Which Fish for Christmas?
Many choices, but just a few sustainable options (written with Carl Safina)
Long ago the Roman Catholic Church decreed Christmas Eve a vigil during which the faithful should solemnly await Christ’s arrival and his deliverance of a better world.
It took Romans and the rest of the Italian world about two seconds to blow past the abstinent part and retranslate La Vigilia di Natale as “Here ya go; knock yourselves out.” And lo, the most gut-busting piscatorial feeding frenzy ever known was born: the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes, in which seven seafood dishes come together to form a repast of oceanic proportions.
What, a vegan shrimp? Yes, they exist and they’re pretty darn sustainable.
If you are fish guys like us, this presents a conundrum. We both love seafood, particularly the Italian preparations that usually make up the feast. One of us was raised and nourished by bona fide Italian-American parents; the other merely wishes the famed Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan had been his mother. But we also make our living by writing and worrying about the ocean.
So this year we decided to think up a better Feast of the Seven Fishes, a seafood Dream Team.
We start close to home: blue mussels, farmed in the coastal waters of New England and Atlantic Canada. Delicious when prepared as Cozze alla Triestina and as rich in omega-3s as salmon, mussels filter algae and particulate matter, improving water clarity, limiting nitrogen loading and thereby slowing the spread of oxygen-deprived dead zones. Humans have depleted wild bivalves, and in their places dumped untold tons of sewage. Part of reversing this pattern is to farm mussels, and to encourage mussel farming, we should encourage mussel eating. So, with mussels, knock yourselves out.
We move south for our second course. Introduced into Florida waters from home aquariums about 30 years ago, the beautiful Indo-Pacific red lionfish has reached plague-like proportions across the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. They scarf pretty much anything they can suck into their lightning-strike jaws.