Founder of Chefs for Oceans, a foundation that educates and builds awareness for sustainable seafood, Ned Bell is also the executive chef for Ocean Wise, a national association that recommends sustainable practices to Canadian fishermen and seafood importers, and serves as a member of the Loblaw Food Counci (plus he’s a dad of three boys who’s on the lookout when it comes to what’s on the family table). Beyond being a seafood connoisseur, he’s passionate about wanting families to think outside the box when it comes to making a meal.
“There are thousands of living things in the ocean that we could be eating, but we’re creatures of habit and we tend to lean towards the foods that we know such as shrimp, salmon, some sort of white fish like haddock, halibut and cod, and tuna. “While we’re becoming more globally inspired our relationship with food is still a bit narrow.”
HOW TO JUMP-START YOUR SUSTAINABLE-SEAFOOD MOJO
1. It’s totally OK to buy farmed fish
“Farmed fish isn’t actually bad. It’s necessary and over the years, the farming of fish has dramatically improved, especially when it comes to trout, char, steelhead, tilapia, and catfish. Don’t forget, the cultivation of shellfish—oysters, mussels, clams—already have sustainable farming techniques. There’s no denying that wild salmon and wild shrimp are delicious, but they’re of premium quality and an expensive protein. If we want people to eat seafood more than once a week, it has to be affordable, and farmed fish is a great alternative, plus it’s a clean, healthy protein. Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean I support all open-net fish farming. Some practices do put wild species and their habitat at risk. It’s not a black-or-white issue.”
2. Cooking seafood is easier to cook than meat
“I think people have this idea that seafood is complicated. I’m not talking about creating chef-inspired meals here. It’s about basic, family meals that are quick to prepare with only 4-5 ingredients in your pantry: soy or tempeh sauce, citrus, butter, some type of veggie that you love, and some sort of grain, whether it’s potato, beans or rice. Don’t try swinging for the fences when it comes to cooking seafood. You don’t need to try 100 new things or 100 new ingredients. Take it slow. Try and master one or two ways of cooking fish. My favourite ways are to simply marinate Ceviche style, pan sear and BBQ.”
An easy family meal: Ned’s pan-seared shrimp toast with tomato, lime and kimchi mayo. Get the recipe here.
3. Look for proper certifications
“There are four watchdogs to look for when buying seafood: Ocean Wise—a national association that I work for (it’s got a fish head as a symbol) that requires fisheries to be transparent and report their farming practices and undergo the proper inspections, MSC (Marine Stewardship Council), which covers sustainable practices of all wild fish, ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council), which covers sustainable practices for everything else such as farmed fish and shrimp, SeaChoice from the David Suzuki Foundation (in Canada) and Seafood Watch from the Monterey Bay Aquarium (in the U.S.). This way you know that the seafood you’re buying is from a healthy source.”
4. Challenge yourself
“Make seafood once a week. Then once a month challenge yourself to have one thing you’ve never had before. We in North America have a protein-centric mentality when it comes to eating. Why not look at octopus, sardines, herring and build a plate with seasonable veggies? I want this year for people to try new things. Maybe after eating one new thing a month at home, at a restaurant, try ordering the octopus—something that you’ve never tried before.”
5. Seafood, like vegetables, also have a season
“Unlike chicken, beef and pork which always seem to be in season, seafood evolves through the seasons. People seem to default to salmon because it’s available all year round but if they tried halibut in March (along with shellfish: mussels, clams and oysters) or fresh, wild salmon in September, they’d realize that seafood, like Ontario strawberries or peaches, can taste their best during a certain time.” Want to know what’s fresh to eat right now? Well lucky you, there’s an app for that. Download Ocean Wise, Seafood Watch or MSC to keep informed of what’s in season in your area.