Fishy business

Fishy business

I still can’t get over the fact that skate is endangered! Skate! Not a rich man’s fish. Indeed, as recently as last year, it was a cheap staple of every Korean restaurant (served raw and crunch the cartilege) and a good many bistro lunch menus. How can we earthlings have brought the poor old skate to the brink of extinction? We really must be raping our oceans! The world would be a great deal better off without human beings – so cunning and acquisitive with our clever little fingers and our dirty little hearts. Still, looking at the bigger picture, it’s probably a good thing we have such a destructive impulse. We will soon be gone. Then the planet can take a moment to cool off, check its lip gloss and touch its hair, and face the rest of eternity with perky courage, like Geena Davis in A League of Their Own.

On Friday, my misanthropic mood was marginally mitigated by the appearance on the porch of Steve McAdam, formerly Inniskillin’s masterful marketer, now the go-to guy for folks in Ontario who want to buy any of Marché Transatlantique’s high-end delicacies. He handed me a small sample of Acadian Gold short nose sturgeon caviar. “It’s okay,” he explained. “It’s farmed and it’s Canadian.”

The short nose sturgeon (Acipenser Brevirostrum) is indigenous to North America’s eastern seaboard, breeding upstream in fresh water then drifting lazily down into estuarial waters (its lassitude is forgivable, given that it lives longer than most humans). But inevitably, it has been over fished and poisoned until it’s now on the endangered fish list. New Brunswick is at the northern end of its natural range but it’s there that a company of fish farmers have been waiting patiently for the last eight years while their female Brevirostra mature. The first harvest of caviar has now been released through Marché Transatlantique, born into consumer consciousness on the wings of the message that this new caviar (and this really is brand-new – the world’s only farmed short nose sturgeon caviar) is very like golden oscetra (or osetra or osietra or osyotra – take your choice) caviar from the Caspian Sea. In the old days, about 10 percent of oscetra roe had a glamorous golden cast to it. Certainly, the colour of Acadian Gold is right. And the freshness is unimpeachable. God knows how long supplies of Caspian caviar used to hang around in warehouse fridges before being displayed, let alone purchased, back when people could still eat it with a clear conscience. There was an awful lot of “timing management” involved with those shipments as wholesalers and retailers made sure they had enough for Christmastime and St. Valentine’s day.

So I tasted my sample of Acadian Gold, realizing as I did so that I may already have enjoyed this caviar at Canoe and Splendido, the two Toronto restaurants named as users in Marché Transatlantique’s communiqué. The eggs are small with a greenish gold colour. They are soft but not mushy and have a clean, egg-yolk flavour, a delicate fishiness and a good long finish. Not even a suggestion of muddiness or grassiness. First class caviar.

If you want to buy one or two or thirty of the 30-gram glass jars of Acadian Gold, email Steve McAdam. He’ll see you right. And you can check on the product’s wholesome status and the issues surrounding other caviars from endangered sturgeon species at

One last fishy item. Blue Water Café, in the happenin’ heart of Vancouver’s Yaletown district, is running its Unsung Heroes promotion from February 5th to 28th. This is an admirable project from the imagination of executive chef Frank Pabst who is one of those noble chefs who actually does give a damn about environmental practices and sustainable sources, especially when it comes to the oceans. Let me quote from the press release:

“Each year, Pabst steps up his commitment to the oceans in his quest to gather greater public awareness of local ‘Unsung Heroes’ with a month-long festival that celebrates the lesser known ocean species of Pacific shores. His idea is simple: reduce the demand on species that are increasingly at risk of becoming over fished and avoid those that are fished in ways that cause damage to the ocean beds or that impose further risks to incidental by-catch, by introducing diners to new flavours and experiences. ‘At this time of year, fresh wild salmon and halibut have disappeared from fishing boats – as stocks replenish, this is the ideal time to experiment and explore new potential’ says Pabst, noting, ‘all of our “unsung heroes” live in abundance just off our coast and are often overlooked in favour of better known varieties, though they can be equally delicious and highly nutritional.’

“Diners are invited to taste Pabst’s unique spin on these unsung ocean delicacies by ordering one or several tasting dishes for the table during the festival. Dishes include Live Green Sea Urchin with ponzu sauce or Mackerel with savoy cabbage, red beets, and lemon vinegar. For a complete list of ‘Unsung Heroes’ dishes visit

“The third annual ‘Unsung Heroes’ festival launches at Blue Water Cafe on February 5th and extends through to the end of the month. 10% of proceeds will be donated to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Oceanwise sustainable seafood program of which Blue Water Cafe is a founding member.”

There you have it. What a terrific initiative. Wouldn’t it be great to see some Toronto chefs following suit? No one can take the oceans for granted any more. We are all skating on very thin ice.