I love a good, fresh slab of drum fish from the Gulf. I love red snapper, tuna and grouper. And I think I’d love them more if I saw them less often on New Orleans menus, or at least with more company from other fish that flourish in our waters.
Lately I’ve been eating Gulf seafood off the mainstream, thanks to a handful of New Orleans restaurants working direct with Louisiana fishermen.
You’ve heard of farm to table, the idea that a chef or home cook knows who produced their raw ingredients. Surprisingly, for all the love we heap on Louisiana seafood, the boat-to-table equivalent is hard to find even here in New Orleans.
Some are now trying to forge new connections between the dock and the kitchen. One upshot is a far greater variety of fish. When a fisherman’s nets and lines come up, they often bring fish that don’t have great commercial name recognition. But when that fisherman connects with a chef who specifically wants something different, that catch suddenly can make it to the menu.
There are ecological and economic reasons to diversify the commercial catch. There are culinary ones too. I want to try more of what the Gulf offers, I want our restaurants to tell a fuller story of what it means to live in this wild and bountiful place.
The front line for what’s possible right now is the raw bar at Carmo, the Warehouse District restaurant. I’ve been lingering around it like a shark over a reef (albeit a lumbering, well-fed shark). I’ve had ceviche made with silk snapper, I’ve had bar jack served as sashimi. I’ve had pink porgy seared with a blowtorch.
Nothing with seafood is as simple as it seems, with its issues of global markets and competition, regulations and conservation.
But one thing New Orleanians can clearly do is help steer supply with our demand. That part of boat-to-table falls squarely on our plates.