Last week it was threatening snow. Suddenly I’m rummaging through my bathroom drawers for the sunscreen. It’s weather whiplash! Luckily our trusty Big Board is full of deliciousness no matter the temperature and our Produce markets are ready for the seasonal transition. And we’ve got a new arrival in our Seafood Market that I’m excited to share.
Seasonal Spring Veggies are Back in Town
The return of Spring gets me excited to bust out the grill — more on that in the weeks to come — but it also means the return of some of our perennial Produce favorites like Green Globe artichokes and California organic asparagus.
The artichokes in particular are a special treat this time of year. This tender thistle can be cooked in dozens of ways, but they’re fun to eat, too, and often dubbed the “original finger food.” They’re usually only available for about 4-5 weeks and will most likely be gone by May. So be sure to get in our markets and experience their tender flavor while you can.
According to the California Farm Bureau Foundation, the state grows virtually all the artichokes in the US and most them come from Castroville, a tiny town in Monterey County renowned for its cool, ocean breezes, making it a perfect spot for growing excellent artichokes. They really know how to celebrate their signature crop, too. This year, they’ll be hosting their 60th annual Artichoke Food & Wine Festival, complete with live music, parades, and chef demos. They also crown the yearly Artichoke King or Queen during the festival. Notable past artichoke monarchs include Marilyn Monroe in 1948 and American Idol’s infamous William Hung in 2006. To quote the California Sun’s Noah Smith, “Unlike Monroe, [Hung] did not become an international sex symbol nor a legendary entertainer.”
Artichokes can be a little tricky to prep if you’ve never done it before. They’re kind of like the hipster of the veggie world: a little fussy and prickly on the outside but tender and rewarding once you get to know them. Check out this video to learn how and then utilize one of our delicious artichokes recipes to put them to good use! If you’re not feeling that ambitious, simply pair them with your favorite red wine and a really creamy spinach dip.
We’ve had great-eating asparagus from Mexico in our markets for a while, but now is the time to start the “migration” back up to Washington.
“It’s been a cold winter,” said Jim Foley, our Produce Specialist, “and the ground has been too cold for normal planting. That means crops are coming in late all up and down the coast, which can lead to gaps in what’s available. But that’s how the Produce business goes and we always source the best-eating varieties out there and stay as close to home as possible.”
For our money, the Mexico asparagus tastes pretty good, but the California organic is even better. And when the crème de la crème comes in — fresh and tender Washington asparagus — I’ll be sure to let you know. “A colder winter isn’t all bad news,” Jim explained. “All the cold weather we had means more ‘chill hours’ for Washington soft fruit and apples, which is probably good news for the late summer, early fall harvest.”
The Case for Cooking Whole Fish
Last week, two of my co-workers and I were taste-testing our newest recipe, Pan-Roasted Branzino, in our full-sized kitchen in Poulsbo. Branzino is a medium-sized, Mediterranean sea bass that’s tender and flaky with a flavor similar to trout. It’s a brand-new addition to our Seafood Markets and we’re pretty stoked about it.
Katie, a chef from the Culinary Resource Center at Central Market Poulsob, rubbed four whole branzino lightly in olive oil, seasoned them with salt and pepper, crisped them to a golden brown in large, cast-iron pan and finished them off in the oven for a few more minutes. It was simple, elegant, and hands-down the most delicious recipe I’ve ever had in that kitchen. The rest of the office didn’t agree.
Recipe-testing time always attracts the rest of the crew to the kitchen to see if they can snag a delicious free lunch. But once they got a look at those gaping fish heads still connected to the tender fillets, they all politely raised their hands in protest, saying some version of “No thanks…I can’t eat anything that’s staring back at me.” I’m not sure which emotion I felt more: sympathy that they were missing out on an amazing flavor experience or joy that the delicious branzino would be mine…all mine! The thing is, if Katie had quickly removed the head and pulled out the bones, many of those same co-workers wouldn’t have batted an eyelash and probably would have enjoyed it nearly as much as we had.
Reactions that like that aren’t surprising, though. Americans just don’t have the same relationship with fresh seafood as the rest of the world. In 2015, the average American only ate about 15 lbs. of fish, according to the Commerce Department, while the rest of the world ate about 43 lbs., nearly three times as much. And a good portion of that 15 lbs. of fish was spooned out of a can.
Moe Eveland, the Culinary Manager at Central Market in Shoreline and the creator of our Pan-Roasted Branzino recipe, wonders if a lot of Americans just got used to food looking sterile and packaged. We’re more comfortable grabbing a wrapped pack of chicken breast then a whole fish on ice.
“Sometimes we get used to seeing seafood served to us at restaurants on a clean white plate with a wavy line of sauce,” Moe said. “We don’t like to see where our food came from. But a recipe like this is not only rich in flavor, it’s simple and accessible. Rustic even. There’s not a lot of steps from the pan to your plate, yet it still feels gourmet.”
Moe says branzino and other less well-known fish won’t replace salmon or cod, and they don’t need to. They’re just a unique and cheaper alternative to your go-to fish of choice. “A single serving fish like this that’s so delicate, moist and lean…it’s amazing it’s this affordable.”
We import our Branzino from farms just outside of Greece that meet our sustainability standards, so be sure to check in with our fishmongers for current availability and market price. Seriously, just ask them! They’re full of good advice and love to share their knowledge. They’ll also scale, clean and gut your fish, if you’re not ready to take that on. (I don’t gut my own fish, but definitely try it with the bones and heads still attached. It’s not a hard as it sounds!)
Our very own cheese whiz, Shauna Howell, offers up a cheese worth discovering.
SOLERA ROSY GOAT: A Spanish goat’s milk cheese that’s mild and creamy and rubbed with fresh, aromatic rosemary. It’s a good melter for fresh, steaming-hot pasta with a touch of olive oil — no further sauce required. With a little more age than a fresh chèvre, the Rosy Goat probably has more universal appeal, making it a friendly addition to your cheese plate. Plus, it’s already dressed up in rosemary for the party! Enjoy with a dish of Spanish olives and Marcona almonds for an authentic tapas plate.
Chris Allen is a copywriter and assistant marketer with Town & Country Markets. He’s a former contributing editor, radio anchor and producer, and an Air Force veteran. He’s also mastered the art of chopping red onions with one hand while sipping a dry Tempranillo in the other.