Holiday time is here and what is a holiday in North Carolina without delicious fish and shellfish? Steamed shrimp and oysters, oyster stew, clam chowder, flounder stuffed with crab, crab cakes….the list can go on and on. North Carolina fishermen have been making holiday seasons bright for hundreds of years. What North Carolina seafood will grace your table this December?
North Carolina fishermen have contributed to our rich coastal pre-history and history. Fishing and shell fishing in the rich coastal waters of North Carolina allowed our original people, the North Carolina Indians and Native Peoples, to thrive. European settlers and African slaves and freedmen reaped the benefits of fishing along the coast. As our state grew, the fishing industry did as well always adapting to current tastes, environmental pressures, and the availability of fish and shellfish. Fishing plays an important role in the coastal economy today and our state’s identity. Help sustain the fisheries by eating NC seafood.
Seafood has been recognized as an essential part of a healthy diet and local grocery stores offer seafood from all over the world. The frozen shrimp is often from Thailand or Vietnam. Farmed shrimp also comes in from Chile and Peru. Ask the fish sellers in your store, the origin of the fish and shell fish you see in the store before you buy. Many of the nations providing us with fish and shellfish have little regulation that protects the environment or assures food safety. North Carolina fisheries are highly regulated and the fishermen have to follow strict rules to protect the safety of their product from sea to point of purchase. When you buy North Carolina fish, examine it closely for freshness and ask your fish seller when it was harvested and delivered for sale. You will find it much fresher than the imported product. And everyone knows that the key to delicious seafood is freshness.
The North Carolina Sea Grant and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service offer information on seasonal availability of seafood in North Carolina waters and how to select fish for freshness and quality as well as what seafood is safe to eat and how to preserve its freshness and keep it safe to eat. See www.ncseagrant.org
Shopping for NC Seafood
North Carolina fishermen have been selling regularly at the Pitt County Farmers Market this year and hope to continue to sell their fish through the winter months. For seafood markets that sell North Carolina Seafood go to: www.nc-seafood.org
Right now, we are coming to the end of the Autumn season but you can still find these seafoods on the market at good prices: Black Sea Bass, Hardshell Atlantic Blue Crabs, Clams, Croaker, Flounder, Mackerel, Mullet, Oysters, Spotted Sea Trout, Shrimp, Snapper and Grouper, Spot, Striped Bass, and Yellowfin Tuna.
As the Winter season comes look for: Black Sea Bass, Bluefish, Clams, Croakers, Flounder, King Mackerel, Oysters, Grey Sea Trout, Spotted Sea Trout, Striped Bass, and Bluefin Tuna.
To select seafood, quality counts! Finfishes should have firm flesh, bright red gills and scales adhering well to the skin, if you can see the whole fish. Avoid fish with cloudy or sunken eyes, bruised flesh, dry flesh or flesh with brown edges. Of course, any fish with a sour or ammonia-like odor should be avoided. It is best to see the whole fish before buying, so you can see and smell its freshness. Fillets or steaks should be fresh smelling and have moist and firm meat.
Shellfish, like oysters and clams, need to be purchased when tightly closed. If one is open, tap it lightly and it should snap shut! Avoid cracked or chipped shells and any that have a strong, fishy odor. The shells should be moist: I like to buy mine with mud on when they smell sweet and earthy. Fresh shellfish always smells mild.
Safety of NC Seafood
I have been asked about the safety of North Carolina seafood. This is a fair question because some kinds of fish have high mercury levels. Pregnant women and young children should avoid fish that might be high in mercury. In North Carolina this includes shark, tilefish, King Mackerel and swordfish. For others, it is recommended that these fishes be eaten only once per week to avoid risk. Pregnant women should also avoid eating oysters, just to be safe. No one should eat raw oysters or other shellfish uncooked as they may contain harmful bacteria linked to chronic infectious diseases. Make sure that your shellfish is properly steamed just until the shell cracks open. They will still be juicy but you will greatly reduce your risk of getting sick.
NC fish high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids include yellowfin tuna and herring. If you eat imported salmon for your heart health, try some North Carolina tuna or herring each week for a change. These fish are low in cholesterol too. The only seafood high in cholesterol is shrimp, so if cholesterol in your diet is a concern, choose scallops, clams or oysters when you want shellfish.
Enjoy Local NC Seafood Often
The holidays are a great time to enjoy fresh NC seafood. But why not enjoy the delicious fresh fishes and shellfish at least once a week? Fresh caught NC seafood has been preferred in taste tests over imported, frozen seafood. NC seafood is a lean, healthy protein food that is good for you. At least once a week, prepare a baked flounder or shrimp stir fry or a down-home NC fish stew. Let me know what your favorite seafood is and how you prepare it. Here is one of my family’s favorite seafood dishes:
NC Shrimp Stir Fry: Quick and Healthy
A quick and healthy supper can be made for 3 to 4 people with the 1, 2, 3 Stir-Fry Method. The 1, 2, 3 Stir-Fry is always the same formula but you can vary the ingredients. It is 1 pound of shellfish, boneless chicken, beef, or pork; 2 cups of steamed (cooked) rice; and 3 cups of any kind of fresh or frozen vegetables that you like. You always cook the meat quickly first, then the vegetables. I always steam my rice, clean the vegetables and chop, and slice my meat or shell the shrimp. Then do the stir fry following the steps below. The stir fry will be finished just as the rice is done! Perfect timing. It takes about 30 minutes to do, start to finish.
Children love to help prepare this dish; you can give them tasks to help depending on their age. Young children can wash vegetables and pat them dry with a towel. Middle school children love to do the stir fry by themselves. If you use a rice steamer, it is very easy and will shut off automatically when done so no need to check for overcooking or burning.
North Carolina Shrimp Stir Fry, a variation of the 1, 2, 3 Stir Fry
1 lb fresh harvested shrimp, headed and peeled with tails on
2 cups steamed brown medium or long grain rice
3 cups chopped seasonal vegetables from your garden or local farmer (red and green peppers, green onions, baby bok choy, kale, spinach, daikon radish, squash, yellow onions, etc )
1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil
Heat oil until hot in a 10 inch frying pan or wok.
Add shrimp and stir quickly or shake pan until the shrimp are just cooked. They will turn white or pink and curl a bit. Do not overcook. Take off the heat immediately.
Return pan to heat and add vegetables. Stir fry quickly just a few minutes until just crisp. Quickly add shrimp back and toss together. Heat one minute and add sauce, if desire. Stir quickly then serve with rice immediately.
This is a little spicy sauce that you can put on the shrimp and veggies before serving with rice, if you desire.
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 jalapeno pepper finely chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
½ teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
½ teaspoon sugar (if desired)