Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Catalina Offshore Products Gets Opah Grant

photo courtesy of Catalina Offshore Products
Catalina Offshore Products announced last week that it has been awarded a $139,700 grant from the 2018 National Marine Fisheries Service's Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program for a project to grow demand for opah and other underutilized and undervalued species. The project, which could be scaled to a national level, is based on a year-long project that may help increase revenue to local fleets while also offering consumers new options for locally sourced seafood. The project will consist of data collection, roundtables with fishermen and consumers, kitchen workshops, recipe development, culinary demonstrations, and an “Ocean to Table” finale event. During this public showcase, project outcomes will be presented along with a suite of dishes highlighting different culinary applications for opah, as well as other Pacific highly migratory species currently being discarded but identified through research as having market potential.

One of the reasons opah, also known as "moonfish," is an ideal subject for this project is that it is a fish that tends to be caught as incidental or a by-catch of tuna fishing. Historically elusive, Pacific opah has been showing up more frequently in recent years. But instead of being discarded as waste, opah, which can weigh up to 200 pounds, can be enjoyed as food and represent increased profitability to fisherman, who can responsibly harvest it. There's no need to worry about overfishing it since U.S. fisheries are regulated.

Another benefit is that opah can be fully utilized. The belly, the loin, the top back strap, and the adductor/abductor make up most of the fish, and all have unique colors, flavors, and textures and, consequently, unique applications. This is rare; the flesh of other fish species tends to be the same throughout the fish. Below you can see the belly and back tail removed to the right and the section on the left that held the lean scarlet abductor (affectionately called the "tri tip" at COP). The adductor is below the abductor and with its elongated shape, is known as the "tenderloin" given that it looks like a beef or pork tenderloin. The belly is a pale pink and very fatty--and utterly delicious.

photo courtesy Catalina Offshore Products
So, what it comes down to educating the public. Instead of choosing what we already know and buy too much of--salmon, tuna, swordfish, and halibut, for example--we should open our minds to more options that would take pressure off those fisheries.

And, as Tommy Gomes of Catalina Offshore Products, says, "The big picture is to get people to eat beyond the fillet, which is only 20 percent of a fish."

Opah, which is sustainable and versatile, is one of those options. It's also not "fishy" tasting; instead basically a blank canvas for how you want to flavor it. It's also a leaner, healthier protein than red meat--and, when cooking up the abductor, can be used in many of the same applications as red meat. Steak, meatballs, tacos, sausage, and skewers just skim the surface.

Here's a very cool short video of Gomes breaking down a huge opah:

San Diego chefs have understood the value and potential of opah for quite awhile. Big fans of opah include Davin Waite of Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub and Rob Ruiz of The Land and Water Company. The two are engaged with Catalina Offshore Products in the project.

Gomes first encountered opah back in the early 1980s as a fisherman. Working with Koreans, he found that they served the fish pickled, then barbecued on deck, served on skewers with kimchee and rice. "For them it was just an edible piece of meat," he recalled.

So, imagine dining on this poached opah belly made by chef Nick Brune.

photo by Sam Wells
Or, this slab of opah bacon togarashi.

photo courtesy of Catalina Offshore Products
I sliced a piece of the belly and fried it in peanut oil until both sides were a golden brown, then sprinkled it with sea salt. It was like the best fish stick you could imagine--moist and succulent. You can also turn the belly into chicharones. Or grind it with the abductor meat to make a full-flavored burger, meatballs, or meatloaf.

As for the abductor, I cut a portion into pieces and stir fried them with garlic, hoisin sauce, and garlic chili sauce. I had some leftover shrimp chow mein from lunch at Steamy Piggy the day before. So I emptied that into the wok with the opah to heat up for a more protein filled dish.

opah side fillet; photo courtesy of Catalina Offshore Products
Mitch Conniff of Mitch's Seafood in Point Loma, said Gomes, makes corndogs with opah. Chef Miguel Valdez makes opah carne asada and burgers.

Still not sure? Then catch one of Gomes' demos on Saturdays in the Catalina Offshore Products parking lot. Catalina Offshore Products is located at 5202 Lovelock St. in the Morena district.

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