In the days when there were plenty of fish in the sea, Mainers rarely encountered dogfish on ice at the market. Blame its assertive taste and smell, just too strong for many who prefer flaky, white fish.
But the three-year-old Out of the Blue program from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute seeks to change eaters’ minds about dogfish and four other native, underused species – redfish, mackerel, whiting and Atlantic pollock. The Institute has partnered with 14 restaurants, stretching from Salem, Massachusetts, to Bath, to feature these fish in rotation for one month each, beginning this month with redfish.
Tasty dishes from the restaurants’ chefs are intended to woo eaters away from popular but overfished species, like cod, in favor of less familiar fish with healthier numbers, like dogfish. Presumably, if diners enjoy dogfish while eating out, they’ll consider cooking it at home. Is it working?
“The greatest measure of success … has been a recognizable increase in presence of these species within restaurants and markets even after the promotions have ended,” said James Benson, the institute’s sustainable seafood project manager. Sales of Atlantic pollock have nearly tripled at Portland markets in the past two years, he noted, while anecdotal evidence indicates that redfish is selling well, too.
But dogfish, which is a member of the shark family, is still hard to find at the fish market or the supermarket fish counter in Maine.
“Without demand, there is a disconnect at the middle of the supply chain. Our hope is to build enough customer awareness and interest in dogfish that people start to ask for it at the fish counter,” Benson said.
The Salt Exchange in Portland is among the restaurants participating in Out of the Blue. Of the five fish it featured last summer, dogfish was the best-seller, according to owner Charlie Byron. It did so well that in August The Salt Exchange will host a GMRI dinner featuring the fish. The restaurant has made sustainable seafood a focus since it opened in 2009. The restaurant’s daily fish special always features a sustainable fish described simply on the menu as “something different than the traditional white fish.”
Salt Exchange chef Adam White and sous chef Torr Kelso turn dogfish’s strong flavor and firm texture to their advantage by using a spicy marinade and grilling the fish over an open fire in recipes like this one, which Byron made for last weekend’s Old Port Festival. It was a hit. Byron handed out 25 pounds of dogfish in just over two hours.
For more information about Out of the Blue, go to http://bit.ly/1ji099e.