Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why does fresh wild Alaskan fish cost so much?

Even we get sticker shock at some of the current wild fish prices - our suppliers are having trouble just getting some of the fish, much less selling it cheaply. So far this year, prices on Alaskan salmon and halibut have stayed high, and the Copper River sockeye "season" was 16 hours long.
     What's changed?
     Many things:

  • It costs more to run a fishing boat, because the fuel is more expensive, labor is more expensive. And it's dangerous. Fishermen probably have a hard time getting life insurance.
  • Competition for the resource is growing - once it was mainly the Japanese who were buying vast quantities of Alaskan seafood, now the Chinese are buying it up as well. And there are billions of them, many more with money to spend than a few years ago. Asia is gobbling up our Alaskan fish.
  • Climate change is warming the oceans - fish that rely on cold water and full rivers to spawn are finding warmer oceans and rivers that have shrunk due to lack of rain and not enough snow in the winter. 
  • In order to preserve the resource, regulators are monitoring the salmon migration. If there aren't enough salmon laying their eggs ups stream, there won't be enough salmon in future years, so they shut down the first opening on the Copper River after only 16 hours. There should be more openings, but they may be short as well. 
     If you are seeing sockeye at a cheap price, it's thawed out from last year - there just isn't any cheap, fresh wild salmon. Even if you went to Alaska to get it, it wouldn't be cheap.    
     This is one of the reasons we've researched top quality suppliers of ocean raised salmon - we get it from two pristine operations, one off the east coast of Canada, the other off the west coast of Scotland. This is good, sustainably raised fish, no chemicals or antibiotics. While there are some fish farming operators who have over crowded pens and poor environmental practices, we don't do business with them.
     We wish that wild salmon was cheaper as well - we love wild salmon, too. We'll keep our fingers crossed that the next opening on the Copper River is days, not hours - we'll keep you posted! 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Memorial Day Memories of Grandpa Burhop

I knew Vern Burhop from a very early age, or at least I knew who he was. My mom would sometimes call him in Chicago and ask him to bring home some special seafood item, like shrimp or lobster tail, which he would bring by our house before going home, about 3 blocks away.
     When I married his son, I enjoyed getting to know him better, most memorably when he helped me paint the porch on our newly purchased home 34 years ago. It was probably the first time I'd been alone with him for any period of time, and he told me about the war.
      Married and in the food industry, the government at first wanted him to stay home. Then as the war dragged on, he was called up, and joined the US Navy. His wife Janis followed him to various ports during his training, while Vern's retired father, Albert E. Burhop, returned to run the seafood business while Vern was gone.
     While Vern was doing his training, as a radio operator, Janis discovered that she was expecting their first child, Jeff, who was born while her husband was off fighting for his country. Before he left, Vern got Janis situated in an apartment in Evanston, just a few blocks from Evanston Hospital. (Janis told us that she practiced walking to the hospital, in case she had to get there on her own!)
     Vern was on a destroyer escort, a smaller ship that in storms would be buffeted around pretty badly. He told of a few occasions where he had to captain the ship, because he was the only one of the entire crew who never suffered from sea sickness. Perhaps being around all that fish his whole life made him less susceptible to mal de mer. Or he had super human inner ears.
     After the Allied victory, he spent time in China and  Japan before being shipped home to meet his one-year-old son. He said that was the hardest thing to bear, knowing he had a little boy who was learning to walk and talk and he'd never even met him. Meanwhile, Janis waited for her husband to come home, with the constant worry that he might not.
     Memorial Day was always important for Vern - his American flag hanging outside, perhaps a game of golf with his buddies at the Glenview Naval Air Station. Vern and Janis had a lovely back garden with a small swimming pool, and we would go there for a grilled fish fest, and if it was warm enough, a first dip of the summer. (The kids pretty much always thought it was warm enough.)
     When Vern died in 1995, it was of brain cancer, something we suspected might have been caused by his exposure to radiation in Japan after the war. Back then, no one fully understood the lingering effects of something you couldn't see.
     The sacrifices that our military make, and their families make, especially during war time, should be remembered every day, not just Memorial Day. But do something special for your favorite veteran next weekend - grill him or her a nice piece of fish!  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Joys of a Mother who's a good cook

Both the Fish Husband and I had the good fortune to have mothers who knew their way around the kitchen. Mine excelled in German and Italian cuisine, growing up in Milwaukee, Grandma B was great with seafood.
     The foods I remember most from my mom were her incredible marinara sauce, and her amazing Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. My sister and I get together every Thanksgiving, to make her apple and onion stuffing recipe, and at Christmas to make her stollen - a lengthy process, but worth every minute. Christmas breakfast wouldn't be the same without stollen.
     For Christmas dinner, we would either have a huge leg of lamb, marinated in garlic and lemon juice, or standing rib roast with Yorkshire pudding. I can't really digest red meat any more, but my mouth still waters when I think about those wonderful meals she put together.
     In later years, she moved more towards seafood, grilling fresh salmon at least once a week, and I loved her shrimp curry, a recipe that sadly died with her.
     Marrying into the Burhop family opened me up to many new possibilities - when I lived in England, I started eating fish several times a week - raw oysters were a favorite, and French turbot, absolutely the best fish in the sea. For dinner parties, making a baked salmon recipe became one of my favorites, with fennel, garlic and tomatoes. The fresh seafood in London was wonderful, the choices many. So I turned to my mother-in-law for cooking advice once I moved back home and married her son.
     I've known my mother-in-law since I was 5 years old, not something many people can say. We lived 4 blocks or so from the Burhop's, and they bought a house from some close friends of my parents. Grandma B and my mom became friends, working at a charity shop in Chicago together for years, magically disappearing many of our treasures into the shop. The Fish Husband claims she gave away his Mickey Mantle rookie card, I know my mother gave away all of my Nancy Drews.
     But I will be forever grateful for the time they both spent with me, teaching me their favorite recipes. There's a bond with family recipes that keeps family members closer - I love the time I spend with my little sister making stuffing and stollen, even though I know she can do it very well without me. We both miss our mom, and that's a way of keeping her memory alive.
     To all of you who still have your mothers, spend some special time with her - on Mother's Day, but other times as well. And if you're a mom, cook with your kids. It will stay with them forever.