Baked Trout and Sustainable Seafood

Taking a break from Dark Days Challenge meals this week because I’m still recovering from a fantastic Valentine’s Day meal and there are tons of leftovers in the fridge. The kitchen partner’s baked trout rocked my world last night. We don’t have many options in Minnesota to feed my seafood cravings, but he always finds a way to make a special meal work. As many times as I salivate over that pile of once-frozen shrimp in the meat case, I have serious qualms about eating seafood. A local baked trout is as good as it gets.

My concerns about seafood began in 2010 after watching The End of the Line, a documentary examining our global struggles with over-fishing. While I question some of the calculations (can we really measure if current rates of overfishing will result in the end of seafood by 2048?), it was hard to argue with the images. I was a sushi lover before I saw this film and now I rarely indulge. Tilapia and salmon were my go-to restaurant choices, thinking I was making a better “eco” decision than eating beef. Now I better understand that our food system is decimating global fish populations; regardless of how many years it will take, it is clear our cravings for seafood are unsustainable.

The End of the Line left me confused about eating fish in general. The choices I assumed were better, like  fish over eating beef, eating farm-raised over wild-caught, are in fact not always the most sustainable. Local beef may have fewer harmful environmental impacts than a wild-caught tuna from the Southeast Asia. Likewise, farm-raised fish have to eat something, and in many cases it’s smaller, wild-caught species. Take tilapia as an example. Supposedly, we farm-raise tilapia because wild-caught supplies cannot meet the demands of the population. But farm-raised tilapia and other larger species are fed fish meal, made from smaller species. Does it really make sense to over-fish sardines to feed farm-raised tilapia, grown only because it too is over-fished?

Sustainable Seafood Buying App for iPhone

Since the documentary I have relied heavily on The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program to make better informed decisions about seafood. Monterey’s consumer-education program details which species are best to consume and which should be avoided. I’ve used both their downloadable wallet-sized guides and the handy app available for iPhone and Android. Each species are categorized by best, good, or avoid and divided out by region. Minnesota is in the Central U.S. guide which includes many of the fresh water Great Lakes fish. Ever wonder what to order when you’re vacationing on the North Shore? This guide is your best support in making a sustainable choice.

Which brings us back to baked trout. The guide lists Lake Michigan lake trout in the “avoid” column and Lake Superior and Huron trout as “good” choices. The “best” choice for trout is U.S. farmed and locally sourced. Exactly what we had for Valentine’s dinner last night. There are several trout farms within driving distance of the Metro; check out: Valley Springs, Star Prairie, and Tallakson’s.

Ready to buy your first local, sustainable trout and start making smarter seafood choices?  Here’s the kitchen partner’s secret sweet-salty Valentine’s recipe to get you started:

Sweet and Salty Baked Trout

Sweet & Salty Baked Trout 

Ingredients

1 whole trout, 1 1/2 – 2 lbs. cleaned with scales, head and fins left on

1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
dash of black pepper

Instructions
1. Pre-heat oven to 350° F. Prepare a baking dish with non-stick spray (choose a dish that is large enough for the fish to lay flat in). In a small bowl, combine sugar and spices. Gently rub spice mix on fish, ensuring an even coat on both sides. Place fish in the baking dish. Bake 20-25 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.

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