Friday Fish

January 23, 2009 at 9:11 am

Rob Gardner

So, I was reading the other day, the single healthiest thing we can do to our diet is to increase the omega-3′s and decrease the omega-6′s (this was not what I was reading, but the gist is the same).  Fish.  Good.  But what’s a Chicago based Local Family to do?  Well, as with a lot of things, this eat local guy has wishy-washy standards.  I eat canned fishes, which sound more quaint and wholesome if you use the Britishism, tinned fish, I will occasionally buy something seafood-ish like shrimp or squid (my wife learned to make a great stewed squid from Chef Levitt at Mado), but I pretty much draw the line at ocean fish.  Oh, I have reasons and such for these reasons, ask me some time, but let’s not waste any more bandwidth.  Because I do have a fish answer.  I eat local fish.

Freshwater fish.  In Chicago, we have two sources for local, freshwater fish.  First, we have fish fished in the Great Lakes, mostly fished in Lake Superior but some fished in Lake Erie.  Then, we have farmed fish, including several fish farms in Wisconsin and AquaRanch in Illinois.  I’d admit flat-out, there’s at least three issues with freshwater fish.  It can be boney and soft bones at it, so that slow eating is always required no matter how much filleted.  And not only are the bones soft, the fish flesh can be soft too; no one’s gonna mistake freshwater fish for a piece of red meat.  Last, and most important, there’s the toxicity question.  How much freshwater fish should one eat.  We do not really, really know the answer to the last, but the best answer for now is, maybe not that much.  The sweet flavor of freshwater fish makes up for many of the problems, and when you can get the fish bloody-fresh like no piece of ocean fish, well, you’d rather this fish anyways.

For me, there is one singular, outstanding place for freshwater fish, Robert’s on Devon, the only kosher fish shop run by a Mexican, a lovely tale told by the Tribune a few years ago.  Arturo will help you find the nicest, nice piece of fish from under a cover of ice, scale it, gut it, and clip its fins.  Do have him stop there however.  It’s common to broil whitefish fillets with dabs of butter and a heavy paprika hand, but the way to cook whitefish is whole, roasted.  (Make a bed of seasonal veg, when I did this the other day, it was leeks and parsnips; stuff the fish with herbs and lemon slices, coat both sides with olive oil,salt heavily; lay on your veg bed; roast at 400 until skin is crisp.)

Like I said, there are good farmed fish operations too.  Robin always carries AquaRanch’s tilapia at her winter marketsRushing Waters trout is at Whole Foods. I especially love the stuff smoked.  It’s been too long for me to totally vouch for this, but Sahar Meats on Kedzie was getting in some fine fish from an Illinois farm.  I wish some of the perch operations in Wisconsin would find their way here (cf this).

Speaking of smoked trout, is there any better way to enjoy freshwater fish than to smoke it.  Hell on the coasts, they ship in OUR fish for smoking (and why is it that I’ve found better smoked lake fishes in Florida than Chicago!!??).  Lovers of the mysterious fish known as chub have found them scarce and pricey in the Chicago area.  Follow this vital advice.  Head to the western fridge of the city.  At about Grand and Harlem (2445 N. Harlem) you will find the Polish market Kolatek’s.  On Fridays, your nose will be warmed by the welcoming aroma of smoking fishes.  They do trouts and salmons each week.  Last week chunks of lake trout were on sale for $3.99/lb.  !!

Us Jews have always been a Friday fish people.  I know a few of the rest of you like fish on Fridays too.  The doctors say pick any day, but eat more fish.  The Locavores say eat local fish.  It all seems pretty doable, no?



  1. kennyz says:

    Unfortunately, there may be another problem with eating farmed fish, especially tilapia. There is evidence that it actually has the opposite of the health benefits you describe in the first paragraph. From what I’ve read, farm raised tilapia is loaded with Omega 6, not Omega 3, and is actually worse for your heart health than fatty red meat. Tilapia (and other farm raised fish) may be the margarine of the current generation.

  2. Ann says:

    One word, Rob. Smelt. Our Great Lakes variety are rainbow smelt, and have a decent amount of Omega 3. Plus all that calcium since you’re going to eat the bones! Of course you’ll have to figure out how to cook them without deep frying them. Maybe do the equivalent of an oven-fry with olive oil and breadcrumbs? Don’t know why not.

  3. Rob Gardner says:

    Kenny, I’ve read too about the problems with farmed fish, but is that the case with organic fish, the results of the permaculture systems used by AquaRanch? I do not know the answer.

    Ann, I kept smelts off the post for the reason that Great Lakes smelts, right now, seem awfully hard to come by as written about on LTH and radio’d about by David Hammond. Moreover, I excluded also sport fish and other non-commercial local fish. I mean the cohos in Lake Michigan taste really good, but you aint gonna find it on your table unless you have your own boat.

  4. Ann says:

    I’ve consistently been able to get Lake Erie smelt at Ultra Foods in Forest Park.

  5. kennyz says:


    Good question. I have no idea whether the problems with farmed tilapia apply to operations like AquaRanch. I certainly hope not, as I really love what they’re trying to do.


  6. Becky says:

    I believe that the lower levels of Omega 3s in farmed fish comes from the practice of feeding corn to the fish. It is the same reason that corn-fed beef is lower in Omega 3s than pasture-raised beef. I imagine that the Omega 3 levels of AquaRanch fish would depend on their diet. Anyone familiar with what that is?

RSS Feed for comments on this post