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Chef John Foster: Give chicken, pork and
beef a break and dive into fish and seafood


Several people have asked recently why I never write about fish and seafood. I explore lots of different protein choices and delve into various methods of cooking protein in general, but most of it revolves around the popular choices of chicken, pork and beef.

It’s not that I don’t know anything about the subject, I spent three years of my after-college life working in one of the best fish markets on the East Coast; Harbor Seafood in Portland, Maine. I cut fish, sold fish and served as the de facto inventory control manager for both the retail and wholesale side. It was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had because I got to see not only what a stellar product looks, smells and tastes like, but the people I worked with – an extended Italian family – were a valuable resource for my later years.

Literally the fish and seafood would come right off the boats that lined up at our back door; day boat scallops still in the shell, hundreds of pounds of lobsters, eels at Christmas time. I tasted my first raw scallops, slivers of raw tuna before the sushi craze hit, and swordfish, back when it was still caught big enough to cover a 6-foot table. To paraphrase Sen. Lloyd Bentsen; “I knew fresh fish and seafood, they were my friends, you sir in this day and age are not fresh fish and seafood”

And one could add the tagline “wild” as well. In an ever-shrinking world, just the thought of wild-caught shrimp adds $5 a pound to the price. The alternative, though, tends to be farm-raised elsewhere.

I certainly have no quarrel with farming and aquaculture. As one of the very first to get a glimpse of Kentucky State University’s prawns program in the early’ 90s, I had the pleasure of serving an ever-improving product from various local “farmers” all the way through to late 2006, when I segued into teaching. The problems arise when the farms are not maintained and the equipment and systems become antiquated. Consumers really never get a glimpse of the many levels of aquaculture, and for every system that mimics the fish farming of Ono in the many miles of the Pacific Ocean, there is a little concrete pond somewhere with a faulty filtration system and a quota to fill.

The future of fish and seafood no doubt relies on the ingenuity of the scientists and entrepreneurs who are (no pun intended) diving into the field. There are simply not enough mature species left to bring the levels back to where they once were. Unless we were to ban fishing outright for a number of years, the supply will someday (maybe in our lifetimes) run out for certain species.

We continue to eat more seafood and fish, finding more health reasons to up our intake in the face of dwindling supplies. I find myself cooking fish at least once a week now, and the family eats it up. It may be shrimp and grits one night or roasted salmon with lemon beurre blanc the next week. To that end I have developed several dishes using scallops and crabmeat to ease you into doing the same. This recipe is restaurant-proven and could be served as an appetizer or with the addition of a starch and vegetable could be an entrée. Enjoy!

Pan roasted scallops with cornmeal
crust and roasted tomato salsa

Servings: 3 for an appetizer, 5 for an entrée
Note: Use “dry” scallops if possible. These are fresh scallops with no preservatives so they are perishable. You might find them frozen and that’s OK. Just make sure you dry them well before you put them in the dry spice.

Spice mix
1 cup cornmeal
½ tablespoon chili powder
¼ tablespoon garlic powder
¼ tablespoon ground coriander
2/3 tablespoon cumin
1 pinch cracked black pepper
½ tablespoon salt

Mix well and store in a dry container

Roasted tomato salsa
1 onion pureed
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. coriander
2 chipotle peppers
¼ cup salad oil
1 tablespoon tabasco
3 tablespoons horseradish
Juice of 2 lemons
4 cups of chopped fresh tomatoes

Start with sautéing the tomatoes in the oil until you see some coloration. Add the onion puree and the rest of the ingredients one at a time just after the last ingredient has been mixed in. When all the ingredients are combined, cook for another five minutes. Puree the mixture when it is still warm, and check for salt and pepper.

To cook the scallops, start a sauté pan with olive oil or clarified butter just to cover the pan. Let it warm until almost smoking and add the dry, crusted scallops one at a time. Brown them on both sides and slide them into the oven, in the same pan for two to three minutes. Serve with the sauce under the scallops or on the side. Sautéed greens and some cilantro rice would be a good addition.

John Foster is an executive chef who heads the culinary program at Sullivan University’s Lexington campus. A New York native, Chef Foster has been active in the Lexington culinary scene for more than 20 years. The French Culinary Institute-trained chef has been an executive chef, including at the popular Dudley’s Restaurant, and a restaurant owner.

Click here to read more from Chef John Foster.

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