the fish for the Seafood Splash, but people can expect a flavor from the fish that is “mild, slightly briny but still a bit sweet.” The flesh is lean, dense, fine-textured and easy to cook.
“It loves both moist and fatty cooking methods; for example, poaching or pan-searing,” Hayward said. “It takes marinades well because of its density and firmness. In pan cooking or grilling, filets need to be either skinned, or the skin must be slashed to prevent curling.”
Redfish can be baked as well, but Hayward recommends basting it first with olive oil or a butter sauce.
“It’s also very forgiving of cooking mistakes,” he said, “so it’s a good choice for cooks less experienced with a wide range of fish species.”
Mitchell Kaldrovich, chef at Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, has served whiting, redfish and northern shrimp at the inn’s Sea Glass restaurant.
Spanish-style pickled redfish and pickled mackerel have been presented as an amuse bouche, and shrimp goes into paella, a quesadilla, risotto and ceviche. At lunch, there’s an “under-utilized seafood taco” on the menu.
For the Ultimate Seafood Splash, Kaldrovich will be serving pan-seared whiting with local cauliflower and quinoa with citrus.
“The Whiting is flavorful, sweet and nutty, and is easy to work with,” Kaldrovich said. “Whiting is less flaky than the rest of the hake family, and forms a beautiful crust when pan-seared.”
Also on the menu will be a Spanish-style pickled whiting known as “escabeche.”
“In European markets,” noted Grimley, “they do a whole fish that they debone right at your table.”
The Salt Exchange in Portland frequently has sustainable seafood on its menu, including redfish, hake and pollock.
At the Seafood Splash, chef Adam White will be serving farm-raised cod — either as a chowder shooter topped with a garnish of seared cod or raw, sashimi-style cod with a light vinaigraitte.
“Cod isn’t typically picked when considering a raw presentation,” White said. “We found that it had a very sweet flavor, as well as a briny quality.”
Atlantic pollock is sometimes used in chowder or fishcakes.
“Pollock is easily substituted for cod or haddock, or some of your other well-known whitefish,” said Grimley of GMRI. “It tends to be a little more dense than cod or haddock, so it holds together when you put it in a chowder or stew or something like that. Some people also say it has a little more flavor because it’s higher in fat than cod and haddock.”
Cassady Pappas, chef at Havana South, has used it in stews and tacos, which is what he’ll be serving at the Seafood Splash. The tacos are layered with some avocado and pickled red cabbage, then served with a mayonnaise/mango/chipotle puree and lime wedges.
Pollock “has good characteristics to make a fish taco,” Pappas said. “It’s a white fish. It’s got a little higher oil content than haddock, but it holds up well in the fryer, and it has great delicate flavor.”
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: [email protected]