Archive for April, 2016

“What boat landed this fish?”

Thursday, April 28th, 2016



To ask the question “what boat landed this fish?” may be one of the most important environmental, social and political acts of 2016.

These are some names of Gloucester day boats, boats that make short trips to Jeffreys Ledge, Ipswich Bay & Middle Bank: the Maria GS, the Santo Pio, the Angela & Rose, the Janaya & Joseph, and Cat Eyes. And there are more. These boats land a mix of species that call the Gulf of Maine home, but they are primarily landing codfish, dab flounder, blackback flounder, yellowtail flounder, grey sole and some whiting.

These are some of the off-shore Gloucester boats currently fishing the northern edge of George’s Bank: The Miss Trish, The Midnight Sun, the Teresa Marie III, the Harmony, the Teresa Marie IV, and the Lady Jane. Again, there are more boats than this. Right now they are landing haddock, redfish, pollock, codfish, dab flounder, grey sole and some hake.

In port, these boats, and others, can be seen tied up at Felicia Oil, Rose Marine, Rocky Neck Railways & the State Fish Pier, wharfs along the inner harbor, many in clear sight of some Gloucester restaurants.

In an effort to celebrate and promote the quality seafood these boats land, Gloucester Seafood Processing in Blackburn Circle, Gloucester, stamps every issue of fish with the name of the fishing vessel that landed it.  They are hoping other processors will, too.


vessel labeling


Restaurants – particularly in Gloucester – should proudly be announcing to their guests, “this pollack was landed yesterday on the Angela & Rose!” – or the Janaya & Josesph, or the Santo Pio.

I had lunch recently at Hillstone in downtown Boston. The restaurant was mobbed with dining business people. There was a lot of fish on the menu, and I apologized to the server for even taking her time, but I had to ask, “do you know where any of this fish comes from?” The young woman immediately stood straighter, grinned, and declared, “yes, I do!” reciting to me exactly the body of water where each fish was landed and how it was caught. She didn’t know the name of the vessel, but she had clearly been educated. Not only did she and the restaurant take their seafood purchasing seriously, they enjoyed being able to educate their guests. Every Gloucester restaurant – and the North Shore, for that matter – should be doing the same. Every restaurant in this city should be serving only seafood landed and cut in Gloucester.

The alternative, the specious siren to a restaurant’s bottom line, is inexpensive imported fish. When there is no transparency in fishing, when you cannot name the boat which landed that fish, there is generous opportunity for horror.

The least offensive possibility is that fish was farmed with heavy doses of antibiotics. Then there are these very real possibilities: it has been well documented, particularly by microbiologist Michael Doyle with the University of Georgia, that animal waste (even human) is a primary ingredient in Southeast Asian seafood.  This is an extreme case, and certainly does not represent all imported fish, but it emphasizes the very real horrors of untraceable seafood.

Another gruesome and very real consequence of fish with no definitive provenance is slavery. The Associated Press received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for their story exposing human slavery in Southeast Asian fisheries, fish that is regularly shipped to the U.S.

These are just some of the hidden costs of inexpensive, imported fish, not to mention the costs to local fishermen in losses.

American fishing is the most regulated fishing industry in the world, the curse and the blessing of the American fleet. American fishermen must comply to severe, onerous, and what sometimes seems like nonsensical regulations, but those rules make American fish the most responsibly landed fish in the world.

As mentioned, many Gloucester restaurants have dining rooms with views of the Gloucester fleet; it makes sense that diners from Iowa would simply assume the white fish in the fish sandwich they are having for lunch was landed by one of those picturesque boats tied up at the dock. If that fish is not Gloucester fish, if it’s an inexpensive “refreshed” imported seafood, that Iowan will walk away feeling nothing special about the taste of Gloucester fish. It’s the same when a restaurant claims to be serving local greens in their salad and it’s actually California lettuce. The brand the local farmers have worked so hard to develop is undermined. The Gloucester brand these fishermen have struggled to bring back is destroyed.

It’s almost criminal that when a local chef is asked why they are not purchasing the fish that is landed at their feet, the chef must respond, “show me a price list.” Gloucester-landed fish must still compete with the price of “refreshed” imported products, or whatever fish agrees with its bottom line. Again, the price of imported fish with no transparency is far, far more expensive than that restaurant realizes.

Another important but discreet value to local fish, something built into the dollar amount on that chef’s price list, is the promise of a clean product. Any sanitary questions are eliminated when there is complete transparency. For a look at good, local processing transparency, visit Gloucester Seafood Processing.

Gloucester Seafood Processing processes – or cuts – fish specifically caught in the Gulf of Maine, that means the boats listed above. I visited the facility to see a high-tech, immaculate operation, rooms filled with filleters – U.S. citizens (to be clear) originally from Guatamala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Portugal, and Mexico. Everyone who works at Gloucester Seafood Processing is issued a pair of rubber boots and a pair of crocs. The boots never leave the processing area, and the crocs are for everywhere else in the plant. No dirt or dust from the outside ever enters the fish processing facility.



Before anyone enters a processing room, they stand for a few seconds in a shallow trough of sanitizer, guaranteeing nothing is ever tracked in. They place their hands in a sanitizer equipped with a sensor that only stops whirring water when the hands register as “clean.”

A favorite detail: Gloucester Seafood Processing uses shaved ice rather than traditional chunks which may bruise or damage a fish. Also, the fish is not stacked in crates on ice; fish float in a saltwater slurry, even better preserving the quality.

Filleters at Gloucester Seafood Processing begin at $16 – $17 an hour, and are trained to cut fish, an important skill that has almost vanished from our work lexicon. From there cutters have the opportunity to develop that skill, and earn more within the company, as well as having the opportunity to move up within the company.



cutting redfish


Closing the sustainable loop, Gloucester Seafood Processing fish frames go to lobstermen for trap bait.

Frankie Ragusa, Director of Fresh Seafood at the plant, grew up in the fishing industry in Gloucester. He bemoans the fact that there are few local people working there. “It’s a good job and a skill. We would like to have a facility filled with local people!” he said, but there are not enough Cape Ann residents walking in the door to keep up with production.

With the decline in the fishing industry over the last twenty years, Ragusa says, Gloucester fishing has lost a generation. Gloucester High School once trained students in jobs associated with the fishing industry. Not only is fishing a fraction of what it was in the old days, but the shoreside industries that supported it are equally diminished.

And yet, with an intelligent, regulated fleet of local fishermen, and with thorough transparency from landing to processing, Gloucester fishing may be able to return as a vital, environmentally responsible industry. A shining new website, “Gloucesterfresh,” is part of the city’s full-on effort to make Gloucester a proud fishing town again.

As America’s oldest seaport, Gloucester has had its struggles. Today, the city stands at a crossroads: Will it be a tourist town with a little engineering thrown in, where the restaurants serve “refreshed” imported seafood, and guests visit the new wing of the Cape Ann Museum dedicated to yet another lost industry – fishing? Or will it be a city unique among others, that proudly goes fishing, where people come to eat its delicious seafood, where the fishing boats line up along Rogers St., maybe we have a waterfront festival once a year, and the seagulls still squawk overhead? (I recently heard Angela Sanfilippo, president of the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives’ Association, describing a visit to San Diego, no longer a fishing town. She sadly identified the strangeness of that place: to be standing by the ocean in a busy city, with the sky empty of seagulls.)

Ultimately, this fate hinges on whether or not Gloucester fishermen can afford to go fishing, and so much of that depends on whether their own city supports them. In response to over-fishing and fishing degradation around the world, people everywhere should be demanding to know what boat landed their fish, but in Gloucester, a city fortunate to have its own local seafood, it is even more poignant a question to ask.

Gulf of Maine Dab Flounder is currently my favorite seafood. These small, delicate fillets are so versatile you will never ask for cod again. Two pounds of Dabs at first may look like a daunting number of fillets, and they are if you imagine standing at the stove frying, but in the preparations below the fillets are simply layered and baked. Easy, easy. The Thai recipe is loaded with flavor, and proof that this fish can wear cilantro and chilis; I offer the butter and breadcrumb recipe so you can taste the singular delicacy and sweetness of this fish. It’s hard to say which recipe is better.

Thai Dabs


Thai Steamed Dabs, adapted from Jamie Oliver

serves 4-6

(note: This recipes makes a lot of rice, but it is so delicious you might want seconds. Cut the proportions in half if you do not.)


For the Thai Paste:

1 large bunch cilantro, stems removed

2” chunk of fresh ginger, peeled

3 cloves garlic

1 fresh red chilis, deseeded and roughly chopped

2 teaspoons sesame oil

5 tablespoons soy sauce

2 limes, juice and zest

1 can (400 ml) light coconut milk

For the Dabs and Rice:

2 cups basmati rice

sea salt freshly

ground black pepper

2 pounds Dab fillets

1 cup (roughly) sugar snap peas, ends trimmed and strings removed

1 cup spring onions, halved and thinly sliced in half-rounds, + green tops thinly sliced

1/2 a red chili deseeded and finely sliced

1 lime

1/4 cup cilantro leaves for garnish


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade process the cilantro, ginger, garlic, chilis, sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice and zest, and coconut milk. Set aside.

Cook the rice in salted water as directed. (1 cup rice : 1 3/4 cups water) Stir processed paste into rice, and spread out on a 9” x 11” glass baking dish.

Lay Dabs on top of rice, over-lapping fillets as necessary. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Toss snap peas loosely over Dabs. Seal dish tightly with aluminum foil, Bake for 25-30 minutes or until fish is cooked through. Remove foil, and distribute spring onions and red chilies over the fish. Squeeze the lime over all, and garnish lightly with fresh cilantro leaves. Serve immediately.

dabs with mustardlemon butter and crumbs

Dabs with Lemon/Mustard Butter and Crumbs

serves 4-6


2 pounds Dab fillets

1 stick butter

juice from 2 lemons

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

sea salt

3/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs (more or less)

lemon for serving


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt butter in a small sauce pan.

Add lemon juice, mustard, and Worcestershire.

Brush the bottom of a 8” x 8” glass baking dish, (or 7” x 11”) with the butter mixture. Lay down 2 or 3 fillets, depending on their size. Brush the fillets with the butter mixture, and sprinkle with salt. Then sprinkle breadcrumbs over fillets to cover.

Continue layering fillets this way: fish, butter, salt, and breadcrumbs. When finished, pour remaining butter mixture generously over top of breadcrumbs so they will brown well in the oven. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until fish flakes easily in center.

Potato Kugel

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016



Passover began yesterday evening (Friday, April 22nd), and will continue for another 8 days.

Last night I was asked to bring a potato kugel, one of the most traditional Jewish dishes, to my friends’ seder.  I had never made a potato kugel.  I had never eaten one either. I envisioned carrying a large rectangular glass baking dish brimming with crispy browned potatoes to this seder, but as I began to look for recipes, everything seemed dull. Potatoes, eggs, oil, salt and pepper. Period.

But I learned this: Kugel, according to food historian Gil Marks, is another dish created by clever people trying to figure out how to have a good meal by Saturday evening without cooking, because of the Sabbath, when no work can be done.

Cholent was the first answer to this meal conundrum. A very, very slowly cooked stew that Eastern European Jews set to simmer on Friday evening, cholent became the welcome ready-made dinner for Saturday evening after a day of prayers in the 12th century. Someone around that time also returned from a trip down the Silk Road, with dumpling lessons. Dumplings were dropped into the cholent, and discovered to be delicious after a good soak there. Someone in the German Jewish community then thought to put the dumpling or bread dough into a bread pan – a Kugelhopf pan – and set the pan into the pot of stew, where it cooked equally slowly, perfect for the Saturday evening meal. This Eastern European pudding-like dish became known as “kugel,” named for that pot, although in western Europe it became known as “schalet.”

Through the Middle Ages only the wealthy owned home ovens; people had to carry their breads and doughs to a community oven, and often had to pay for baking. So kugels, and so many other home dishes, remained something to be steamed by themselves, or steamed in cholent, where the temperatures could be best moderated over an open fire.

In the 17th century groups of European Jews took their kugel recipes with them to Jerusalem, where the dish integrated even more fully into Jewish culture. The ingredient list expanded. They added onions, gribenes, or cracklings. They made kugels with noodles, and added sugar. The basics remained the same: a starch, eggs, and a fat.

It was not until the 19th century that kugels left the stew/steaming situation completely, and arrived in a baking dish, to be baked in the home oven. That was the kugel I envisioned carrying to my friends.

I thought that kugel needed more regency than just potatoes, eggs, and oil after this long journey through history. I finally found Melissa Clark’s mother’s recipe, which adds garlic, rosemary, and crispy shallots. Clark’s mother adds the potato and egg mixture right into a thin layer of very hot oil in a very hot pan.

kugel in pan


She lets that sit on top of the flame for three minutes, promising a crispy golden bottom, which, when served, becomes the top. My kugel experts had all anticipated a glass baking dish affair; everyone declared this really a very large potato latke, which is probably true, but we also thought the flavors delicious. I thought the mosaic of browned potato gratings beautiful, a shining arrival out of the cholent.


Kugel side

Melissa Clark’s Potato Kugel


6 large russet potatoes (about 3 pounds) peeled and quartered

2 yellow onions, peeled and quartered

5 large eggs

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced


  1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a food processor fitted with a grating blade, process the potatoes and onions into grated pieces.  Transfer the mixture to a dish-towel lined colander.  Wrap the mixture in the towel and squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible.
  3. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, flour, 1/4 cup oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, and garlic.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil in a wide skillet.  Add the shallots in a single layer over high heat.  Let sit several minutes before stirring.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the shallots are crispy and dark brown, about 7 minutes.
  5. Fold the potato mixture and shallots in the egg mixture.  Return the skillet to high heat and add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil.  Tilk the skillet to grease the bottom and sides of the pan.  Carefully press the potato mixture into the pan.  Cook over high heat for 3 minutes, this will help sear the bottom crust of the kugel.  Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the potatoes are tender and the top of the kugel is golden browns.  1 to 1 1/4 hours.
  6. Place the kugel under the broiler for 1 – 2 minutes to form a crisp crust on top if it is not yet adequately crispy.  This is for crispiness, not appearances, as the bottom of the kugel becomes the top.
  7.   Invert the kugel onto an attractive serving dish.  Sprinkle with salt, preferably Maldon if you have it, and serve.



Will Mack, Still Sharpening Knives

Sunday, April 17th, 2016


Artisans bag


Seeing the above, a small group of people will feel as if a firm hand from the past reached forward and grabbed them back into 1985.  In those days this primitive, happy eskimo was as powerful an image on Boston’s Newbury St. as the green and white Starbucks girl is today.

He represented a warren of store aisles where everything from beetlenuts to camel nose plugs (don’t even ask) was for sale. There were olive-wood wooden spoons, Swedish carpenter shirts, Japanese Fukagawa porcelain, kites, African masks, Kate Seidman’s porcelain earrings, Guatamalan worry people, and Eskimo art, thus our pleasing guy on the canvas bag.  (This bag, recovered from Judy Mack’s kitchen, is the last one any of us could find.)

The Artisans. Who remembers it? And Kitchen Arts? – the sister store, where all the copper pots and Le Creuset went because The Artisans shelves could no longer contain all that wonderful cookware and the woven African Kukuyu bags?

Remember Kukuyu bags? Do you still have one? You probably bought yours at The Artisans, because that’s what everyone did then. You sorted through the piles looking for just the right length leather strap, the right scratchy woven basket, and, most importantly, the proper width and color of the horizontal stripes.

Will Mack

And do you remember Will Mack? “The mayor of Newbury St.,” people called him. A striking man with a distinctively healthy head of white hair, Will probably sold hundreds of Swedish Carpenter shirts just by walking down Newbury St. wearing the blue and white canvas jacket to meet fellow shop owner, jeweler, John Lewis.

Will owned The Artisans. His father had founded the store. By expanding the inventory range to include everything from whacky gadgets to Scandinavian good taste, Will helped it swell to cult status. He was a born retailer. Ever cheerful, ever happy to be in his store, he seemed to love it all, from the customers to the game of selling.

This is one of my favorite Will Mack moments of retail genius: he had a large foam-core sign created, easily placed or removed from suction cup hooks on the plate glass window facing Newbury St. Whenever raindrops began falling, even lightly, the staff was directed to immediately go to the window and hang the sign –  “Umbrella Sale!”

And, Timbuktu? Guess who sold the first messenger bags? Will Mack, at The Artisans. Somehow he sourced those beautiful canvas bags, the exact precursor to the Timbuktu Messenger.  Mine was worn through from sharp book corners by the time I graduated from college.

Knife sharpening was Will’s signature service. The flush crowds of people newly interested in cooking in the 1980’s and a few once-gloved Beacon Hill ladies kept him very busy.

The Artisans became a Starbucks; that green and white, thick-locked girl really did replace the dancing Eskimo. Kitchen Arts stayed open for a few more years, but Williams Sonoma and online shopping finally defeated its sales completely.

I recently met Will and his wife, Judy, in Sudbury for coffee, and I am delighted to say Will is still sharpening knives. The grandfather of three bright and beautiful girls, Will is still infectiously cheerful, still enjoying his craft, and, being Will, expanding on it. Now, he, also, offers a service that, using materials from composite cutting boards, repairs and rebuilds riveted knife handles.

Prices vary from $20 and up.

You can contact Will at or 978-857-8281.

If you show up on a rainy day he might just try to sell you an umbrella. Some things, happily, never change.

Ojala Farms Fruit Soup, from “In Cod We Trust”

Friday, April 8th, 2016

Swedish Fruit Soup and Rice Pudding-10627

photograph by Allan Penn

The Swedes have a great affinity for fruits and berries; they are a critical part of Swedish cuisine, and appear in both savory and sweet forms. Fruit soup in Sweden is considered both a true soup, to be served either warm or cold as a light meal, or as a dessert.

For the latter, it is served by itself or over rice pudding. It is pretty much heavenly when both rice pudding and fruit soup are warm, but it’s also delicious when both are cool. I cannot choose.

You could also lay a couple of tablespoons of this over a piece of toasted pound cake. It’s actually quite thick, much more like a compote than a soup. To keep a jar of Ojala Farms Fruit Soup in your refrigerator is like keeping a stash of gold.


Ojala Farms Fruit Soup


3/4 cup dried apricot

3/4 dried whole pitted prunes

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup currants

1 slice orange

6 cups water

2 cardamom pods, crushed with the side of a knife

1 cinnamon stick

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely diced crystallized ginger (optional)

1 apple, peeled cored and cut into thin slices

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 cup cold water


In a 3 quart pan combine apricots, prunes, raisins, currants, orange slice, water, cardamom pods, cinnamon, and lemon juice. Cover and bring to a boil. Then remove from heat, and let sit for a 1/2 hour.

Add ginger if using and apples; turn heat to medium, and simmer for another 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure fruit doesn’t stick to bottom of pan. Add extra water if necessary.

Strain the fruit through a strainer to reserve the juice. Pour the juice back in the saucepan, and set the aside the fruit. Mix cornstarch with cold water, and add to juice. Bring mixture to a simmer, and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the fruit back to the juice, and heat a little longer, but do not let it return to a boil. Pour soup into a large bowl, and remove cinnamon stick. Chill well. Serve alone, or over yogurt or rice pudding for breakfast, a light lunch, or dessert.

Gloucester, When The Fish Came First

Monday, April 4th, 2016


a book of photographs by Nubar Alexanian

Retail Price: $295, Pre-publication price: $125. (Orders before May 6.)

500 copies available.

Gloucester, MA— Walker Creek Media and the Rocky Neck Art Colony announce the release of GLOUCESTER: WHEN THE FISH CAME FIRST, a limited edition beautifully reproduced large format book (14”x11.5”) of 67 photographs by celebrated photographer Nubar Alexanian from his Gloucester collection.

A New England native and Gloucester resident, Alexanian accompanied the Brancaleone family of Gloucester and their crew aboard the Joseph and Lucia II on four ten-day fishing trips to Georges Bank in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s, just prior to the collapse of the fishing industry.  His photos from these trips form the heart of this book and reflect his deep connection to these Gloucester fishermen.  They record the last glory days of commercial fishing out of Gloucester harbor, and also life as it was lived in Gloucester over a forty year period. In his introduction Sandy Tolan writes: “This book is a love poem to Gloucester; it is, as Nubar says, a ‘historical document describing a way of life that will never ‘be’ again.’ ”

The public is invited to a celebratory “Meet The Author” and book launch party at the Rocky Neck Cultural Center, 6 Wonson St. Gloucester, on Thursday, May 5, at 7:30 PM. Copies of GLOUCESTER: WHEN THE FISH CAME FIRST are available to individuals at a pre-publication price of $125 from March 25, 2016 through May 5, 2016.  See the book’s official website,

GLOUCESTER: WHEN THE FISH CAME FIRST is distributed exclusively through the Rocky Neck Art Colony.

Resellers interested in carrying this limited edition title may order through the Rocky Neck Art Colony, 978-515-7004 or by emailing



Suzanne Gilbert Lee

978-515-7004   617 872-7633 cell


The Cultural Center at Rocky Neck

6 Wonson Street, Gloucester, MA 01930

Gallery hours, Thurs-Sun, 12:00-4:00 PM