By Colleen O’Connor
Seafood Landing, one of the few specialty seafood markets in Denver, does a brisk business in the Highland neighborhood.
“I love fishmongers,” said Bob Hart of Melbourne, Australia, who stops by every time he visits his daughter, who lives near Seafood Landing. “I never buy fish at the supermarket.”
But it’s increasingly hard to find fish markets, and not just in Denver.
Fish counters in specialty food stores and individual fish markets went from controlling about 65 percent of the seafood trade in the early 1980s to about 11 percent today, according to “American Catch” by Paul Greenberg, one of the top books on aquaculture and commercial fishing in America. During that same period, supermarkets went from selling about 16 percent of seafood to about 86 percent.
For people like Hart, fish markets are similar to butchers — while many went out of business in recent decades, a handful of boutique butchers are popping up in cities like Brooklyn and Los Angeles to feed a new generation of sophisticated diners.
“As people become more aware of food, they realize fish are handled properly at the fish market,” he said
Seafood Landing, which opened more than 40 years ago, resembles a quaint seaside shop. It’s decorated with conch shells, paintings of seabirds in driftwood frames and large sculptures of such marine life as bright red crabs.
Specialty items include alderwood grilling planks, oyster and clam knives, crab boil and jerk seasoning, plus seafood cookbooks.
There’s a vast variety of fish, including king and sockeye salmon, Arctic char, haddock and monchong, a fish from Hawaii recommended by seafood advocacy groups as a good sustainable seafood choice.
Owner Bruce Johnson works the busy counter, giving frequent tips on how best to cook different kinds of fish, and, when asked, he’ll explain how he got into the business.
After nearly 30 years spent working as a civil engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation, he was visiting his favorite fish market — Seafood Landing, then located in Lakewood — when the owner said he was thinking of selling the business.
Johnson jumped on the opportunity.
“Is it fun?” asked one woman.
“It’s hard work, but it’s really gratifying,” said Johnson. “There aren’t too many fish markets anymore, period.”
Muriah Allen of Manitou Springs shops at Seafood Landing every time she gets to Denver, about once a month. Having spent most of her life in the San Francisco Bay Area, she’s particular about where she buys seafood. On a recent trip to Seafood Landing, she ordered two dozen mussels, one dozen clams, one dozen shrimp and a generous amount of sole.
“The fish here is wonderful, and it’s often fish I can’t usually get, like sole or haddock,” she said. “Haddock is almost impossible to find. It’s a wonderful fish, and not often available fresh.”
The hardest part about cooking fish, according to food experts, is knowing how to buy it, and much depends on building a relationship with the fishmonger, whether that’s at the supermarket seafood counter or a specialized fish market.
“It’s a very trust-oriented business,” said Jacob Polack, who works the counter at Seafood Landing. “Once we get to know customers, and they appreciate what we’re doing, they trust what we have is good.”
Regular customers include Lance Lewis, who showed up recently to get more farm-raised Arctic char, also on the list of best choices in sustainable seafood.
“I know their fish is fresh, and from relatively local vendors,” he said.
For people like Louise and James Wilder, fish markets provide local flavor. They live in Waterloo, Iowa, and when they hit the road to visit friends and family, they seek out fresh fish.
“We always carry a cooler and stop at seafood markets,” said Louise. “We have a small fish market in Waterloo, but mostly it’s only ocean perch, some trout and a little catfish.”
On a recent trip to Denver, they ordered two pounds of walleye and two pounds of catfish.
Louise, who described herself as “picky” about fish, cast a final gaze over the fish on display.
She spotted some sockeye salmon, and added that to her order.
“I like the color and richness of it,” she said. “When I get home, I’m going to grill it with chipotle salt. It’s great that way.”
Tips for buying fish
Half the seafood eaten in the U.S. is now farmed, and many fish farms are sustainable, according to Seafood Watch. What’s the best way to tell whether fish — wild-caught or farmed — is sustainable? Download the free Seafood Watch’s app that lets you instantly determine whether it’s an ocean-friendly choice. seafoodwatch.org
The latest scorecard from Greenpeace rating large U.S. retailers on the sustainability of their seafood came out in June. The ranking of stores in metro Denver include Whole Foods (#1), Safeway (#4), Target (#5), Trader Joe’s (#7) and Walmart (#12). For the whole report, go to greenpeace.org/usa/research/carting-away-the-oceans-2015/.
Tips from the Food and Drug Administration about buying fresh and frozen seafood:
• Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour or ammonia-like.
• A fish’s eyes should be clear and bulge a little.
• Whole fish and fillets should have firm, shiny flesh and bright red gills free from milky slime.
• The flesh should spring back when pressed.
• Fish fillets should display no discoloration, darkening or drying around the edges.
• Shrimp flesh should be translucent and shiny with little or no odor.
• Some refrigerated seafood may have time/temperature indicators on their packaging, which show if the product has been stored at the proper temperature. Always check the indicators when they are present and only buy the seafood if the indicator shows that the product is safe to eat.
Story Courtesy of Denver Post