3 “Better” Fish?

They’re not pretty, but they might help you go easier on the ocean

Paul Greenberg

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licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

There are eight words that make a food writer tremble. They are spoken a little while after the writer has taken a seat in a restaurant far beyond his means. He peruses the menu and, hoping for an early night, picks out something light and simple. But before he can order his modest dinner the server whisks the menu out of the writer’s hands and speaks those eight words — graciously, of course — but with the air of a threat: “Chef would like to cook for you tonight.”

So began a meal one stormy October evening at Dan Barber’s restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, close to New York City. That a long, weird food march was in store is not surprising. As one of the few chefs ever listed among TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people, Barber, author of The Third Plate, is an endlessly inventive kitchen master, tirelessly working and reworking his ecological concepts on the former Rockefeller estate turned farm-to-table mad scientist laboratory. For years Barber has gained admirers that range from former United States vice president and climate-change warrior Al Gore to The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, who recently gave the restaurant a glowing review both for the quality of food and for the chef’s determination to cook with a smaller footprint.

Yet this was not to be the usual “prisoner-of-chef” scenario where a lord of the kitchen rolls out expensive product flown in from the far corners of the world. No, what chef Barber wanted cooked for me this night was a grand experiment in low-end seafood. Over a meal consisting of 15-odd courses, I, along with the marine ecologist Carl Safina, would sample three profoundly ignored fish: northern porgy, sea robin, and Atlantic butterfish.

As recreational fishermen used to classier catches, Safina and I regarded these fish as unimpressive, by-catch, or bait. But our other dining companion that evening, Sean Barrett, the co-founder of a new community-supported fishery called “Dock to Dish,” thought otherwise. Barrett had supplied Barber with the evening’s fare from boats out of nearby Montauk, Long Island, and he believed that these creatures deserved to be at the avant-garde of culinary America.

The amount of fish that is…

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Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World paulgreenberg.org