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Don't fear the fish

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A few tidbits that didn't make it into today's cover story on choosing sustainable seafood, which writer Lisa Shames so deftly points out is never cut and dry:

The Shedd Aquarium's next Right Bite dinner is from 6 to 9 p.m. May 5 at Uncommon Ground, 1401 W. Devon. If it doesn't snow (ba-dum-bum!), the evening will begin with hors d'oeuvres and wine on the rooftop garden and follow with dinner, dessert and much insight from Shedd horticulturist Christine Nye. Diners will get eco-friendly garden tool kits. The cost of the dinner is $75. Call (312) 692-3206 or e-mail adults@sheddaquarium.org.

And that beaut pictured above? That's a red scorpion fish from northern New Zealand. We went the tamer route with the photos we ended up running in print, but this photo by S-T photographer Jean Lachat, taken at Supreme Lobster in Villa Park, is too fantastic not to share.

Diver-caught scorpion fish is a perfect example of an underutilized species, says Supreme Lobster's Carl Galvan, a font of information about this sort of stuff and the go-to guy for a good number of chefs around town. Ugly? Maybe, but "it's a really sexy fish. It looks scary from a civilian point-of-view, but when you get a chef looking at it, they get all giddy and excited," Galvan says.

His recent scorpion fish customers include Perennial's Ryan Poli and, just this morning, Eve's Troy Graves. "Anytime [Galvan] calls something sexy, you've gotta be intrigued," says Graves, who has planned a scorpion fish tartare with coconut lemongrass creme brulee as an appetizer special for the next few days.

Phillip Foss of Lockwood also has blogged about scorpion fish's integral role in bouillabaisse. Foss, of course, is the same guy who's been having his way with Asian carp lately. But that's another story entirely; listen to him tell some of that story here.

Reporter Mary Houlihan, who profiled Hagen's Fish Market on the Northwest Side a few weeks back, has the scoop in today's paper on another local gem for fresh and fried fish of all stripes.

Calumet Fisheries, 3259 E. 95th, is one of the five winners of the James Beard Foundation's American Classics Awards, to be doled out at a fancy schmancy ceremony in New York in May.

Calumet Fisheries isn't anywhere near fancy schmancy, and that's the point. Congratulations to them.

In other award news: Jennifer Petrusky, a 23-year-old sous chef at Charlie Trotter's, didn't take home the top prize at this past weekend's prestigious Bocuse d'Or national competition. She did, however, snag the prize for best fish dish -- salmon done four ways, though that description really doesn't do it justice. Petrusky used every bit and bone of the salmon for her platter, which included a roulade, tartar, confit and cured preparation. Congratulations to her.

Coming soon to a restaurant menu near you: sheepshead.

No, not a sheep's head. We're talking sheepshead -- a small fish with lots of bones and little teeth that come in handy for mashing its prey.

The odd-sounding fish is one of many lesser known fish that chefs including Chicago's Paul Kahan and Susan Spicer of New Orleans are confident will catch on among salmon- and tuna-centric American consumers -- if not because such fish are ecologically sound choices, then because they taste so good. 10-15 Davis whales 5.jpg

Kahan, Spicer and Mark Palicki of Chicago's Fortune Fish Co. were talking up croaker, Spanish mackerel and other overlooked species (that's capelin and herring to your right) at the Chefs Collaborative National Summit, a gathering this week in Chicago of chefs, farmers, purveyors, academics and other food industry types.

At the Publican, 837 W. Fulton, Kahan's paean to pork, seafood and beer, sardines and smelt are big sellers.

"For cost reasons and a lot of other reasons, we stay away from mainstream [fish]," he said. "I just don't think it's interesting."

Audience members later were treated to plates of sturgeon done Kahan's way -- lightly smoked, with a salad of edamame, bean sprout leaves, jalapeno and lime -- and cornmeal-crusted sheepshead a la Spicer, served over okra, blackeyed peas and tasso ham.

"How you serve it will make someone take a chance on it for the first time," Spicer said. (Of course, tasso ham makes anything taste better.) Kahan, who worked as a youth at his dad's smokehouse, favors smoking, pickling and potting fish.

Palicki, who sells to restaurants, offered up lists of under-utilized fish that included bycatch (fish unintentionally caught with other fish), such as amberjack and trigger fish, and invasive species, such as lionfish and Asian carp. He went so far as to float a rather creative idea for dealing with the invaders, which drew some chuckles.

"We're trying to figure out a way to get rid of them," Palicki said. "I say, let's eat 'em."

The Chefs Collaborative summit ended today.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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