Over a decade ago, Browne Trading developed and introduced our Seafood “Species Spotlights” to provide our restaurant chef clientele with more descriptive product information so they could make informed purchasing decisions about our seafood items. They were also crafted to help wait staff that may be unfamiliar with the fish to “tell the story” to the diners at the table. As many of the seafood items we were sourcing – from European Brittany Blue Lobsters to Maine glass eels – were something of a rarity on the American market then, many benefited from a greater understanding of what exactly it was they were buying – and cooking. At the time, the Species Spotlights were something of a guarded secret, disseminated upon request only – usually via fax.
As Browne Trading’s business and consumer base expanded, our Species Spotlights became available to all our customers – from the Executive Chef to the walk-in customer at our retail Portland location. Finally, we decided to open them up to the public at large, and last year we started to post them online our newly relaunched website. Today, anyone with an interest in seafood can view our “library” of them – as well as download them as PDFs (easy handouts for the wait staff to bone up on the evening’s fish special – or for crafting your own menu for that special dinner).
What are the Species Spotlights?
Part biological, part culinary, and maybe some whimsy in between, the Species Spotlights showcase essential information about a fish or shellfish product available through Browne Trading Co. Organized for both a quick read of the bulleted basics for the chef on the go, they also feature a more detailed description to inform and interest. Some of the elements we strive to disclose include:
- Wild Fish or Farm Raised? – A critical buying decision these days for many chefs and consumers alike, we believe it is imperative to disclose this to the buyer.
- Market Name and Species – Seems intuitive, but there are a lot of fish out there, with a ton of variety in both market names and regional names – as well as fishermen’s nicknames. Whether you are buying fish directly from Browne Trading Co. or elsewhere, be sure to ask for and look at the scientific species name (in Latin) to discern exactly what is being offered to you. “Dover Sole” from California is not Dover Sole from Europe (California’s fish is actually a flounder, and considered inferior eating to true Dover Sole), the Anglerfish and Goosefish is known to us as the Monkfish, and Loup de Mer is the same as Branzino, Bar, Robalo Mar, and Lubina, (they are all the European Sea Bass!)
- Where Does this Seafood Come From, and How is it Caught? – Specific to the products we offer, we tell you the body of water, farm, and country of origin, the methods that were employed to catch/raise it, along with the catch and harvest seasonality. This hopefully aids in the planning of seasonal menus (for instance, Maine’s celebrated Diver Scallops are really only available beginning in December until the season closes in Spring – unless they were frozen, they aren’t a legitimate menu item in the Summer and Fall.)
- Seafood Culinary Applications – each Species Spotlight shares a flavor and texture profile so you know what to expect once prepared, a projected yield (as a percentage of fillet to whole fish, or meat to shell ratio for shellfish) to plan for portioning, the preferred methods of how to prepare the item (and what to avoid) – and even which seafood items are a good substitute if the item is out of season or unavailable.
When writing these spotlights, we utilize industry sources and publications, our own experience handling (and eating) these seafoods, and whenever possible, we rely upon the writings of gastronomist Alan Davidson (1924-2003). Davidson was possibly the greatest modern author on seafood cookery, whose knowledge on both the science of the fish along with how to handle and prepare them remains largely unrivaled today. His information specific to the wild fish (and their multitudes of regional preparations) of Europe has been invaluable to our understanding, as surprisingly very little information about many of the lesser utilized species are available in the U.S. If you are passionate about seafood and cooking, his North Atlantic Seafood (1980) is a must for your library.
While the Browne Trading’s Species Spotlights are written specifically about the products we source and handle, I believe they remain general enough to inform the inquisitive chef. We will regularly post 2 to 3 new Spotlights online per month (many more on their way for 2014!) and they are not just about fish: you will find some on other specialty seafood products, such as our local Maine sea kelps, as well. Keep abreast of Browne’s most recent Species Spotlight postings by following us on Facebook or Twitter, where we update our followers as they become available.
If you are looking for something specific and don’t see it posted, email me and if we have it in our unpublished archives we will be pleased to share it with you. Whether they help you decide what to buy for your restaurant, what to cook for dinner, or are simply a piece to entertain and educate, we hope these Species Spotlights help you love these fish as much as we do.
Turns out, all of them have a story.
~ Nick Branchina, Director of Marketing