Friday, March 19, 2010

Trout, Arctic Char, and other questions

I love it when students ask me questions in the fish class (and any class, for that matter) that I don't know the answers to. When you teach a class for 8 years, you'd think you had heard all the possible questions and found out all the possible answers. But somehow, someone always manages to ask me something interesting that sends me on a little research project. The latest question I didn't have the answer to was this: "Is farm-raised trout raised in salt water or fresh water?" In the wild, there are both salt and fresh water trouts, but I wasn't sure how that works with farm-raised fish.

When I don't know something, I ask my fishmongers and if they can't help me, I ask my fishmongers' fishmonger. Andrew Marshall is just such a person. He works for Aquanor -- the company that supplies many top fish markets in New England area with fish. Andrew is also an avid fisherman and is a goldmine of information when it comes to fish.

When enough interesting questions about fish accumulate in my head, I send them to Andrew. Here are some things I was curious about lately and Andrew's answers.

Question: Is farm-raised trout farmed in salt or fresh water?
Answer: Farm raised trout is farmed in fresh water. Most of the farm raised trout is coming out of Idaho and they are done in small ponds.
Question: How is arctic char (charr) farmed: in the ocean (like salmon) or in a contained system (like barramundi or branzino)? Is it raised in salt or fresh water?
Answer: Arctic Charr are done in a closed system above ground tanks. There is no runoff into the surrounding ecosystem. Arctic Charr naturally start their life cycle in the rivers, make their way to the ocean and then move back up into the rivers to spawn and die. We replicate this life cycle in the tank. Certain times of the growth cycle there is more salt water than fresh, but there is always some salt water in the tank. We even need to switch direction of the current in the tank halfway through the growth cycle to mimic a natural migration. This closed system and the low feed conversion ratio have given charr a green status with all of the environmental certifying agencies.
Question: How long does it take on average for fish to get from water to the fish market?
Answer: For charr, it's 3-5 days depending on where in US it's going. Here is what the cycle looks like. The charr is grown in the north of Iceland. We ship the charr live in tank trucks to the south of Iceland. It’s then processed and packed that night. The following day, it is sent via airline to Boston. We receive it and re-ice the product, then it's shipped to fish markets. Other products like tuna from North Africa might take 5 days to even get to Boston. Then it takes 2-3 days to get to market. Longlined Swordfish might be 10 days to market. That’s why you hear of “top of the trip” swordfish. It means it was the last fish caught and at the top of the fish hold, making it the most fresh and commanding the most money.
Thank you Andrew for such informative answers!

If you've never had Idaho trout or Arctic Char, here is what to expect from them. They are both delicate textured, full flavored, fatty fish (lots of omega-3). Arctic char looks and tastes just like salmon (but fillets are generally a lot thinner than salmon). If you object to farm-raised salmon on environmental grounds, arctic char might be a great alternative. It's only 1/2 to 1/3 of the price of wild king salmon, available year round, and a lot tastier than previously frozen coho or sockeye salmon.

Here are some recipes for char and trout
Seared trout with braised fennel
Trout in almonds
Seared arctic char with apples and mustard cream -- yes, I know -- really scary pictures from my early blogging days.
Slow roasted salmon with chive oil -- but you can do this with char

No comments: