published Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Side Orders: Searching for fresh seafood in town

Being a landlocked state with no easy access to fresh seafood, Chattanooga has seen its share of seafood markets come and go. There once were several in town, but they didn’t stay open for long, and Chattanooga became known more for its fried catfish than fresh flounder.

While the Chattanooga area is no longer a dry seafood dessert, we’re not exactly drowning in choices. Things are improving, though, thanks to a few entrepreneurs who have dived in and brought fresh seafood to town, as well as grocery chains that have specialized seafood departments, not just frozen filets and fish sticks sitting in the freezer case.

Joanne McNeely, seafood marketing coordinator for the Gulf Seafood Marketing Coalition, says with grocery stores getting better about providing good seafood to customers, she’s not surprised that there aren’t too many seafood markets in Chattanooga.

“But there’s nothing better than walking into a seafood market and smelling all the fresh fish, along with supporting local businesses, which is something I always like to do,” she says.

Dedicated seafood markets are better at getting domestic products than many of the big-chain grocery stores, she says.

“Fresh fish is perishable, so it has to be sold quickly,” she says. “But if you buy it fresh and bring it home and freeze it, you’ll have it on hand when you’re in a time crunch. Fish takes just minutes to cook, compared to chicken and beef. And seafood is the best protein consumers can buy.”

The upcoming holiday season is a wonderful time of year to impress guests with good seafood. I don’t think there’s anything prettier than a beautiful shrimp cocktail at a place setting or a lovely filet of fish with lemon sauce and capers on the plate.

There are some excellent places in town to find seafood from U.S. waters and farms. Why is that important? According to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Association, America’s environmental and seafood safety regulations for domestically farmed fish are stronger than many of our major trade partners, particularly those in Asia and South America.

As for wild-caught fish, NOAA says America leads the world in attempts to end overfishing and managing our resources sustainably, helping to ensure there’s enough fish for generations to come.

Here’s a list of local places to find fresh, wild-caught and farm-raised fish from U.S. waters.

• Siren’s Seafood opened several years ago at the foot of Signal Mountain then moved to the top of Signal last December. They are still the only dedicated seafood market in Hamilton County. Fresh seafood is delivered most every day, so it’s never been frozen. Top picks from U.S. waters include red snapper, black grouper, trout, cod and, depending on the season, king, sockeye and coho salmon. Shrimp is flash frozen on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico and delivered within 48 hours. All fish are brought in whole, then cut into filets onsite. 411 Wood St., Signal Mountain. 710-2263. www.sirensseafoodmarket.com.

• If you can’t drive up the mountain, then let your seafood come to you. Mark Gilmore, owner of Happy Gilmore’s Seafood, will deliver. Gilmore travels to Florida several times a month to pick up fish from boats that have just come into shore. He says he’s gotten to know a number of boat captains through the years, and he won’t buy anything but wild fish from U.S. waters.

Chattanoogan Tracy Sarver is one of Gilmore’s clients and recommends “friending” Gilmore on Facebook if you’re interested in getting seafood from him. Just do a search for Happy Gilmore’s Seafood. I was very interested, so I did. He brings home Royal Red shrimp, among many other seafoods, on a regular basis. The shrimp are very large and great for dipping in spicy cocktail sauce or garlic butter. Just on their own they have an unbelievable taste and texture that some say is similar to lobster. Gilmore’s menu depends on what’s biting, but he’ll most always have the Royal Reds, as well as white shrimp, crab, oysters and alligator. If you’re not into social media, just shoot Gilmore an email at markgilmore536@hotmail.com.

As for seafood departments in local grocery stores:

• Whole Foods: It depends on the season, but many times you’ll find fresh, never-frozen Alaskan king, coho and sockeye salmon, turbot, swordfish and mahi-mahi from U.S. waters, as well as fresh shrimp and Alaskan halibut. Also, farm-raised catfish from North Carolina.

• Fresh Market: Alaskan king salmon and coho salmon; halibut caught off the coast of New England; and Atlantic grouper from U.S. waters, all wild and fresh, never frozen. Also, previously frozen wild shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico.

• Enzo’s: Fresh, never-frozen trout from Pickett’s Farm, just over Dayton Mountain in Dunlap, Tenn.; Alaskan wild coho salmon; and red snapper from the Gulf of Mexico, along with previously frozen U.S. farm-raised catfish and shrimp plucked from the Gulf of Mexico.

I tried this recipe with Gilmore’s Royal Reds, but it would be good with any shrimp. For more recipes, visit www.eatgulfseafood.com.

Mandarin Rice/Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained, juice reserved

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

2 teaspoon vegetable oil (for stir fry)

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup jasmine or long-grain white rice

2 tablespoons bottled Thai sweet chili sauce plus additional for topping

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

12 whole large leaves of red leaf lettuce

1 cup matchstick-cut or shredded carrots

Combine reserved mandarin orange juice with enough water to equal 2 cups liquid. Bring juice mixture, 1 teaspoon oil and salt to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in rice; cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Stir mandarin oranges and sweet chili sauce into cooked rice. Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and saute just until cooked through, 4-5 minutes. Arrange lettuce leaves on large platter. Spoon rice mixture into center of each lettuce leaf. Top with carrots and shrimp. Drizzle additional sauce on top.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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