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 markets. Rushing 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?